The Best Diet for IBS: Treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome with Food
If you constantly feel bloated, gassy, and uncomfortable, IBS could be to blame.
The symptoms of IBS are anything but desirable. Luckily, most individuals can greatly reduce their symptoms on their own. The most effective treatment options is to follow an elimination diet for IBS, in which you remove specific foods for a set period of time.
But what foods should you eliminate? And which elimination diets have proved to be most effective? Below, you’ll learn more about IBS, the causes and symptoms, and what foods to eliminate when seeking relief.
What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is a gastrointestinal disorder that affects your gut. The most common health issues associated with IBS include stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, and bloating caused from inflammation of the large intestine, or GI tract (1). As many as one in five people experience IBS, which can be triggered by stress, certain foods, or alcohol (2).
While the exact cause is unknown, many individuals with IBS have found relief by changing their diet. Some people find that eating more fiber, going gluten-free, taking probiotics, or following a special diet called the FODMAPS diet can improve their symptoms (1).
Starting an Elimination Diet: Foods that Trigger IBS
If you know the signs and symptoms of IBS all too well, a particular food group may be to blame. There’s growing evidence that certain foods like alcohol, caffeine, gluten, spicy foods, and lactose can cause symptoms to flare up.
Roughly two-thirds of IBS sufferers say specific foods cause IBS symptoms (3). Therefore, the most common treatment option is an elimination diet — the process of removing various foods, then slowly reintroducing them one by one in order to gauge whether symptoms return.
Below are some of the most common foods you should eliminate to prevent IBS.
If you suffer from IBS, you may want to set down the glass of wine. Alcohol is no friend to your gastrointestinal tract. It makes your gut lining more permeable, preventing the absorption of nutrients (3).
If your morning cup of coffee has ever left you with an upset stomach or morning jitters, it may be contributing to your IBS (4). Coffee — particularly caffeinated coffee — increases stomach acid. In a study of 330 IBS patients, coffee ranked as one of the top ten foods to trigger symptoms (5).
It’s still unclear whether it’s the coffee or caffeine that causes IBS symptoms. Some individuals find that eliminating other foods that contain caffeine — like chocolate — improve their symptoms.
Spicy foods have a certain ingredient called capsaicin which can trigger IBS symptoms. Capsaicin is found in chili peppers, and is often blamed for the burning and stomach pain some people experience when eating spicy foods (3).
At one point, increasing your fiber intake was thought to help IBS symptoms, but this advice has since been reversed. While there are still conflicting studies, it’s believed that it’s not all fiber, but certain fibrous foods, that could cause symptoms to flare up.
There are two types of fiber: insoluble and soluble. Soluble fiber is found in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables, while insoluble fiber is found in wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains. Increasing soluble fiber while decreasing the intake of insoluble fiber is thought to be the best way to treat symptoms (6).
Dairy is often blamed for a host of digestive problems. Lactose is the sugar in dairy, causing digestive issues in many adults. It’s still unclear if the bloating and stomach pain caused by eating dairy is actually IBS or simply a side effect of lactose intolerance, but it’s still worth eliminating for a period of time to see how your body reacts (7).
FODMAPS, which stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, are a group of foods most commonly blamed for IBS symptoms. FODMAP foods contain a short-chain carbohydrate that’s present in garlic, wheat, legumes, dairy, vegetables, and fruit. They can pass straight through the colon without being absorbed, increasing the amount of water in the colon. Gut bacteria causes then causes fermentation, causing stomach bloat (3).
The Low FODMAP Diet for Treating IBS
Of all the foods that reportedly cause IBS symptoms, eliminating FODMAPs seems to the most effective strategy. In one study, over 75 percent of participants reported reduced symptoms after eliminating FODMAPs from their diet (8).
Following a low FODMAP can be tricky, as it doesn’t involve the elimination of entire food groups. Instead, you’ll eliminate specific foods across vegetables, fruits, grains, and dairy products, while still enjoying others. For a detailed guide on how to start the low-FODMAP diet, read this post.
Foods to Eliminate on the FODMAP Diet
The following high FODMAP foods should be eliminated (3):
- Vegetables: Artichokes, asparagus, avocado, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, fennel, garlic, leeks, mushrooms, shallots, okra, onions, peas
- Fruit: Watermelon, apples, peaches, pears, mango, dried fruit, apricots, cherries, nectarines, plums
- Grains: Wheat, rye
- Legumes: Chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, baked beans
- Dairy: Milk, yogurt, soft cheeses, ice cream
- Sweeteners: Honey, high fructose corn syrup
Foods to Enjoy on the FODMAP Diet (3)
These low-FODMAP foods can be still enjoyed on your elimination diet:
- Vegetables: Carrots, cucumber, potatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, green beans, lettuce, spinach, chives, parsnip, pumpkin, green onion, tomatoes, zucchini, bok choy
- Fruit: Bananas, blueberries, grapefruit, grapes, honeydew melon, kiwi, lemons, limes, mandarin oranges, raspberries, strawberries
- Grains: Spelt, oats, rice, brown rice, quinoa
- Legumes: Canned chickpeas
- Dairy: Hard cheeses, butter, lactose-free milk
- Sweeteners: Maple syrup, sugar
What’s the Best Diet for IBS?
It’s very difficult to pinpoint the worst foods for IBS symptoms, as results are different in controlled studies versus self-reported cases. So what should you do?
Try eliminating the foods listed above, then slowly reintroducing them to your diet. Monitor your changes in symptoms carefully. Do your symptoms return after a night out (and the glass of wine that goes with it)? Do you notice changes when switching from coffee to tea? Finally, does cooking with certain foods, like onions and garlic, cause a flare-up?
Everyone’s results are different. The most effective treatment option is the IBS diet that best improves your symptoms.
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