IBS and your Diet

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For most people, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition, although there will likely be times when the symptoms are worse and times when they improve or even disappear completely.  Some people are able to trace their condition back to a bout of food poisoning, something which is called post-infective IBS.  Certain bacteria, like salmonella, are known to cause it.  About 60% of people who get this kind of IBS have it for less than 5 years.

Whilst doctors aren't sure what exactly causes IBS, it is known that stress, depression, and certain foods can trigger it.

Although there is no particular diet to follow, your symptoms may be controlled by limiting or eliminating foods that are known to trigger it.  Many people with IBS use a daily food diary to keep track of what they eat and whether they have any symptoms after eating certain foods. Over time, this enables them to identify possible food triggers.

Here are some general principles to get you started:

• Have regular meals and take your time to eat.
• Avoid skipping meals, or have long stretches without food.
• Drink plenty of fluids.
• Avoid alcohol and carbonated drinks.
• Limit coffee and tea to no more than 3 cups a day.
• If you are prone to developing lots of gas and bloating, limit the amount of high-fiber foods, such as whole grain breads, cereals, rice and pasta, in your diet.
• Resistant starch is found in foods like cold or reheated potatoes, bread, and cereal, and it isn't digested well by your body. Too much of it can cause gas and bloating.

1. Avoid Insoluble Fiber

Whilst eating insoluble fiber, such as whole grains, vegetables and fruits, can help relieve constipation, it can also increase your trips to the bathroom and sometime cause diarrhoea and make you feel bloated.

Focus on soluble fiber instead. Foods with soluble fiber include: 

• Grains, like oatmeal and barley
• Root vegetables, like carrots and parsnips
• Fruits, like berries, mangos, oranges, and grapefruit
• Legumes, like peas

2. Avoid Gluten

Products containing rye, wheat, and barley contain gluten.  Many people with IBS are also gluten intolerant. A gluten-free diet has been shown to reduce diarrhoea in patients with IBS.  

3. Avoid Dairy

Milk tends to be a problem for 2 reasons.  Firstly, milk contains fat, and fat tends to increase diarrhoea.  Secondly, about 1 in 10 people with IBS also have lactose intolerance, which means that they cannot digest lactose in milk.     

You may not need to avoid dairy altogether. Instead, try dairy products (like cheese and yogurt) that have less lactose, and spread the amount of dairy you eat throughout the day.

4. Avoid Caffeine

Some just can't go without their morning cuppa.  However, coffee, like other caffeinated drinks, has a stimulating effect on the intestines and can cause diarrhoea.

5. Avoid Processed Foods

We tend not to think too much about them, but processed foods often contain additives or ingredients that might trigger IBS flare-ups. 

Where possible use fresh ingredients for your meals, rather than getting them out of a can or jar.

6. The FODMAP Diet

FODMAP is the acronym for a group of osmotically active, rapidly fermentable, short-chain carbohydrates.  

FODMAP stands for:

Fermentable - refers to the food groups below which are fermented in the gut
Oligosaccharides (eg. Fructans and Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS)) - artichoke, cabbage, onion, and garlic
Disaccharides (eg. Lactose) - Cow or goat milk
Monosaccharides (eg. excess Fructose) - Apples, peaches, mangos, and pears.
Polyols (eg. Sorbitol, Mannitol, Maltitol, Xylitol and Isomalt) - Avocados, apricots, prunes, snow peas, and xylitol.

Research suggests that they’re not well absorbed by the small intestine. It’s thought that they increase fluid in the bowel and create more gas, resulting in pain, gas, and diarrhoea. Try a low FODMAP Diet and your symptoms may indeed improve.

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Further Reading

The article above is meant to provide general information and does not replace a doctor's consultation.
Please see your doctor for professional advice.