Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is an intestinal disorder characterized by dramatic changes in bowel movements. You may experience diarrhea, constipation, or a combination of the two.

In some people, severe cramps, abdominal pain, and other symptoms may get in the way of everyday life.

Medical intervention is important in the treatment of IBS, but certain diets may also help.

In fact, up to 70 percent of people with IBS find that particular foods worsen their symptoms.

Explore the most common diets available to help ease IBS symptoms.

FODMAPs are carbohydrates that are difficult for the intestines to digest. These carbs pull more water into the bowel and increase gas, leading to bloating, pain, and diarrhea after eating these foods.

The acronym stands for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.”

Temporarily restricting or limiting your intake of high FODMAP foods for 2 to 6 weeks may improve your IBS symptoms. Then, you gradually reintroduce foods to discover which ones cause issues.

A low FODMAP diet is a type of elimination diet. A 2017 research review found that people on a low FODMAP diet had less pain and bloating than others on a regular diet.

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 can’t tolerate lactose
  • certain fruits (peaches, watermelon, pears, mangoes, apples, plums, nectarines)
  • legumes (chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils)
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • 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 doesn’t 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
  • eggs
  • meat
  • 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 of time to see 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 that may trigger IBS symptoms include:

  • coffee
  • milk and ice cream
  • certain fruits and vegetables
  • alcohol
  • soda with artificial sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup

However, you can try forgoing any food that seems to cause symptoms.

Completely eliminate one food from your diet for 4 weeks at a time. Note any differences in your IBS symptoms, including when you reintroduce the food. Then, move on to the next food on your list.

Fiber adds bulk to your stool and makes it softer, which helps aid in movement.

The average adult, including those with IBS, should eat around 25 to 31 grams of fiber per day depending on their sex and age. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, though, people in the United States eat only 16 grams per day on average.

There are two types of fiber:

  • Soluble fiber is generally found in fruit, beans, and oats, and is better for IBS.
  • Insoluble fiber is typically found in vegetables and grains.

Many foods contain both types of fiber.

Beyond solubility, research suggests that fibers that ferment easily in the body lead to more gas, a symptom of IBS.

Some studies indicate that psyllium fiber supplements, which are soluble fiber with a low fermentation rate, are particularly effective for IBS symptoms. More research is needed 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 to 3 grams per day.

While fiber can help some people with IBS, increasing fiber intake can worsen symptoms if you frequently have gas and diarrhea.

Still, a 2018 study indicated that eating fiber is linked to a lower risk of IBS.

Rather than significantly reducing your fiber intake, which isn’t supported by research, focus on sources of soluble fiber found in produce items. These include:

  • berries
  • carrots
  • oatmeal
  • peas

Soluble fiber dissolves in water instead of adding extra bulk associated with insoluble fiber.

Common sources of insoluble fiber include:

  • whole grains
  • nuts
  • tomatoes
  • green beans
  • broccoli
  • zucchini

You’ll also likely reduce your fiber intake by following a low FODMAP diet because it can be challenging to find many high fiber, low FODMAP foods. A few examples include:

  • kiwis
  • carrots
  • berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries)

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.

Eliminate barley, rye, and wheat from your diet to see whether gastrointestinal problems improve. Several foods containing these ingredients include:

  • bread
  • cereal
  • crackers
  • pasta
  • some sauces
  • malt vinegar
  • beer

If you want to keep enjoying bread and pasta, there’s still hope. You can find gluten-free versions of your favorite products in health foods stores and many grocery stores.

Regularly eating high fat foods is a known contributor to a variety of health issues, such as obesity. However, it may also worsen symptoms in people with IBS.

Doctors commonly recommend a low fat diet for IBS, which may involve eating fewer than 27 grams of fat per day.

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 foods and animal fats, focus on:

  • lean meats
  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • grains
  • low fat dairy products

The best foods to eat and avoid depend on the type of diet you follow for IBS, and the foods that you can tolerate. In general, they may include:

Foods to eatFoods to avoid
Fruitsoranges, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, grapes, kiwipeaches, watermelon, pears, mangoes, apples, plums, nectarines
Vegetablescarrots, eggplant, pumpkinartichokes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, onions
Legumespeaschickpeas, kidney beans, lentils
Sweetenersagave, steviasorbitol, xylitol, high fructose corn syrup
Other foodseggs, lean meat, oatmealwheat products, milk products, nuts, coffee, alcohol

Examine your symptoms and talk with your doctor before starting a new diet. Stay in tune with how your body reacts to certain diets, as you may need to tweak the foods you eat.

According to the National Institutes of Health, it’s also important to exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and try to reduce stress to minimize IBS symptoms.

It may take some trial and error to find what works for you, but you can get there.