A common issue that adversely impacts the digestive system, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) leads to symptoms such as bloating, cramps, abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea. It’s no surprise that it all starts with your eating habits.
People who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome experience IBS symptoms for days, weeks, and months. Although irritable bowel syndrome symptoms can clear up for extended periods, it’s an issue that typically lasts a lifetime if not managed with proper nutrition. The best diet for IBS can help offset symptoms and neutralize this gastrointestinal problem afflicting up to 45 million people in the US.
Why Is It Important To Find The Best IBS Diet?
The population of people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome is around one-third male and two-thirds female. The condition is also found in adults and children alike.
While irritable bowel syndrome can impact both sexes, it’s a significant health issue for women. It’s linked to a heightened risk of unnecessary abdominal and extra-abdominal surgical procedures. Specifically, up to 55% of ovarian surgery and hysterectomy patients have IBS.
Whether male or female, those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome can often face severe IBS symptoms that hinder their day-to-day activities. Finding a dietary approach that offers long-term relief has far-reaching effects that positively impact physical and mental health.
Top Diets And Lifestyle Changes To Improve Your IBS Symptoms
Several dietary guidelines help improve IBS symptoms. We will examine the top suggestions, listing their pros and cons, and reviewing how they can help people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome.
Hopefully, by reading the approaches below, you’ll be one step closer to balanced healthy eating habits that help offset your IBS symptoms over the long haul.
1. Low-FODMAP Diet
Low-FODMAP foods include eggs, meat, brie cheese, almond milk, rice, oats, quinoa, eggplant, potatoes, and more. This approach is commonly used to treat digestive diseases and is known to offset IBS symptoms.
A low-FODMAP diet eliminates short-chain carbohydrates temporarily, as these are gas-producing foods that typically cause abdominal pain and bloating.
- A Low-FODMAP diet often alleviates IBS symptoms and inflammation
- Weaning off low-FODMAP foods also identifies the foods that trigger IBS symptoms.
- A low-FODMAP diet is restrictive and is a short-term solution
- Pregnant women and children must avoid the low-FODMAP diet.
The Bottom Line: The low-FODMAP diet identifies food triggers of IBS symptoms, helping you make long-term changes. However, it’s not a permanent solution and is challenging to adopt, even over a short period.
2. High-Fiber Diet
Recent studies show that people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome can alleviate their IBS symptoms by adding soluble and prebiotic fiber to their diet.
Examples of soluble fiber include legumes, beans, many fruits, oats, barley, and root vegetables.
These prebiotic fibers include onions, asparagus, bananas, certain grains, some root vegetables, garlic, bananas, and leaks. This type of dietary fiber is a viable source of good gut bacteria.
- A high-fiber diet bolsters digestional and heart health
- Increased fiber intake helps with weight loss, reduces cancer risks, and lowers blood sugar
- This approach is highly sustainable.
- Excessively high fiber intake can cause intestinal gas and bloating.
The Bottom Line: A healthy diet high in dietary fiber is sustainable and will help offset your IBS symptoms. However, going beyond the suggested daily intake can cause digestional discomfort.
3. Lactose-Free Diet
Physicians often recommend a trial of a lactose-free diet to patients recently diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome.
You can eat foods of all kinds while following this diet, including meat, vegetables, oats, grains, etc., as long as there’s no lactose or dairy. Plus, there are several alternatives to traditional milk, such as lactose-free milk and almond milk. And there’s also lactose-free yogurt.
- This diet might ease discomfort and related IBS symptoms
- There are no associated health risks
- The eating patterns are flexible, and there are many available substitutes, making it highly sustainable.
- Alternate foods can be expensive
- Avoiding dairy can require lots of planning.
The Bottom Line: You might learn dairy foods trigger IBS symptoms after going on this diet. Thus, removing dairy products could help with managing IBS over the long term. It’s just not a guaranteed or all-encompassing fix.
4. Gluten-Free Diet
A gluten-free diet is absent of rye, wheat, barley, and triticale (wheat/rye crossover). These foods all contain the protein known as gluten.
- A gluten-free diet is safe with proper nutritional planning
- This diet focuses on whole foods
- Going gluten-free could improve lactose-based symptoms.
- A gluten-free diet might reduce your fiber intake
- This approach can lead to nutritional deficiencies
- Foods labeled as gluten-free are often not healthy.
The Bottom Line: It’s undecided whether a gluten-free diet can help alleviate IBS symptoms. But it should help with the consistency of the stool from your bowel movements, abdominal pain, and fatigue.
Going gluten-free is mainly suggested for people with gluten intolerance or allergy, not necessarily irritable bowel syndrome.
5. Eating Fermented Foods
People with chronic digestive diseases such as IBS could benefit from adding fermented food (e.g., cultured buttermilk and kefir) to their diet. It’s believed such food types can bolster activity in the digestive tract because of their positive impact on the gut flora.
- This dietary method offers natural probiotics
- You’ll enhance your digestion with this approach
- Fermented food produces microorganisms, staving off disease and bolstering your immune system.
- Such foods often lack beneficial microbes because they’re pasteurized
- Fermented food items are high in sodium.
The Bottom Line: Adding fermented food items to your diet can help offset your irritable bowel syndrome symptoms and can be incorporated seamlessly into your diet. Ensure you choose non-pasteurized products that are low in sodium.
6. Eliminating Spicy Foods
Various spices can be food triggers of irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. For instance, capsaicin–chili’s active component–shows evidence of increasing pain in the abdominals in some people.
- Eliminating spicy foods might pinpoint food triggers of IBS.
- There are plenty of non-spicy alternatives.
- Spice is only one trigger, and removing it will only be part of the solution
- You’ll remove diversity from your diet by eliminating spice.
The Bottom Line: Removing spicy food from your diet could prove easier on your digestive tract, but don’t expect it to be a magic bullet or cure-all. You can also experiment with your spices threshold (with milder spices) to ensure diversity in your diet.
7. Saying Goodbye To Frequent Fried Foods
Limiting your intake of fried foods with high fat content can soothe your adverse digestive symptoms if you have IBS. Food’s chemical makeup is altered when it’s fried, causing difficulties with digestion and leading to discomfort.
- Cutting out fried foods reduces all manner of disease risks (e.g., heart disease, type II diabetes)
- You’ll likely alleviate symptoms of IBS by reducing fried food intake
- This diet will probably lead to healthy weight loss.
- Fried food is a staple of western cuisine and can be hard to avoid.
The Bottom Line: Minimizing fried food in your diet has abundant health benefits, including alleviating irritable bowel syndrome.
8. Eliminating (Or Restricting) Cruciferous Vegetables
High-sulfur vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli are cruciferous, trigger symptoms of IBS, and lead to gas and bloating. It’s suggested to replace these veggies with easier-to-digest options such as spinach, zucchini, sweet potatoes, green beans, squash, and celery.
- A cruciferous vegetable reduction diet (or elimination diet) can help pinpoint a specific IBS trigger
- This approach can reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
- Cruciferous vegetables are rich in nutrients and could leave a nutrition gap.
The Bottom Line: Removing or limiting these high-sulfur vegetables from your diet can positively impact your IBS, but be sure to replace them with equally nutritious veggies low in sulfur.
9. Fructose Restricted Diet
High fructose corn syrup is present in many processed foods (e.g., chips and cookies). Fructose, in general, is harsh on IBS sufferers.
Levels of fructose are also high in dried fruit, watermelons, cherries, fruit juice, and concentrated fruits.
People with IBS might benefit from limiting their fruit intake to only three a day and avoiding high fructose corn syrup and fruits high in fructose. Bananas, grapes, berries, and citrus fruits have lower fructose levels.
- Restricting fructose intake can help alleviate IBS problems
- This dietary choice leads to weight loss and an overall healthier lifestyle.
- It can be hard to find food without fructose.
The Bottom Line: Eliminating as much fructose from your diet as possible is likely to positively affect your IBS.
10. Limit Your Alcohol Intake
People with irritable bowel syndrome who eliminate alcohol from their life cite marked improvements to their digestive problems. Even those who cut back on “mellower” alcohol like beer speak to fewer flare-ups.
- Eliminating or cutting back on alcohol can increase immunity and reduce the chances of other diseases (e.g., heart disease and cirrhosis)
- Less or no alcohol could alleviate symptoms of IBS.
- Completely cutting out alcohol could have immediate side effects
- The absence of alcohol isn’t guaranteed to help IBS problems.
The Bottom Line: Eliminating alcohol or drinking more moderately can positively impact many facets of your life, including mental and physical health. While this dietary approach isn’t guaranteed to help with your IBS, there are many reasons to believe it will.
11. Cut Out The Coffee (And Other Caffeine Products)
Hopkins Medicine points out that caffeine can cause diarrhea and general IBS flare-ups.
Those with IBS will generally find it best to avoid coffee, chocolate, tea, colas, and some pain relievers you can purchase over the counter to relieve headaches.
- This change is straightforward
- Cutting out coffee and other caffeine has other health benefits, like reducing anxiety and headaches.
- Caffeine is addictive, so it’s a hard habit to kick
- Caffeine is found in many beloved treats and can be difficult to avoid.
The Bottom Line: It’s not ideal to depend on caffeine, especially if it triggers your IBS. But if you struggle with caffeine dependency, start by cutting down instead of entirely eliminating it.
12. Be Weary Of “Sugar-Free” Alternatives (Especially Chewing Gum)
Products like sugar-free gum contain sorbitol, xylitol, and other artificial sweeteners–many of them conducive to diarrhea, explains Hopkins Medicine. Chewing gum can be incredibly triggering to symptoms of your IBS because it causes excess swallowed air and gassiness.
- Like cutting down on caffeine, this is a simple change to incorporate
- Sugar-free doesn’t always equate to healthy, so cutting out these foods has other far-reaching benefits.
- If you can’t have any sugar–or are trying to avoid it–cutting out sugar-free items removes a potential alternative snack, which can feel restrictive.
The Bottom Line: People with IBS should avoid sugar-free alternatives but may struggle if they cannot eat natural sugar, too.
How Top Nutrition Coaching Can Help Your IBS
Managing a condition like IBS and following an appropriately balanced diet can feel, at worst, like rocket science and a guessing game at best.
Scheduling time with your doctor to help find the best Registered Dietician for you can be a challenge in and of itself. Fortunately, the specialized, highly accredited Registered Dieticians at Top Nutrition Coaching can help you combat your IBS conveniently and seamlessly. They’ve done precisely that for 98% of their IBS clients.
Our team of Gut Health Specialists can provide specific guidance based on your lifestyle and health indicators. In doing so, they’ll help alleviate symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Even better, you needn’t leave the comfort of your home to find a Registered Gut Health Dietitian to help you manage your irritable bowel syndrome. Just take our online quiz, and we’ll match you with your ideal nutrition expert.
Get Started with the Right Nutritionist for You. Take the Quiz Now.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Below are a few of the common FAQs we’re asked about IBS. Contact us if you don’t find the answer to your question, we’re happy to help.
Can you heal IBS?
IBS has no cure. It will impact you for the rest of your life.
There are treatments to help successfully manage symptoms. Dietary changes, mind-body techniques, nutritional supplements, prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, and exercise can help.
What are the IBS warning signs?
IBS warning signs are flatulence that passes mucus from your bottom, tiredness/lack of energy, nausea, and backache. You might need to urinate often or have sudden urges to urinate. You also might struggle to control your bowel movements (incontinence).
What helps eliminate IBS?
You can’t eliminate IBS. Sufferers can relieve symptoms by increasing the good bacteria in their digestive tract. Many medical experts also suggest taking probiotics as supplements or eating yogurt rich in probiotics.