Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Controlling Symptoms With Diet

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Introduction

Many people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) find that eating can cause symptoms of belly pain, constipation, diarrhea (or, sometimes, alternating periods of constipation and diarrhea), and bloating. Making some changes to your diet can provide relief.

  • Limit or eliminate foods that may make diarrhea, gas, and bloating worse. These may include caffeine, alcohol, carbonated (fizzy) drinks, milk products, foods high in sugar, fatty foods, gas-producing foods (such as beans, cabbage, and broccoli), and the artificial sweeteners sorbitol and xylitol (often used in sugarless gum and sugarless candy).
  • To reduce constipation, add fiber to your diet, drink plenty of water, and get regular exercise.
  • Keep a daily diary of what you eat and whether you have symptoms after eating.
  • Eat slowly and have meals in a quiet, relaxing environment. Don't skip meals.

How do I control irritable bowel syndrome with diet?

You can manage your irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) by limiting or eliminating foods that may bring on symptoms, particularly diarrhea, constipation, gas, and bloating. Make sure you don't stop eating completely from any one food group without talking with a dietitian. You need to make sure you are still getting all the nutrients you need.

Tips for controlling symptoms

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Try to eat meals at about the same time each day. Take time to eat.
  • Don't skip meals or wait too long between meals.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Be sure to drink water in addition to your other beverages. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Limit or avoid caffeine, such as from coffee and tea.
  • Avoid alcohol and fizzy (carbonated) drinks.
  • Avoid foods that may cause gas and bloating. Vegetables such as artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, green peppers, onions, peas, radishes, and raw potatoes may not be digested well by your body and can cause gas and bloating.
  • Limit your intake of fresh fruit and fruit juice. These are high in fructose. People who have IBS may not be able to digest fructose well. This can cause diarrhea, gas, and bloating.
  • Be careful eating some types of fiber. Fiber affects each person who has IBS in different ways.
    • If you have diarrhea, try limiting the amount of high-fiber foods you eat, especially if you have a lot of gas and bloating. This includes vegetables, fruits, whole-grain breads and pasta, high-fiber cereal, and brown rice.
    • If you have constipation, add fiber such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains in your diet each day and drink plenty of water.
  • Try the low-FODMAP diet. FODMAPs are carbohydrates that are in many types of foods. It stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. If you have digestive problems, these can make your symptoms worse. A low-FODMAP diet is when you stop eating high-FODMAP foods for about two months. Then you slowly add them back to your diet to see what foods cause digestion problems.

Avoiding foods that might be causing symptoms

Many people find that their irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms become worse after they eat. Sometimes certain foods make symptoms worse. Foods most commonly listed as causing symptoms include:

  • Cabbage.
  • Onions.
  • Peas and beans.
  • Hot spices.
  • Deep-fried and fried food.
  • Pizza.
  • Coffee.
  • Cream.
  • Smoked food.

Other types of food that can make IBS symptoms worse include:

  • A sugar found in milk, called lactose. Some people who have IBS also have lactose intolerance. This can make IBS symptoms worse when they eat or drink dairy.
  • A sugar found in vegetables and fruit, called fructose. In people who have IBS, fructose may not be digested as it should. This can cause diarrhea, gas, and bloating.
  • An artificial sweetener called sorbitol. If you have diarrhea, avoid sorbitol. It is found in sugar-free chewing gum, drinks, and other sugar-free sweets.

Keeping a food diary

Track what you eat, your emotions, activities, and your symptoms after eating. If you notice patterns of symptoms after eating certain foods, you can try removing those foods from your diet. The diary also can be a good way to record what is going on in your life. Stress plays a role in IBS. If you are aware that particular stresses bring on symptoms, you can try to reduce those stresses.

Credits

Current as of: August 11, 2019

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine