If you’ve been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, you’re probably ready to get rid of it. One of the quickest and most effective ways to reduce and prevent this common gastrointestinal disorder can be through nutrition.
To recap from our comprehensive article about how to identify whether you’re suffering from IBS, symptoms can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Food sensitivities
- A leaky gut
- Weight gain
There’s more to it than that, so be sure to read the whole article.
But if you are already pretty sure that you are among the 10-15% of people in the world who suffer from IBS at any given time, this post is for you. So let’s talk about eating to combat irritable bowel syndrome.
Let’s first take a moment to recognize and appreciate our bio-individuality. Every body is different – no two bodies are precisely the same in terms of their makeup and nutritional needs.
Which is why there are at least half a dozen diets you can use to fight IBS. One or more may work for you, but not your husband or neighbor or best friend. Another one of the diets may be better for them. Which is why there may be some trial and error involved.
Before you do any of this, it’s a good idea to consult your healthcare professional about your specific symptoms and how to safely approach a diet of any kind to address them. But it’s always good to go into your appointments armed with information and questions, so keep reading.
Here are the most common diets used to treat irritable bowel syndrome.
Instead of changing the way you eat entirely, you can start by gradually eliminating the foods that are the most common offenders for exacerbating irritable bowel syndrome. This include:
- Carbonated beverages
- Fatty foods
- Spicy foods
- Sorbitol (often found in sugar-free gum)
Pay attention to how you feel after eliminating each food, to see if any of them improve your symptoms. If they don’t, go deeper with one of these more comprehensive dietary changes.
Keeping a detailed food journal can really help not only with this approach, but the others below.
The low FODMAP diet is one of the most widely recognized diets for combating IBS. It involves temporarily changing your food intake to include a relatively low amount of food compounds called FODMAPs.
What the heck is a FODMAP, you ask?
The acronym, as explained by co-creator Sue Shepard, stands for:
- Fermentable – meaning they are broken down (fermented) by bacteria in the large bowel
- Oligosaccharides – “oligo” means “few” and “saccharide” means sugar. These molecules are made up of individual sugars joined together in a chain
- Disaccharides – “di” means two. This is a double sugar molecule
- Monosaccharides – “mono” means single. This is a single sugar molecule
- And Polyols – these are sugar alcohols (however, they don’t lead to intoxication!) (2)
In short, FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates that, if poorly digested, ferment in the lower part of your large intestine (bowel). That fermentation process produces gases that cause the intestine to stretch and expand.
Foods you want to avoid:
- lactose (milk, ice cream, cheese, yogurt)
- certain fruits (high-fructose fruits such as apples, peaches, watermelon, pears, mangoes, apples, plums, nectarines)
- high-fructose corn syrup
- wheat-based bread, cereals, and pasta
- cashews and pistachios
- certain vegetables (artichoke, asparagus, broccoli, onions, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, mushrooms) (1)
NOTE: Not all carbs are off-limits here!
Some people are allergic to gluten, a protein found in many grains such as wheat, rye and barley (read: your favorite pasta, bagels and muffins).
If you’re allergic to gluten, chances are you have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder. When celiac patients consume gluten, their symptoms can look a lot like diarrhea-predominant IBS. Meanwhile, ingesting gluten can cause their intestinal cells to change and lead to absorption of nutrients. (3)
Some people have a gluten intolerance that doesn’t result in the immune response. This is referred to as a non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and these people can still experience many of the same gastrointestinal symptoms that celiac patients do after ingesting gluten.
It turns out that lot of people with IBS are also gluten intolerant – meaning their sensitivity to gluten is probably contributing to a lot of their bowel discomfort. Eliminating gluten completely often helps clear up most of their IBS symptoms.
Try eliminating wheat, barley and rye from your diet to see if your bowel irritation improves. The good news is that even if you’re into bread, pasta and crackers, you can now find a host of gluten-free versions of your favorite foods online and in virtually every store nowadays.
High-fat foods are often low in fiber, which can worsen IBS-related constipation. The Cleveland Clinic says fatty foods are especially bad for people with “mixed IBS,” or a combination of constipation and diarrhea.
A low-fat diet is fairly straightforward: Avoid fried foods, animal fats and even too much of the better-for-you plant-based fats. Focus instead on eating lean meats, fruits, veggies, nuts and grains.
A high-fiber diet can help get things moving along in your digestive tract and prevent painful constipation caused by irritable bowel syndrome. Most people eat only a fraction of the recommended 20-35 grams of fiber per day anyway, so it’s not a bad idea for most of us to bulk up our fiber intake.
Fiber-rich foods include legumes, vegetables and fruits. Navy and pinto beans in particular give you a big bang for your buck. (Check out a more comprehensive link here)
Although a high-fiber diet can help a lot of people with IBS symptoms, it can worsen symptoms for those suffering from a lot of gas and diarrhea. Don’t eliminate fiber entirely right away. Focus first on consuming only soluble fiber – the kind that dissolves in water. Soluble fiber is found in fruits and vegetables like apples, pears and berries.
Insoluble fiber (the kind you want to avoid here) is found in common foods like whole grains, nuts, tomatoes, raisins, broccoli and cabbage.