Living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is frustrating, especially when it comes to mealtimes. You often can't enjoy your meal because you’re so worried about whether your food choices will trigger an episode of bloating, gas, cramps, diarrhea or constipation.
You're not alone. An estimated 10 to 15 percent of people have IBS, which is twice as common in women, and it often goes undiagnosed. (Learn the 5 Signs You May Have IBS.) While the exact cause unknown, it's clear that multiple factors – including the foods you eat – play a role in exacerbating symptoms.
Be Your Own Nutrition Detective
Get to know your body. Record your food intake and symptoms for one week. Record when and how much you ate and drank. At the same time, record your gastrointestinal symptoms. Noting the onset, reaction and severity of the symptoms will you identify the "trigger" food that may not be kind to your gut.
Food And IBS
Everybody responds to foods differently. A food that triggers an IBS attack in you may not be an issue for someone else. Figuring out what's "safe" for you to eat and what to avoid is often a case of trial and error.
But there are some foods that are easier to digest – and others that are more likely to aggravate an already sensitive digestive system.
IBS Diet: Kitchen Staples
Stock your pantry and fridge with foods that are gentle on your system. You can use these foundational foods to create satisfying and healthy meals and snacks without causing stomach upset:
- Poultry and fish: High-fat foods, including red meat, overstimulate the gut. Instead, opt for chicken, turkey or fish.
- Cooked vegetables: Cooked vegetables are easier to digest than raw ones. However, you may still want to avoid cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, which can cause bloating and gas even when cooked.
- Certain grains: Gluten-free oatmeal and brown rice are usually well-received by people with IBS and provide soluble fiber, which helps regulate bowel movements.
- Low-fat yogurt: Some people with IBS have worse symptoms after eating dairy foods. But if you aren’t sensitive to the lactose in dairy, low-fat yogurt is filling and contains probiotics. Preliminary research suggests that these good bacteria may even help reduce IBS symptoms.
- Egg whites: Eggs are an excellent source of protein and don’t typically provoke IBS attacks. If fat is a trigger for you, use just the egg whites.
Foods To Avoid
These foods commonly spark a cascade of symptoms for people with irritable bowel syndrome:
- High-fiber products, found in cereals, grains, pastas and processed foods
- Gas-producing foods, like beans, lentils, carbonated beverages and cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower
- Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and many processed foods
- Fried foods, which often cause gas and bloating especially in those who have reflux
- Coffee, which stimulates bowel activity in some who have reflux symptoms
- Spicy foods, which can worsen IBS symptoms for some people who contend with reflux
Low FODMAP Diet For IBS
Some people who have irritable bowel syndrome symptoms still do not feel well despite trying the basic ideas above. Luckily, researchers in last few years have determined a more specific diet therapy that has been helpful to those who require a more rigorous approach to get the response desired. Because of the complexity, it is best to enlist the help of a registered dietitian to implement the FODMAP diet.
Doctors frequently recommend the low FODMAP diet for those with IBS. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligo-saccharides, di-saccharides, mono-saccharides and polyols, specific types of carbohydrates that are more difficult for some people to absorb.
FODMAPs may lead to increased gas formation. Research indicates that following a low FODMAP diet reduces abdominal pain and bloating for the majority of people with IBS.
The Low FODMAP diet:
- Eliminates foods, including some fruits and vegetables, dairy, beans, wheat and a variety of condiments and other foods.
- Is a temporary solution until gut bacteria is under control, and you can tolerate these foods again.
- Works best with nutritional counseling.
- A dietitian can create a low FODMAP meal plan that provides all the necessary nutrients and is personalized to your food preferences.
Find Your IBS Treatment Solution
IBS treatment focuses on addressing symptoms. In addition to diet changes, other lifestyle factors like stress and sleep quality can also affect the disorder. The good news is that you can often manage IBS through lifestyle adjustments.
A gastroenterologist, a doctor that specializes in the digestive system, can help determine what factors have the most significant impact on your gut health and the treatments that will help you feel better. Improve your quality of life by finding a doctor today.
Learn More About IBS
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By Robbie Schneider
Social Media Manager