IBS Diet Guide

Medically reviewed by Daniel Murrell, MD on August 7, 2017Written by Kristeen Moore and Valencia Higuera

Diets for IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is an uncomfortable disorder characterized by dramatic changes in bowel movements. Some people experience diarrhea, while others have constipation. Cramps and abdominal pain can make everyday activities unbearable.

Medical intervention is important in the treatment of IBS, but did you know that certain diets may improve your symptoms? Explore the most common diets available to reduce uncomfortable symptoms, and work toward leading a healthy life.

1. High-fiber diet

Fiber adds bulk to your stools, which helps aid in movement. The average adult should eat 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day. While this seems simple enough, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases estimates that most people only eat 5 to 14 grams per day.

Fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are nutritious and help prevent constipation. However, if you experience bloating from increased fiber intake, try focusing solely on soluble fiber found in fruits and vegetables instead of grains.

2. Low-fiber diet

While fiber can help some people with IBS, increasing fiber intake can worsen symptoms if you frequently have gas and diarrhea. Before you completely eliminate fiber from your diet, concentrate on sources of soluble fiber found in produce items, such as apples, berries, carrots, and oatmeal. Soluble fiber dissolves in water instead of adding extra bulk associated with insoluble fiber. Common sources of insoluble fiber include whole grains, nuts, tomatoes, raisins, broccoli, and cabbage.

You may also consider taking anti-diarrheal medicines 30 minutes before eating fiber to reduce the effects. This method is especially helpful when eating in restaurants and on the go. However, you shouldn’t make a habit of it.

3. Gluten-free diet

Gluten is a protein found in grain products such as bread and pasta. The protein can damage the intestines in people who are gluten-intolerant. Some people with a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten also experience IBS. In such cases, a gluten-free diet may reduce symptoms.

Eliminate barley, rye, and wheat from your diet to see if gastrointestinal problems improve. If you’re a bread and pasta fanatic, there is still hope; you can find gluten-free versions of your favorite products in health foods stores and many grocery stores.

4. Elimination diet

An elimination diet focuses on avoiding certain foods for an extended period of time to see if your IBS symptoms improve. The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) recommends cutting out these four common culprits: coffee, chocolate, insoluble fiber, and nuts.

However, you should forgo any food you find suspect. Completely eliminate one food from your diet for 12 weeks at a time. Note any differences in your IBS symptoms and move on to the next food on your list.

5. Low-fat diet

High-fat foods are known contributors to a variety of health issues, such as obesity. However, they can be especially hard on those with IBS by worsening symptoms. High-fat foods are generally low in fiber, which can be problematic for IBS-related constipation. According to the Cleveland Clinic, fatty foods are particularly bad for people with mixed IBS, which is characterized by a combination of constipation and diarrhea. Embarking on a low-fat diet is good for your heart and may improve uncomfortable bowel symptoms.

Instead of eating fried foods and animal fats, focus on lean meats, fruits, vegetables, grains and low-fat dairy products.

6. Low FODMAP diet

FODMAPs are carbohydrates that are difficult for the intestines to digest. Since these carbs pull more water into the bowel, people with IBS may experience more gas, bloating, and diarrhea after eating these foods. The acronym stands for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.” Temporarily restricting or limiting your intake of high FODMAP foods for six to eight weeks may improve your symptoms of IBS.

It’s important to note that not all carbohydrates are FODMAPs. For the best outcome, you have to remove the right kinds of foods. Foods to avoid include:

  • lactose (milk, ice cream, cheese, yogurt)
  • certain fruits (peaches, watermelon, pears, mangoes, apples, plums, nectarines)
  • legumes
  • high-fructose corn syrup
  • sweeteners
  • wheat-based bread, cereals, and pasta
  • cashews and pistachios
  • certain vegetables (artichoke, asparagus, broccoli, onions, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, mushrooms)

Keep in mind that while this diet eliminates some fruits, nuts, vegetables, and dairy, it doesn’t eliminate all foods from these categories. If you drink milk, choose lactose-free milk or other alternatives such as rice or soy milk. To avoid overly restrictive meals, speak with a dietician before beginning this diet.

Your best diet

Certain foods can help IBS, but everyone is different. Examine your symptoms and talk to your doctor before starting a new diet. Stay in tune with how your body reacts to certain diets, as you may need to tweak the foods you eat. According to the National Institutes of Health, you should drink plenty of water, exercise regularly, and decrease your caffeine intake to promote regularity and minimize IBS symptoms.

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