Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is an uncomfortable disorder characterized by dramatic changes in bowel movements. Some patients experience diarrhea, while others have constipation. Cramps and abdominal pain 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 embarrassing symptoms and work towards leading a normal life.
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 Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse estimates that most people only eat 5 to 14 grams per day (NDDIC, 2012). 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.
While fiber can help some IBS patients, increasing fiber can worsen symptoms if you are frequently gassy and have 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.
Gluten is a protein found in grain products such as bread and pasta. The protein can damage the intestines in patients 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.
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 recommends cutting out these four common culprits: coffee, chocolate, insoluble fiber, and nuts (IFFGD, 2012). 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.
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 worse in patients 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.
Personal 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 (NIH, 2012).