Irritable Bowel Syndrome, more commonly referred to as IBS, is a condition experienced by an estimated 20 percent of Americans. Those suffering from IBS may experiences symptoms ranging from mild discomfort to severe dysfunction that can disrupt daily life. Read on to find out how dietary changes may help alleviate symptoms.
Studies suggest that following an appropriate IBS diet may be able to provide significant relief. Implementing an effective IBS diet requires a strong understanding of IBS as well as the benefits and drawbacks of various dietary approaches.
What is IBS?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a specific set of symptoms that generally are not seen in other disorders. These symptoms include cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, mucus in stool, and others. Typically, those with IBS also suffer from alternating periods of constipation and diarrhea that can change in severity. IBS is not known to increases the risk of life-threatening disease such as cancer, but it does typically have a notable impact on overall wellness. In some cases, IBS may cause intestinal damage that can contribute to the development of greater dysfunction and disorders.
IBS can be difficult to identify because its symptoms are often inconsistent and irregular. A diagnosis of IBS typically requires that a person experience intestinal issues associated with IBS an average of once per week for at least a three-month period.
Alleviate IBS Symptoms through Dietary Changes
Diet has a powerful impact regarding the occurrence of IBS symptoms. By following the appropriate diet, patients with IBS may be able to significantly improve their condition.
IBS causes a wide range of symptoms depending on individual patient factors. Therefore, when selecting a diet plan, it is important to choose one that attends to the patient’s specific needs. Below is a collection of diets to choose from that may help resolve symptoms associated with IBS.
High Fiber Diet
IBS patients who experience a high degree of constipation may benefit from following a diet high in fiber. Doing so can increase bowel motility and help alleviate blockages. The general recommendation is to eat between 20 to 35 grams a day. However, aggressively increasing fiber intake may cause other issues. Because of this, it is best to add fiber to your diet slowly over the span of several weeks. If you experience bloating and discomfort, you may need to reduce your intake of insoluble fiber such as that found in wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains.
Low Fiber Diet
In some cases, too much fiber can make matters worse. IBS patients who frequently experience diarrhea and excess gas may need to regulate or reduce their fiber intake. However, this does not mean removing fiber entirely. Rather, they focus should be on eating soluble fiber that absorbs water and adds bulk to stools. Some good sources of soluble fiber include seeds, beans, lentils, as well as some fruits and vegetables.
Those with IBS are likely to benefit from a gluten-free diet. Gluten is a protein found in many grain products including most breads and pastas. Consuming products that contain this protein can damage the intestine and promote IBS. Individuals with a gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease may experience significant intestinal damage when eating gluten that significantly increase IBS symptoms.
Low Fat Diet
Those with an existing case of IBS who follow a high fat diet are at risk of worsening their symptoms. According to the Cleveland Clinic, high fat diets can exacerbate combination IBS, which involves alternating between diarrheic and constipated states. Reducing intake of high fat foods may alleviate intestinal turmoil and provide notable IBS relief.
FODMAPS are a collection of carbohydrates that are particularly difficult to digest. Consumption of these products impacts the handling of water in the intestine and can contribute to the development or worsening of IBS symptoms such as bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea. Limiting or entirely ceasing intake of FODMAPS for a period of six to eight weeks is likely to improve IBS symptoms.
Foods high in FODMAPS include,
- Fruits: Apples, applesauce, apricots, blackberries, cherries, canned fruit, dates, figs, pears, and peaches
- Sweeteners: Fructose, honey, high fructose corn syrup, and xylitol
- Dairy products: Milk, ice cream, yogurt, sour cream, and cheese
- Vegetables: Artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, garlic, mushrooms,onions, and peas
- Legumes: Beans, chickpeas, lentils, and baked beans
- Wheat: Bread, pasta, tortillas, waffles, pancakes, and crackers
- Beverages: Beer, fortified wines, soft drinks with high-fructose corn syrup, and fruit juices
Please note that this isn’t an exhaustive list of foods high in FODMAPS.
General IBS Diet Guidelines
All IBS diets should include a healthy intake of water and employ smaller portion sizes. Ideally, everyone drinks at least eight glasses of water a day. This can help protect against dehydration caused by diarrhea and in the case of constipation facilitate better bowel motility. Additionally, reducing meal size and eating four to five times a day rather than the typical three large meals of western diets reduces stress on the digestive tract. Employing these practices may help alleviate many of the symptoms associated with IBS.
Suggested Foods to Include and Avoid while on an IBS Diet
Below are recommended foods to avoid or include in an IBS diet. However, the following lists may need to be tuned to suit your specific case depending on factors including but not limited to allergies and sensitivities.
Foods to Avoid
Several foods are associated with increased IBS symptom severity, duration, and occurrence. If suffering from IBS, consider eliminating or reducing intake of these common IBS triggers:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Carbonated and sugary beverages
- Fried or fatty foods
- High fructose corn syrup
- Ice cream
- Insoluble fiber
- Processed foods
Foods to Include
Alternatively, many foods promote greater intestinal wellness and may help alleviate IBS. Individuals experiencing IBS symptoms should consider increasing intake of the following foods:
- Beans and legumes (avoid these if following a FODMAP plan)
- Soluble fiber
- Whole grains
Food does not directly cause IBS. However, what we eat can have a significant impact on the severity and longevity of IBS. Therefore, following an appropriate IBS diet plan for your unique situation may provide notable IBS relief. If you are suffering from IBS, consider eliminating common intestinal stressors and eating more gut-supporting foods such as those mentioned above.
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