You can manage some symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) by adjusting your diet. Avoiding certain carbohydrates, monitoring your fiber intake, and opting for low fat foods are all strategies that may help.
In some people, severe cramps, abdominal pain, and other IBS symptoms may affect everyday life.
Medical intervention is important in treating IBS, but certain diets may also help. In fact,
Read about the most common diets that can help ease IBS symptoms.
The FODMAP acronym is “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.”
Temporarily restricting or limiting your intake of high FODMAP foods for 2–6 weeks may help improve your IBS symptoms. Then you gradually reintroduce foods to discover which ones cause issues.
It’s important to note that not all carbohydrates are FODMAPs. For the best outcome, you have to remove the right kinds of foods.
Foods to avoid include:
- lactose (milk, ice cream, cheese, yogurt), only if you cannot tolerate lactose
- certain fruits (peaches, watermelon, pears, mangoes, apples, plums, nectarines)
- legumes (chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils)
- high fructose corn syrup
- artificial sweeteners
- wheat-based bread, cereals, and pasta
- certain vegetables (artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, onions, Brussels sprouts)
Keep in mind that while this diet eliminates some fruits, vegetables, and dairy, it does not remove all foods from these categories.
Low FODMAP foods you can eat on this diet include:
- lactose-free milk or other alternatives like rice or almond milk
- fruits like oranges, blueberries, strawberries, and grapes
- lean meats such as skinless chicken and turkey breasts
- lean fish such as cod and halibut
- rice or quinoa
- vegetables like carrots, eggplant, green beans, pumpkin, and zucchini
To avoid overly restrictive meals, speak with a dietitian before beginning this diet.
An elimination diet focuses on avoiding certain foods for an extended period to check whether your IBS symptoms improve.
It may restrict a broad class of foods, as in the low FODMAP diet or individual foods that commonly cause symptoms.
Several foods and drinks that may trigger IBS symptoms include:
- milk and ice cream
- certain fruits and vegetables
- spicy foods
- soda with artificial sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup
However, you can try forgoing any food that seems to cause symptoms.
Fiber adds bulk to your stool and makes it softer, which helps aid movement.
The average adult, including those with IBS, should eat around
There are two types of fiber:
- Soluble fiber is common in fruit, beans, and oats and is better for IBS.
- Insoluble fiber is common in vegetables and grains.
Many foods contain both types of fiber.
Some studies indicate that psyllium fiber supplements — soluble fiber with a low fermentation rate — are particularly effective for IBS symptoms. But there’s a need for more research on fiber intake for IBS.
Fiber-rich foods are nutritious and help prevent constipation. However, if you experience bloating or gas from eating more fiber, try to increase your intake gradually by around 2–3 g per day.
While fiber can help some people with IBS, increasing fiber intake can worsen symptoms if you frequently have gas and diarrhea.
Rather than significantly reducing your fiber intake, which isn’t supported by research, consider sources of soluble fiber found in foods. These include:
Soluble fiber dissolves in water instead of adding extra bulk associated with insoluble fiber.
Common sources of insoluble fiber include:
Gluten is a protein found in grain products such as bread and pasta. The protein can damage the intestines in people who have gluten intolerance.
Some people with a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten also experience IBS. In such cases, a gluten-free diet may reduce symptoms.
A small 2016 study involving 41 people with IBS found that following a gluten-free diet for 6 weeks reduced their symptoms. Those who continued to follow the diet for 18 months continued to have decreased symptoms.
By eliminating barley, rye, and wheat from your diet, you can check whether gastrointestinal problems improve. Foods containing these ingredients include:
- some sauces
- malt vinegar
If you want to keep enjoying bread and pasta, there are options. You can find gluten-free versions of your favorite products in health food stores and many grocery stores.
Regularly eating high fat foods is a known contributor to various health issues, such as obesity. However, it may also worsen symptoms in people with IBS.
While more research is needed on the diet’s effectiveness for people with IBS, embarking on a low fat diet is good for your heart and may improve uncomfortable bowel symptoms.
Instead of eating fried food and animal fats, consider these more nutritious options:
- lean meats
- low fat dairy products
Foods to eat and avoid will depend on the diet you follow for IBS and the foods you can tolerate. In general, they may include:
|Foods to eat||Foods to avoid|
|Fruits||oranges, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, grapes, kiwi||peaches, watermelon, pears, mangoes, apples, plums, nectarines|
|Vegetables||carrots, eggplant, pumpkin||artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, onions|
|Legumes||peas||chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils|
|Sweeteners||agave, stevia||sorbitol, xylitol, high fructose corn syrup|
|Other foods||eggs, lean meat, oatmeal||wheat products, milk products, nuts, coffee, alcohol|
It’s important that you examine your symptoms and talk with a healthcare professional before starting a new diet. Staying in tune with how your body reacts to certain diets can help you identify when you may need to tweak your food choices.
It may take trial and error to find what works for you, but tweaking your diet can help ease symptoms of IBS.