If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), then you know how difficult it can be to plan meals each day to limit discomfort. Furthermore, it can be hard to add variety to your eating plan without fear of causing abdominal cramps or other digestive symptoms. By learning more about IBS and related research on certain ways of eating that can control symptoms, you can find that you do not have to sacrifice enjoyment of food to avoid discomfort.
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), IBS is a group of symptoms that occur together which include:
- Repeated pain in the abdomen
- Changes in bowel movements
- Diarrhea, constipation, or both
- Gassiness and bloating
- No signs of damage or disease in the digestive tract
There is no clear cause of IBS, but the condition can be diagnosed through:
- food allergy and intolerance tests
- an endoscopy or colonoscopy
- a medical and family history exam
- various lab testing or other testing such as the SitzMark transit to test for colonic motility issues that may be causing your symptoms
How Can Diet Help Control IBS Symptoms?
The NIH suggests that increasing fiber intake, avoiding gluten, and following a low FODMAP diet may be able to help lessen IBS symptoms. You can increase fiber by:
- increasing fruit and vegetable intake each day
- adding in plant-based protein sources such as nuts and seeds each day
- consuming whole grains such as oats, quinoa, and brown or wild rice
You can avoid gluten in your diet by:
- avoiding products that contain wheat, barley, and rye
- when consuming starch, stick to rice, potato, or nut-based starches
- checking the ingredient label of products to be sure they do not have gluten-containing compounds in them as fillers, preservatives, or thickeners. There should be a disclaimer at the bottom of the label telling you if the product contains wheat since it is a common allergen.
The low FODMAP diet limits foods that contain high levels of lactose, fructose, and gluten, to name a few. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, which are compounds that are not digested well by those with IBS. Some basic guidelines of the low FODMAP diet include:
- Avoid products that contain fructose or high fructose corn syrup
- Stick to lactose-free dairy products or plant-based milks and milk products
- Avoid gluten-containing foods
- Limit intake of sugar alcohols such as maltitol, xylitol, and sorbitol, which is found in many sugar-free products.
- Stick to fruits low in FODMAPS such as unripe bananas, berries such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, grapes, kiwi, pineapple, and other citrus fruits such as oranges, tangerines, lemons, and limes
- Do not consume vegetables high in FODMAPs, especially garlic and onions; other high FODMAP vegetables include beans, soybeans, peas, lentils, asparagus, artichoke, cauliflower, and celery.
For a list of resources that provide a longer list of foods that are safe on the IBS diet, visit the Casa de Sante website. This site also includes a list of recipes that ae low FODMAP friendly and an online store to purchase low FODMAP friendly products to help make your IBS-friendly meals more flavorful and delicious.
Along with diet, it is important to note that IBS can be controlled by the following tips provided by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
- Eating at regular intervals each day to help your bowels regulate.
- Eating small, frequent meals versus infrequent larger meals to limit the amount of food that is moving through your digestive system at one time. This way of eating prevents your digestive system from being overwhelmed with having to break down too much food at one time and can lessen gas, bloating, and abdominal discomfort.
- Drink plenty of fluids each day to help move through the digestive system and lower risk of constipation. The average person should consume about half of their body weight in ounces each day. Therefore, if you weigh 200 pounds, then you should consume 100 ounces, or 12.5 cups of unsweetened, low calorie fluid each day. Sugary beverages, alcohol, and carbonated beverages may irritate the digestive tract, so should be limited.
Written by Staci Gulbin, MS, RD a Board-certified dietitian.