Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS for short, is a common issue that can cause painful symptoms such as cramps, bloating, diarrhea or constipation. Unfortunately, it is not known why IBS occurs, nor is there a cure for it. However, the good news is that for most people, symptoms can easily be managed, with one of the best ways being simple changes to our diet. Let’s have a look at some of the most effective changes you can make…
Find Your ‘Trigger Foods’
Trigger foods are those which make symptoms worse and should where possible be limited in the diet. Although everyone is likely to have different foods that worsen their symptoms, foods that are spicy, fried and fatty, and caffeinated and carbonated drinks are typical triggers.
It can be a good idea to keep a food journal, making a note of all the food and drink that passes your lips. If you also make a note of any IBS symptoms you experience, soon enough you should find that patterns start to appear. When they do, try eliminating these items from your diet.
Change Your Eating Pattern
Missing meals or eating them too quickly often leads to excessive gas and bloating. Eating too quickly has also been linked to weight-gain, as the stomach hasn’t had chance to send signals to the brain to indicate enough food has been eaten. Many people find that eating smaller meals more regularly works best for managing symptoms of IBS, rather than feasting on a handful of much larger dishes.
Consume More Fiber
Most of us in the US are falling well short of the recommended 30g of fiber per day. Fiber-rich diets have been linked to a lower risk of developing certain cancers such as those of the colon and breast. Fiber is also important for healthy cholesterol and blood sugar.
A healthy fiber intake is arguably even more crucial for those of us with IBS. It is important to understand that there are two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble. In those with IBS, it is best to limit the intake of insoluble fiber from foods such as whole grains, cruciferous veg, bran cereal and certain legumes as these can worsen diarrhea symptoms.
Instead, IBS suffers for the most part should focus on soluble fiber sources such as potatoes, strawberries, blueberries, cucumbers and carrots which are easier on the gut.
Additionally, many people benefit from taking a fiber supplement such as psyllium husk which is packed with soluble fiber. Scientific studies have repeatedly demonstrated that psyllium husk supplements have been shown to be highly effective for reducing IBS-related symptoms.
Ensuring that sufficient fluid is consumed on a daily basis is fundamentally important for ensuring a healthy gut. If constipation arises, a regular fluid intake will help to ensure that food moves efficiently through the digestive system. Furthermore, diarrhea can lead to significant water and electrolyte losses which can worsen the situation. So, a regular fluid intake alongside some salty foods (to replace sodium) and foods rich in potassium such as bananas and potatoes will help to rectify the imbalance.
For most people, 2-2.5 liters of fluid per day should be sufficient to stay properly hydrated. This should primarily come from water, but it can also be from sugar free juice, and decaffeinated beverages. As mentioned earlier, fizzy and caffeinated beverages can trigger symptoms in many.
Limit Processed Foods
Processed foods are bad for our health in general, but are especially bad for those with IBS. A lot of processed foods are high in additives and preservatives which can negatively impact the ‘friendly’ bacteria in our gut. They are usually devoid of nutrients and are high in calories. Try preparing most of your food from scratch, which although can be time consuming, will be one of the best things you can do for the condition of your gut.
Try the FODMAP Diet
The FODMAP (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols) diet has been designed to reduce the intake of foods that are not efficiently absorbed in the small intestine and thus can cause irritation in those who are susceptible. There is some very good evidence that this can massively help IBS sufferers. If you try this diet, you will aim to avoid onion and garlic, and restrict numerous foods that fall under the category of legumes, fruits, dairy, cereals, grains, drinks and condiments. A full list of foods that are encouraged on the FODMAP diet and foods to avoid/restrict can be found here.
Probiotics and Other Supplements
There is more and more research emerging all the time that shows how important the bacteria in our gut are. Whether it is for helping the immune system, resisting weight gain or digesting our food symptom-free, they hold a key role.
Fermented foods such as soft aged cheese, sourdough bread, pickled vegetables and certain yoghurts will all provide beneficial strands of bacteria to help your gut thrive. If you do not like these foods or consume them regularly, a probiotic supplement is a viable option. There is also good evidence behind the use of aloe vera and peppermint to help soothe the muscles in the digestive system.
Hopefully this article has highlighted some ways that IBS can be managed through what we eat. Here’s to a symptom-free life!