How to Eat When You Have Both IBS and Diabetes

Some people have the misfortune of having to deal with IBS and diabetes at the same time. Little information is available as to how many people struggle with the two health problems together. What seems to be the case, however, is that IBS and diabetes are two distinct disorders, with no physiological overlap. Therefore, it appears to be just plain bad luck to be stuck with the two.

A doctor showing his patient their results
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IBS and diabetes do share one thing in common—a complicated relationship with food. This can make the job of figuring out what to eat quite challenging. If you have both IBS and diabetes, it might be a good idea to work with a nutritionist who is knowledgeable about both disorders in order to come up with a balanced food plan that is optimal for stabilizing blood sugar, while avoiding foods that may trigger IBS symptoms. The following discussion covers some of the factors that you may want to consider as you seek a dietary plan that works for you.

What to Eat for Diabetes

If you have been diagnosed with either type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes, you have hopefully discussed diet with your healthcare provider and perhaps have worked with a nutritionist. Type 1 diabetes requires that you take special care with meal planning, while type 2 diabetes requires more of a focus on weight loss and control.

What to Eat for IBS

Unlike diabetes, the relationship between food and IBS symptoms is a somewhat controversial subject. For years, the medical establishment downplayed the role of food as a trigger or explanation for IBS distress. This approach was in direct contrast to the perception of many people with IBS that food is the absolute culprit in causing acute IBS symptoms. This disparity in perceptions is mellowing somewhat as researchers are beginning to acknowledge that some foods may be more likely to trigger IBS.

Although there is now some acknowledgment that certain foods may be harder on the digestive system, it is also important to understand that multiple factors are at play in the onset and maintenance of IBS. It can be dangerous to over-estimate the role that food is playing in triggering your symptoms, as it can lead to excessive food deprivation, therefore raising the risk of nutritional deficiency.

If you do suspect that a certain food is a trigger for you, it is important to use a food diary and to carefully follow an elimination diet before avoiding a food altogether. The following articles can be of use as you figure out what foods you should and should not be eating:

Foods for IBS/Diabetes Overlap

In order to help you to sort out what you should be eating, See the major food groups and the things you should be considering when you are deciding what to eat.

Bread, Cereal, Rice, Pasta

The standard advice given to people with diabetes is to eat foods with high fiber content. This would include whole-grain bread, pasta, and cereal, as well as brown rice. These high-fiber carbohydrates are thought to help to stabilize blood sugar levels.

This advice may strike fear in the heart of many people with IBS who have become worried about fiber's effects on their symptoms. In actuality, these foods should be helpful in terms of easing IBS symptoms of both constipation and diarrhea, due to fiber's effect of softening and firming the stool. The key is to increase your fiber intake slowly to allow time for your system to adjust.

With IBS, it is also important to rule out a wheat sensitivity. Watch out also for an intolerance to bran, which can be irritating to the intestinal system.

Beans and Vegetables

Like other high-fiber carbohydrates, beans and starchy vegetables (e.g. potatoes) are recommended as a foundation of a diabetic diet. Consumption of all other vegetables is encouraged due to their nutritional benefits. If one of your IBS symptoms is excessive gas and bloating, the bean recommendation might not be right for you. Other potential vegetable problems for some IBS patients are raw vegetables and the "head" group, such as cauliflower and broccoli. With those exceptions, both disorders should be helped by eating a wide variety of vegetables.


Diabetic dietary advice encourages the intake of fruits while discouraging fruit juice. Due to their nutritional benefits, IBS patients should also be eating a wide variety of fruit, with the major exception of those who have established through the use of a hydrogen breath test that they have fructose intolerance.

Milk and Dairy Products

Nonfat or low-fat dairy products are optimal for both disorders. Minimizing fat consumption is of particular importance when you have IBS as fat can strengthen intestinal contractions, contributing to abdominal pain. IBS patients who have a firm diagnosis of lactose intolerance will need to take care with dairy products.

Yogurt can be helpful if you have IBS due to the presence of beneficial probiotics. If you have diabetes, you should read labels carefully to watch out for excessive added sugar.

Meat and Fish

The protein found in meat and fish is usually well-tolerated by both people with diabetes and those with IBS. Choose lean varieties to minimize the problematic effect of fat on the digestive system.

Artificial Sweeteners

Many diabetic foods contain artificial sweeteners. This can be a problem if you have IBS as some artificial sweeteners can contribute to problems with gas and bloating. Read labels carefully and beware of sweeteners that end in -ol, such as sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol.

Good Eating Habits for Both

Both diabetes and IBS symptoms can be helped through the establishment of healthy eating habits. Both disorders will benefit from eating small meals frequently throughout the day as opposed to large meals. Try to time your meals in a consistent manner from day to day. This will help to stabilize blood sugar levels and to encourage your intestines to establish a more consistent rhythm.

The Silver Lining

Whoever was the first to say "Life is unfair" certainly knew what they were talking about. It can be challenging enough to deal with one health problem; two can seem overwhelming. The silver lining to this particular black cloud, the co-existence of diabetes and IBS, is that it forces you to become more aware of, and choosy about, the foods that you put into your body. Both disorders benefit from foods that are healthy, nutritious and minimally processed. Eating these foods on a consistent basis will serve to enhance your overall health as well as help to keep your diabetes and IBS in check.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  4. Catassi C, Alaedini A, Bojarski C, et al. The overlapping area of non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) and wheat-sensitive irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): An updateNutrients. 2017;9(11):1268. doi:10.3390/nu9111268

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Additional Reading

By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.