IBS Diet: Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Fix IBS symptoms such as abdominal pain and bloating by improving your nutrition and diet

First things first: work with your doctor and a GI Specialist to diagnose your Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).  The condition is typically associated with cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation, or all of the above (ugh).

Like many other conditions, you will experience these symptoms along a sliding scale of severity.  Luckily, when you have a "flare up", there are things you can do to relieve your discomfort.  Call it a better IBS diet.  Read on for our recommendations for how diet can help relieve your IBS symptoms.  Enjoy!

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Don't let IBS get the best of you

Wait a minute, what is IBS anyway?

Irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS, affects the large intestine and can cause bloating, gas, constipation and sharp stomach pains. IBS can strike at any age and usually gets worse during stressful times. Although the exact cause of IBS is unclear, researchers believe IBS is caused by irregular intestine muscle contractions, nervous system abnormalities, inflammation, infection and changes in gut bacteria. Although IBS is considered a chronic disease, you can manage and even eliminate your symptoms through specific IBS diet changes.

 

First, what are the biggest IBS Diet misconceptions that we hear today?

Misinformation on eating for IBS is rampant. Just ask the Google machine.  You will find thousands of results, with recommendations as varied as low-glycemic, low-carbohydrate, low-fiber, high-fiber, low-fat, no-high-fructose-corn-syrup, and detox diets (wow, that was a mouthful).

The IBS head-scratching exists among patients, physicians, and dietitians too.  Our team has identified three main misconceptions:

  1. IBS can only be managed with medication: NO-NO-NO! (did we say no?!)  Because IBS has multiple causes, existing medication does not always work.  Medication is one piece of a complicated puzzle.  However, improving your diet can be an effective first step in alleviating your IBS symptoms.  Your doctor, GI specialist, and nutritionist can help build a multi-faceted regimen to help you feel better.

  2. IBS diets can be fixed with one "golden ticket": 'Just have your patient eat more fiber.’ Sadly, this isn't true.  Although a higher-fiber IBS diet works for some, it doesn’t always.  For some clients, high-fiber IBS diets can even make symptoms worse.

  3. IBS, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are all basically the same thing:  Also false.  Although all of these conditions are GI issues, each has different underlying causes and slightly different treatment regimens.  The numbers bear this out: IBS is two to three times more common in individuals with inflammatory bowel disease than in the general population.

 

So, what are the triggers of an IBS flare up?

The truth is, leading a busy, hectic, life can trigger IBS...

But, do we actually know what causes IBS?

The short answer is no, but it's more complicated than that

  • Muscle contractions in the intestine. The walls of the intestines are lined with layers of muscle that contract as they move food through your digestive tract.  This is how digestion works!  Stronger contractions that last longer than normal can cause gas, bloating and diarrhea. To the contrary, weak intestinal contractions can slow food passage and lead to hard, dry bowel movements.

  • Nervous system. Your digestive organs are covered with nerves.  That's what makes you feel hungry, full, and everything in between.  Abnormalities in the nerves in your digestive system may cause you to experience increased discomfort when your abdomen stretches from gas or stool. Irregular signals between your brain and intestines can cause your body to overreact to changes that normally occur in the digestive process.  The result: pain, diarrhea or constipation.

  • Inflammation in the intestines. Some people with IBS have an increased number of immune-system cells in their intestines. Like other suspected causes, this immune-system response is associated with pain and diarrhea.

  • Severe infection. IBS can develop after a severe bout of diarrhea (gastroenteritis) caused by bacteria or a virus. IBS might also be associated with a surplus of bacteria in the intestines (bacterial overgrowth).

  • Changes in bacteria in the gut (microflora). Microflora are the "good" bacteria that reside in the intestines and play a key role in health. Research indicates that microflora in people with IBS might differ from microflora in healthy people.

Read our full piece on IBS causes here

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Here's what you can do about it!

As part of a successful IBS Diet, you may want to avoid eating:

  • High-gas foods such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and beans

  • Carbonated beverages

  • Chewing gum or drinking liquids through a straw.  Why?  Both of which can lead to swallowing air, which causes more gas

  • Fried or other high-fat foods

  • Avoid large meals, which may promote cramping and/or diarrhea

  • Minimize consumption of foods high in lactose, such as milk, ice cream, and soft cheeses, especially if lactose intolerance is suspected

  • Avoid or minimize alcohol and caffeine intake, as both substances can stimulate the intestines and lead to diarrhea

  • Avoid artificial sweeteners that contain sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol, which may cause diarrhea

  • Avoid High-FODMAP foodsFODMAPs are un-absorbable carbohydrates that act as substrates for bacterial fermentation and gas production, potentially triggering GI symptoms

  • Avoid gluten.  Your doctor may recommend an IBS diet that avoids gluten—a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye—to see if your IBS symptoms improve. Foods that contain gluten include most cereal, grains, and pasta, and many processed foods. Some people with IBS have more symptoms after eating gluten, even though they do not have celiac disease.

A word of caution: because everyone's IBS situation is different, not all of these foods will trigger IBS symptoms in every person.  The list above suggests foods that commonly cause IBS symptoms.

So what should my IBS Diet look like?

We share the foods that will do your whole GI tract a favor

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals...why? because they are easier to digest!

  • Love savory foods?  Your stomach can better handle hard cheeses, lactose-free milk, lactose-free ice cream, and low-lactose or lactose-free yogurt or kefir.  These products are either low- or lactose-free

  • Drink plenty of fluids (i.e. water!) to help alleviate constipation

  • Foods rich in soluble fiber, such as oatmeal, oat bran, oranges, strawberries, nuts, and carrots

We also suggest eating more fiber.  Fiber may improve IBS constipation because it makes stool soft and easier to pass. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults should get 22 to 34 grams of fiber a day.

Two types of fiber are:

  • Soluble fiber, which is found in beans, fruit, and oat products.  Research suggests that soluble fiber is more helpful in relieving IBS symptoms.

  • Insoluble fiber, which is found in whole-grain products and vegetables

To help your body get used to more fiber, add higher fiber foods to your diet bit by bit.  Blasting your system with fiber can cause gas, which can trigger IBS symptoms. Adding fiber to your diet slowly, by 2 to 3 grams a day, may help prevent gas and bloating.

In addition to the tips we shared above, one of the most common IBS diets is a low FODMAP diet.  Read more about our low FODMAP recommendations.

 

I'd like to take an even more detailed IBS Diet approach.  What should I do?

Sometimes it's best to take a detailed and regimented approach.  Below is the process we follow with our clients:

  1. Make a detailed list of your diet

  2. Write down your your symptom history

  3. Connect your diet patterns to your symptoms to identify individual food intolerances and responses.

If your physician or dietitian has ruled out other conditions such as celiac disease and lactose intolerance, you should move forward to a complete food log:

Share the results with your dietitian (hopefully us!).  We review your log to find connections between your food intake and your symptoms.  We use this information to identify foods and activities that give them trouble.

If we determine that you do have IBS, the ADA’s Nutrition Care Manual suggests a comprehensive nutritional assessment as a next step.  This nutritional assessment includes:

  • Complete food history

  • Anthropometrics

  • Biochemical and clinical parameters

  • Swallowing problems

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Constipation

  • Diarrhea

  • Heartburn

  • Food allergies and intolerances

  • Cultural food practices

  • Alternative therapies in the assessment

Want to learn about what each of these topics means and why it is important? Read about a full nutrition assessment here!

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What about medication?  How does that fit in?

There are a numerous traditional drugs on the market to treat IBS.  Your healthcare providers can determine what is best for you based on your specific circumstances.  However, because there are numerous causes and triggers to IBS, we believe that a proper IBS diet is a key part to living comfortably with gastro-intestinal issues.

Here are a few non pharmaceutical interventions to try:

  • Practice mindfulness: finding ways to de-stress can also calm your digestive system

  • Try eating probiotics: a quick and simple change, eating probiotics has been shown to relieve IBS symptoms

  • Over-the-counter medicines such as immodium or miralax can relieve diahhrea; however, they likely will not fix the underlying causes of your symptoms

  • Prescription medicines: studies have shown that despite their side effects, prescription medicines do their job well

Want more details? Read our full write up on treatment options and medication here!

 

OH, and FODMAPS.  I've heard of them.  How do they work?

Take a deep breath; it's a mouthful: FODMAP stands for fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols.

In other words, FODMAPS are carbohydrate-containing foods that can cause gastrointestinal discomfort.  A low-FODMAP approach is considered a short-term elimination IBS diet, not a forever diet.  A low-FODMAP IBS diet has two parts:

Read more about how a low-FODMAP approach can alleviate your IBS

Our Team Listens

Your symptoms are unique to you.  Your nutritionist tracks your food with you and makes specific recommendations to help you feel better 

A plan built just for you

Based upon your daily routine, we will build a custom plan to help alleviate your GI and IBS issues

Continuous Improvement

Success does not happen overnight.  If something isn't working quite right, we make changes right away

Britney Kennedy

Britney Kennedy

Founder

We have worked with hundreds of clients who live with GI issues such as IBS.  We know how hard it can be to live with the condition.  We hope you will allow us to help you tackle your GI issue head-on.

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Our dietitians and nutritionists build custom plans tailored to help you find relief from your GI issues.  Our expertise includes:

IBS
Crohn's Disease
Ulcerative colitis

 

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Let's tackle your IBS challenges.  Why wait another day?