Overactive bladder is the name given to symptoms of urinary urgency (the sudden overwhelming urge to urinate that feels like you may not be able to control it), urinary frequency (when you feel like you have to go all the time) and/or urinary urge incontinence (the sudden overwhelming urge to urinate that results in uncontrollable leakage of urine). For some people with overactive bladder, a simple change in diet will give them significant or even complete relief.

If you believe you have symptoms of overactive bladder, there’s no harm in trying an ‘elimination diet’ to see if your symptoms improve. If you don’t experience a considerable change after a week of avoiding all potential bladder irritants, then diet does not likely play a significant role in your symptoms.

If you experience an improvement by avoiding all potential bladder-irritating foods, then you can begin reintroducing some of the eliminated foods, one at a time, to determine which irritate your bladder and which do not. Even if you don’t want to completely give up something in your diet that causes symptoms of overactive bladder for you, knowing which things cause symptoms will give you a measure of control.

The list below includes common dietary bladder irritants, as well as less common ones. The list was originally developed for patients with Interstitial Cystitis, a condition that results in VERY sensitive bladders. There isn’t much science behind the list, but is rather a collection of foods patients have indicated often bother their bladders. Interestingly, one food can be extremely irritating for one person and not at all irritating for another.

Food Category O.K. – Not Known to Be Irritating Avoid – Potentially Irritating
Fruits Blueberries, melons (other than cantaloupe and pears) All other fruits and juices made from them. Especially citrus.
Vegetables Potatoes, homegrown tomatoes and vegetables (other than those listed on the right) Fava beans, lima beans, onions, rhubarb, tofu and store-bought tomatoes
Milk/Dairy White chocolate, cottage cheese, American Cheese and milk Aged cheeses, sour cream, eggs, yogurt and chocolate
Carbohydrates/Grains Pasta, rice and breads (other than those listed on the right) Rye and sourdough breads
Meats/Fish Poultry, fish and meats (other than those listed on the right) Aged, canned, cured, processed and smoked meats and fish; anchovies; caviar; chicken livers; corned beef; and meats that contain nitrates or nitrites
Nuts Almonds, cashews and pine nuts Most other nuts
Beverages Bottled or spring water, decaffeinated, acid-free coffee and tea and some herbal teas Alcoholic beverages, including beer and wine, carbonated drinkscoffeetea and cranberry juice
Seasonings Garlic and seasonings (other than those listed on the right) Mayonnaise, miso and spicy foods (especially Chinese, Mexican, Indian and Thai foods)
Preservatives Benzoyl alcohol, citric acid (Vitamin C), monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartamesaccharin and foods containing preservatives or artificial ingredients and colors

**Bold, italic items are most common bladder irritants.

It is important to remember that no food is actually ‘bad’ for the bladder, but some just cause the bladder to behave badly in some people. If you find that certain foods on the list of irritants do not cause overactive bladder for you, there is no other reason to avoid them for your bladder’s sake. There is one exception to this, and it is not actually a food. Smoking can also be a strong bladder irritant, leading to overactive bladder symptoms. In addition, smoking is associated with higher rates of bladder and urinary cancers – thus, smoking should be avoided even if it does not seem to be associated with overactive bladder symptoms for you.