a pile of cranberries on a pink background

Diet to Prevent UTIs:
What Works?

By Brandy Winfree, MBA, RDN, CSR, LDN
April 25, 2024

If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI), you know that they’re nothing to take lightly. UTI symptoms can vary, but the most common are:

  • Burning and pain on urination
  • Feeling the need urinate even when you’ve just emptied your bladder
  • Frequent urination
  • Blood in the urine
  • Cramping in the lower abdomen
  • Fever

Approximately 40% of women will have a UTI at some point in their lives and having one puts you at a higher risk of having another.

There are several causes of UTIs:

  • Not urinating after sex
  • Pregnancy
  • Hormone replacement therapy, including hormonal birth control
  • Allowing the genital area to stay wet for a long time, like wearing a wet swimsuit or sitting in wet clothes
  • Age (the very young and very old are at higher risk)
  • Spermicides
  • Douching

There are many wives’ tales about how to prevent UTIs from drinking cranberry juice to limiting sugar and taking vitamin C supplements. But, what’s proven to work?

Cranberry Juice

Cranberry-containing products have long been the top dog in the world of UTI prevention. But, it is important to know that better results may be seen in people who drink 100% cranberry juice as opposed to those taking cranberry extract. The theory is that these people have fewer UTIs than those taking cranberry supplements because cranberry juice is a fluid as well. Though cranberry-containing supplements have been shown to decrease UTIs more than those who took neither a supplement or juice.

So, I would recommend sticking with 100% cranberry juice most days and making sure that you drink plenty of water with a cranberry extract supplement when you must. It’s also worth noting that cranberry juice cocktail has a lower amount of actual cranberry juice and may not work as well, so check the packaging to make sure that it is 100% cranberry juice.

Sugary Drinks

A common wives tale is to avoid sugar or sugar-sweetened beverages as some believe that they feed the bacteria that cause UTIs. However, some sugars can actually help to prevent UTIs. Taking a D-mannose supplement has been shown to decrease occurrence of UTIs by keeping bacteria from attaching to the walls of the urethra. One study in mice showed that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages can increase overall fluid intake, thus preventing UTIs. The researchers noted that caffeine in certain beverages may provide additional protection by promoting diuresis, or prompting the body to flush out more water by urinating more often.

Vitamin C

A diet rich in vitamin C has also been linked to a decrease in UTIs. The presence of vitamin C in the urine has been shown to decrease the ability of bacteria to attach to the urinary tract. A healthy person needs 75-90 mg of vitamin C daily, while a smoker needs an extra 35 mg daily. Vitamin C-rich foods include:

  • Cranberries
  • Strawberries
  • Oranges and Orange Juice
  • Tomatoes and Tomato Juice
  • Broccoli
  • Peppers
  • Cabbage

If you’re not much for fruits and veggies and prefer a supplement, just try to keep your daily dose under 1000 mg. Some research shows a connection to megadosing vitamin C and kidney stones. If the body gets more vitamin C than it needs, the intestines will stop absorbing it and excrete the excess into your urine—at this point, you’re just making expensive pee.

Probiotics

Probiotics containing Lactobacillus have also been shown to decrease occurrence of UTIs when taken orally and when administered in vaginal applications. These probiotics work by increasing the good bacteria living around the genitals, decreasing space for bad bacteria to grow. Lactobacillus also works to decrease pH of the vagina, making it an inhospitable environment for bacteria that may spread to the urinary tract.

Fluid

Most people need about half an ounce of fluid for every pound of body weight per day. So, if you’re 150 pounds, you need about 75 ounces a day. That’s over 9 cups! And that’s for a healthy person. Getting enough fluids everyday helps to flush bacteria and microscopic solids from the urinary tract which decreases risk of urinary tract infections and kidney stones. In people who are sick, especially losing large amounts of fluid through excess mucus production, vomiting, or diarrhea—think the flu—fluids needs can be even higher.

If you find that you’re struggling to get to that target, remember that pretty much all fluid, except for alcohol, counts. So, even though water is the ideal beverage most of the time, things like tea, coffee, ginger ale, lemonade, and even juices count.

As far as nutrition to prevent UTIs goes, the general consensus is drink 100% cranberry juice, take your D-mannose, eat lots of probiotic and vitamin C-rich foods and drink plenty of fluid! But, to do everything that you can to prevent UTIs, you should change out of wet clothes, urinate after sex, and avoid using genital sprays, powders, or douches without the recommendation of a doctor.

If you think you have a UTI or are having recurrent UTIs, prescription treatment is the safest and most effective way to resolve symptoms quickly. With Wisp’s team of professionals and telehealth platform, you don’t even need to leave the comfort of your home to get the care that you need to get back to living and get rid of that pesky UTI!

Brandy is a Registered Dietitian and nutrition writer who became a loyal Wisp customer when a lapse in insurance coverage at work led her to our platform. She believes in Wisp's mission to make reproductive and sexual healthcare inclusive, cost-effective, and accessible and believes that the key to healthy living is science-backed health education. Brandy runs a private practice where she provides nutrition counseling and blogs on nutrition for kidney health at brandywinfreerdn.com. When she's not working, Brandy loves to travel, hike, and spend lazy afternoons with a good book.

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