IBS Diet

One of the most challenging aspects of having irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is trying to figure out what to eat so as not to set off symptoms. Unfortunately, because of the fact that no two bodies are the same, there is no one-size-fits-all IBS diet. In this comprehensive guide, you will learn about all aspects of the relationship between food and your IBS. This will help you to make the healthiest food choices you can for your body.

Top 2 Specialized Diets for IBS

After a thorough research review, the American College of Gastroenterology concluded that two types of diets may be effective in reducing IBS symptoms:

1. The Low-FODMAP Diet: The low-FODMAP diet is the only diet that has considerable research support for its effectiveness for IBS. The diet involves restricting foods that are high in FODMAPs, (carbohydrates found in ordinary foods that have been shown to contribute to IBS symptoms), for a short period of time. The second phase of the diet entails introducing foods back into your diet, one FODMAP type at a time, to assess for your own individual tolerance. The ultimate goal of the diet is to eat as wide a range of foods as you can without experiencing symptoms.

The diet can certainly be challenging as many common foods tend to be high in FODMAPs. But done right, it can be quite effective. In fact, research has been shown that approximately 75 percent of people who attempt it for their IBS under the supervision of qualified dietary professional experience significant symptom relief.

2. The Gluten-Free Diet: Many people who have IBS report that their symptoms improve when they eliminate gluten from their diet, even if they do not have celiac disease. Gluten is a protein found in foods that contain wheat, rye, or barley. The notion of gluten playing a role in IBS is one that has received some preliminary research attention. As of now, some researchers float the theory that such a gluten sensitivity (a condition known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity) may be the cause of IBS in a certain sub-set of individuals.

Other researchers argue that the protein gluten is not the problem, but rather the FODMAP fructan that is also found in wheat, rye or barley. Regardless of which is the actual culprit, it is important that you get yourself tested for celiac disease before you attempt to go gluten-free.

Food Allergies, Intolerance, and Sensitivities

Identifiable food allergies, intolerance, or sensitivities, may exist alongside IBS or be the underlying cause of intestinal symptoms. In order to figure out if you have a problem with a particular food, it would first be helpful to understand the difference among the three types of problems:

Food Allergies: A food allergy is diagnosed when your body has an immune system response to a food that is harmless for most people. A food allergy typically manifests itself with classic allergy symptoms such as itchiness, hives, breathing difficulties, lip swelling, and throat tightening. However, a food allergy may also result in digestive symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Food allergy symptoms typically show up within two hours of eating the triggering food.

Food Intolerance: A food intolerance is one in which your body lacks the ability to fully digest and absorb a particular type of food. The most well-known example is lactose intolerance, in which you don't have enough of the enzyme lactase to break down lactose, the milk sugar in dairy products. The sugar then is available to be acted upon by gut bacteria causing unwanted digestive symptoms. Another example is fructose malabsorption. Fructose malabsorption is experienced by approximately one third of all humans due to a deficit in the amount of of a certain transporter substance necessary for fully digesting any fructose you might have eaten.

Lactose intolerance and fructose malabsorption can be diagnosed through the use of an elimination diet or a hydrogen breath test.

Food Sensitivity: Food sensitivities are a little more of a gray area than those of food allergies or intolerance as such sensitivities can be hard to identify through the use of diagnostic testing. However, there are a variety of different foods that have a reputation for being associated with triggering IBS symptoms. As discussed above, many people with IBS have self-identified a gluten sensitivity. Other common foods identified as IBS trigger foods include chocolate, coffee, corn, soy, and meats. If you suspect that a particular food is a problem for you, it would be helpful if you were to keep a food diary, tracking your food intake and any other factors that might be relevant to your symptoms.

What to Eat for Gas and Bloating

You may be relieved to learn that there are ways in which changing how you eat can help to reduce your symptoms of chronic gas and bloating. Sometimes something as simple as slowing down when you eat or avoiding chewing gum can make a difference because you will be swallowing less air. More often, gas and bloating are related to how your body is processing the foods that you eat. On days that you really need to be gas-free, it would help to avoid known gassy foods and choose foods that have a reputation for being non-gassy.

For a more comprensive approach, at the very least you will want to identify whether a lactose intolerance or fructose malabsorption are causing your symptoms. You may want to consider trying the low-FODMAP diet, as it can be effective in reducing the symptoms of gas and bloating. Last, you may want to talk to your doctor to rule out small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), a health condition that can present with gas and bloating and other IBS symptoms.

What to Eat for Constipation

To ease chronic problems with constipation, most likely you need to be eating more dietary fiber. However, it is very important to increase the amount of fiber that you take in slowly to give your body time to adjust. The type of fiber that you add is also important, as researchers have found that soluble fiber is better tolerated and more helpful for people who have IBS.

In addition to adding more fiber, you can help to ease chronic problems with constipation by drinking more water and eating foods that contain healthy fats. You may also find it helpful to make sure that you eat a large breakfast so as to work with your body's biorhythms to encourage a morning bowel movement and to eat your meals throughout the day on a predictable schedule so as to keep things moving.

What to Eat for IBS with Diarrhea

The urgency and disruptive nature of episodes often seems to prompt a desperate scramble for safe foods. Bland foods may be your go-to for really bad days, but they are not a long-term solution. For best results, you will want to rule out any food intolerance or SIBO and perhaps give the low-FODMAP diet a try.

Other ways to help your digestive system to settle down include avoiding large meals and instead choosing to eat small meals throughout your day. And make sure to avoid any foods that are fatty, greasy, or creamy as those can speed up intestinal contractions and send you running to the bathroom.

Recipes for IBS

Home-cooking has health advantages in general but can really make a difference in how you feel when you have IBS, as you have full control over the ingredients that you are using. Luckily, the advent of the low-FODMAP diet has inspired multiple food bloggers to post their favorite low-FODMAP recipes. You now have more options than ever before for cooking IBS-friendly meals for yourself that can also be shared with family and friends.

More From Verywell

Here at Verywell, we have dug deep into the relationship between some foods and IBS so as to help you to broaden the variety of foods that you eat. If you are looking to improve your overall gut health, you may want to learn more about the use of fermented foods or bone broth. Perhaps you are interested in learning more about avocados, coconut or, of course, chocolate! Last, particularly if constipation is a primary problem for you, you may be interested in looking into the newly popular seeds: chia seeds and flaxseed.

The Bottom Line

Although the relationship between food and IBS is clearly a complex one, there are changes that you can make in both the way that you approach meals and the foods that you choose to eat that can make a difference with your IBS. A smart eating strategy can dovetail nicely with the medical treatment that you receive from your doctor in order to bring about your much-wished-for symptom relief.

IBS Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

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