Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal disorder that affects the digestive system, especially your digestive tract. It can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms ranging from mild bloating to severe abdominal pain.
While IBS isn’t simply caused by what you eat and don’t eat, your food choices can help you manage or make your IBS symptoms worse.
In this article, we’ll discuss the impact of diet on IBS symptoms, explore the best foods for IBS, and provide practical tips to help you identify trigger foods and manage symptoms through diet.
Understanding Irritable Bowel Syndrome and the Importance of Diet
IBS is characterized by a number of symptoms that range from mild discomfort to severe pain, such as:
- Acid reflux
- Abdominal pain
- Abnormal bowel movements
These symptoms vary from person to person and are usually dependent on the type of IBS that a person is suffering from. There are three main types of IBS:
- IBS with constipation (IBS-C) – Characterized by infrequent bowel movements and hard, dry stool.
- IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D) – Individuals with IBS-D suffer from watery and frequent stools, often accompanied by an increased urge to use the bathroom.
- IBS with both constipation and diarrhea (IBS-M) – Those with IBS-M go back and forth between constipation and diarrhea.
There’s also IBS-U, an unsubtyped IBS, meaning that your symptoms don’t fit with the criteria of the main types of IBS and can be rather mixed, making it even more difficult to manage.
Most importantly, symptoms of IBS, whatever the type, can be triggered or worsened by your food choices, making it essential to make dietary changes to help manage them.
How certain foods can trigger IBS symptoms
People who suffer from IBS often have varying degrees of food sensitivities that can trigger the symptoms.
Some of the most common foods that trigger IBS flare-ups include:
- High fructose corn syrup and foods containing it
- Artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols
Many processed foods contain these ingredients, some of which may surprise you. For example, sugar-free chewing gum can also cause a flare-up as it contains artificial sweeteners.
In addition, scientific evidence suggests that a gluten-free diet can help manage IBS symptoms in some IBS sufferers; however, it all comes down to experimenting. What works for others may not work for you and vice versa.
Essential Diet and Lifestyle Changes for Managing IBS
When it comes to dietary adjustments, your first course of action should be to identify trigger foods. This can be done in various ways: by keeping a food diary, doing a food sensitivity test, experimenting with an elimination diet, or trying out FODMAP.
Lifestyle changes, such as staying physically active, practicing stress management, and breaking bad habits such as consuming too much caffeine or alcohol can also help manage IBS symptoms.
The low FODMAP diet for IBS
FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These are a type of short-chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed by the small intestine, causing a number of uncomfortable symptoms.
People who suffer from IBS are encouraged to go on a low FODMAP diet to help identify triggers and food intolerances.
On a low FODMAPs diet, you will be avoiding high-FODMAP foods, which can make symptoms of IBS worse, including:
- Some fruits (apricot, mango, watermelon, etc.)
- Some vegetables (asparagus, cabbage, onion, etc.)
- Dairy and dairy products
- Wheat and wheat products
- Barley and barley products
- Rye and rye products
- Legumes and lentils
Instead, you will enjoy low-FODMAP foods such as:
- Lean meat
- Lactose-free milk and products such as almond, rice, and oat milk and lactose-free yogurt
- Whole grains such as buckwheat, oats, brown rice, and quinoa
- Gluten-free pasta
Keep in mind that you’re not supposed to go on a low FODMAP diet forever. Slowly reintroduce high-FODMAP foods to see whether they provoke symptoms of IBS. This way, you’ll be able to identify trigger foods and avoid them.
Incorporating soluble fiber into your diet
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble fiber. The former is the one you should look out for when trying to alleviate IBS symptoms.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and can thicken watery stools, helping to treat diarrhea, a common IBS symptom.
Research suggests that soluble fiber, unlike insoluble fiber, can improve IBS symptoms and may be used as a way to treat them.
Soluble fiber also promotes the growth of good gut bacteria, helping you maintain healthy microbiota.
A few examples of soluble fiber-rich foods include:
If it’s difficult for you to follow a high-fiber diet, consider incorporating fiber supplements into your diet. ColonBroom, a psyllium fiber supplement, is an excellent way to get more fiber into your diet. Psyllium husk, the main ingredient in ColonBroom, helps regulate bowel movements and promote gut health.
10 Best Foods to Eat With IBS
Here’s our list of the best foods for IBS management.
1. Soothing citrus fruits
Citrus fruits are the powerhouse of vitamin C. Vitamin C has been shown to regulate the gut microbiome and improve intestinal barrier function. It’s also a good source of fiber, which can aid digestion and promote bowel regularity.
These fruits are low in fructose, which earns them a place on the low FODMAP list. This means you can eat fruits such as oranges, lemons, and grapefruits while trying to identify your trigger foods, as they’re much less likely to trigger IBS symptoms.
2. Lean meats for protein
Opt for lean meats such as white meat chicken or white meat turkey over processed meat or fatty cuts of meat. The former is more gentle on the digestive system; it contains less fat, more protein, and fewer calories, while the latter is more difficult to digest and contains saturated fat, which can cause inflammation and may trigger or worsen IBS symptoms.
3. Beneficial whole grains
Whole grains are an excellent source of fiber. They aid digestion and can help regulate bowel movements.
Some whole grains, such as buckwheat and quinoa, are gluten-free, which makes them a great option for those with gluten sensitivity.
What’s more, those who choose whole grains over refined grains have lower levels of LDL cholesterol and a lower risk of developing heart disease.
4. Almond milk and other non-dairy alternatives
Those suffering from IBS may sometimes have lactose intolerance or overall sensitivity to dairy products. Consuming these products may trigger or worsen IBS symptoms.
Plant-based and lactose-free milk alternatives, such as almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, and cashew milk, make a great substitute for dairy products. They contain less fat and fewer calories; most importantly, plant-based milk doesn’t contain hormones that have been linked to cancer.
Still, make sure the product you choose doesn’t contain added sugars, which can irritate your gut.
5. Green beans and other low-FODMAP vegetables
While you’re trying to figure out what foods trigger your IBS symptoms, opt for low-FODMAP vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers, green beans, and spinach.
These vegetables contain fewer fermentable carbohydrates, making them easier on the gut. However, you should avoid eating raw vegetables as they’re more difficult to digest.
Avoid cruciferous vegetables as they put a strain on the digestive system. What’s more, cruciferous vegetables may lead to bloating and gas.
6. Fatty fish for omega-3 fatty acids
Fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel, is an important part of a balanced diet. It’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have a number of health benefits. Recent studies even suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may promote gut microbiome diversity.
In addition, they may reduce inflammation and improve symptoms of other gastrointestinal diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease.
7. Pine nuts for healthy fats
Almost all nuts, excluding cashews and pistachios, are great for a low FODMAP diet. They’re an excellent source of healthy fats and can be easily incorporated into any dish or simply eaten as a snack.
Some of the best nuts for IBS include almonds, pine nuts, and walnuts, as they also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for the gut.
8. Beneficial fermented foods
Fermented foods such as kefir, yogurt, pickles, and kombucha are rich in probiotics – beneficial gut bacteria that help maintain a healthy balance of the good and bad bacteria in your gut and promote overall gut health.
Some evidence suggests that increasing your probiotic intake can help manage your IBS symptoms.
9. Hydrating and low in sugar coconut water
Dehydration can lead to slower digestion and constipation and may contribute to worsened IBS symptoms. If you’re struggling to stay hydrated, consider coconut water.
Coconut water is highly hydrating; it contains high levels of electrolytes and is low in sugar, making it a great option for when you’re feeling dehydrated.
10. Sweet potatoes for fiber and nutrients
Sweet potato is an excellent source of fiber, which may help aid digestion and improve bowel regularity. It has antioxidant properties and may also reduce inflammation.
It’s important to note that sweet potatoes are only a low-FODMAP food when they’re eaten in small portions. Eating one sweet potato too many may trigger symptoms of IBS as they contain FODMAPs.
Foods to Avoid With IBS
It’s no surprise now that certain foods can make IBS symptoms worse, so it’s a good idea to avoid them altogether until you identify what foods trigger your IBS symptoms in the first place. Consider eliminating these foods and beverages:
- Dairy and dairy products
- Heavily processed food such as processed meats
- Fatty foods
- Fried foods
- Fruit juices
- Caffeinated drinks
- Fast food such as burgers and french fries
- Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower
- Other high-FODMAP foods
Your best bet is to eliminate these foods from your diet and reintroduce them gradually over time while being on the lookout for IBS symptoms.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should you eat if you have IBS?
Foods that are safe to eat with IBS include low-FODMAP foods such as lean meat, fatty fish, eggs, brown rice, quinoa, oats, and lactose-free milk alternatives. You can also incorporate fermented foods for a healthy boost of probiotics.
What foods help with IBS flare-ups?
Some IBS flare-ups, such as constipation and diarrhea, can be managed by increasing your fiber intake. Low-FODMAP foods that are rich in fiber include whole grains such as brown rice, buckwheat, oats, and quinoa, as well as some fruits and vegetables such as citrus fruits, green beans, and sweet potatoes.
How do you calm IBS?
Dietary modifications are key to managing IBS, but so are lifestyle changes. Drinking plenty of water, exercising regularly, managing your stress levels, and breaking bad habits such as excessive alcohol consumption can also help improve IBS symptoms.
- It shouldn’t come as a surprise that your diet affects your gut, which, in turn, affects IBS. Eating the right food can help promote digestion, maintain digestive health, and alleviate symptoms of IBS.
- Some of the best foods for IBS include lean meats, fatty fish, eggs, brown rice, and other low-FODMAP whole grains.
- Hydrate your body by drinking plenty of water, plant-based milk, kombucha, and coconut water, all of which are great options for an IBS diet.
- If you’re having trouble managing your symptoms, make sure to consult with a healthcare professional who will be able to provide you with guided assistance.
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