IBS Diet: Foods to Eat and AvoidDec 15, 2021
by Mia Zivkovic and Doc Mok
Many people with IBS or general digestive problems often wonder what they can do to manage their symptoms. Nutrition is key in doing so; in fact, following an IBS diet can be the factor that finally curbs your frustrating flare-ups.
What is IBS?
IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome, is a condition that impacts the digestive tract. It is relatively common, affecting 1 out of every 10 people in the United States. Symptoms of IBS include bloating, constipation, cramps, and diarrhea. These symptoms can cause immense discomfort and be an inconvenience to daily life. The exact source of IBS has not been found, but it is known that stress, sensitive nerves in the digestive system, and genetics play a role in bringing about the symptoms of this condition. There is no way to completely eliminate IBS from one’s life, but lifestyle changes can certainly help manage it. The most important of these changes is following an IBS diet.
What is the logic behind the IBS diet?
The IBS diet works by limiting the amount of FODMAPs a person eats. FODMAPs are:
- Fermentable Oligosaccharides
- And Polyols
In other words, they are carbohydrates that cannot be digested or absorbed well by the body. When these carbohydrates are left undigested, it can lead to the production of excess gas by gut bacteria. As a result, the common symptoms of IBS, including bloating, constipation, and cramping, arise.
In order to prevent such symptoms, one should follow the IBS diet. Developed in Australia, this diet lowers the amount of FODMAPs one consumes. The common foods that trigger IBS symptoms are eliminated, and the condition can be better managed.
Which foods should I avoid for an IBS diet?
These are some foods to limit when following an IBS diet. Surprisingly, many of these foods are otherwise considered healthy and nutritious. It is difficult to completely eliminate all of them, but eating minimal amounts is key to managing IBS symptoms.
- Artificial sweeteners: Artificial sweeteners that are polyols, such as sorbitol, mannitol, isomalt, maltitol, and xylitol should be limited.
- Certain vegetables: Broccoli, artichokes, onions, Brussels sprouts, garlic, and asparagus are some examples of vegetables that commonly trigger IBS symptoms.
- Beans: Different types of beans, such as chickpeas, lentils, and kidney beans have been known to cause digestive discomfort.
- Fruits high in fructose: Fruits such as pears, apples, and many dried fruits are not digested well and can lead to the production of excess gas in the digestive tract, leading to discomfort. For people with IBS, these fruits have a similar effect as consuming products with high fructose corn syrup.
- Dairy products containing lactose: Milk products, yogurt, and especially cheeses are common trigger foods for IBS. This is especially true for people who are lactose intolerant.
- Alcohol and other carbonated beverages: Alcohol and carbonated beverages can lead to gas and bloating.
- Fatty foods: For some people, fried and fatty foods can cause diarrhea, which is a major symptom of IBS.
- Caffeine: According to Hopkins Medicine, caffeine can be another cause of diarrhea.
- Refined carbohydrates: White bread, cereals, and other carbohydrates not made with whole grains can lead to the production of excess gas.
- Foods containing soluble fiber: Oats, barley, nuts, and seeds,
Which foods should I eat in an IBS diet?
The foods listed below should be eaten in plentiful amounts during an IBS diet. They support digestive health and allow for the management of IBS sympfruits, and vegetables contain soluble fiber. This type of fiber can dissolve in water and is easily digested by gut bacteria. As a result, it can improve constipation by softening the stool.
- Fruits low in fructose: Bananas, berries, grapefruit, cantaloupe, honeydew, and citrus fruits can be beneficial for people with IBS.
- Lactose-free dairy products/ dairy alternatives: Eating dairy substitutes or lactose-free dairy products can help control IBS symptoms associated with lactose intolerance.
- Vegetables: Bean sprouts, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, eggplant, olives, and potatoes are some of the most common vegetables that should be eaten with IBS.
- Fluids: Drinking 8-10 glasses of water a day can minimize constipation and help replace water loss from diarrhea. Herbal teas are another helpful fluid to drink in an IBS diet.
Other tips for managing IBS
The foods you eat (and avoid) in an IBS diet are key to controlling symptoms, but other habits can also help manage IBS.
- Keep a food diary: Recording what you eat can help you identify foods that trigger IBS symptoms. Trigger foods vary from person to person, so it is important to figure out foods that cause symptoms for you personally.
- Eat slowly: Eating at a slower pace aids in digestion and allows you to avoid uncomfortable symptoms such as gas and bloating.
- Exercise regularly: Regular physical activity contributes to digestive health.
- Minimize stress: Finding techniques to help you cope with stress is essential in maintaining a healthy gut. Stress can often trigger or exacerbate symptoms of IBS, so it is important to control your stress levels in order to manage IBS successfully.
IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome, is a common condition that causes bloating, constipation, cramps, and diarrhea. Although IBS cannot be entirely cured, its symptoms can be managed by following an IBS diet.
IBS diets typically include low-FODMAP foods while minimizing inflammatory and high-FODMAP foods. Although trigger foods may vary depending on the individual, there are certain foods that should generally be avoided by people with IBS.
In addition to following an IBS diet, other lifestyle changes including regular exercise, minimizing stress, eating slowly, and keeping a food diary can help keep IBS symptoms at bay.