Nutrition and SIBO

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) occurs when bacteria that usually grow in one part of your digestive tract, like your colon, are growing in your small intestine.

Left untreated, SIBO can cause pain, diarrhea, and malnutrition (due to the loss of the body’s main nutrients). Proper nutrition can reduce these harmful bacteria.

Incorporating the SIBO diet while being treated with antibiotics can also help to speed your recovery and eliminate uncomfortable symptoms.

The SIBO diet is a gradual elimination diet that is meant to reduce inflammation in the digestive tract and bacterial overgrowth in your small intestine.

In some cases, eliminating only sugars can ease symptoms. Doctors often suggest incorporating a diet low in FODMAPs, which are difficult-to-digest carbs that are fermented by gut bacteria in the colon.

When carbs can’t break down, they sit in your gut and can cause symptoms such as diarrhea and bloating. In addition, if there is bacterial overgrowth, the small intestine bacteria begin to ferment the carbs too early, causing many symptoms.

The low-FODMAP diet has been clinically proven to treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and related symptoms. Often those suffering from IBS also suffer from SIBO. Eliminating or reducing foods high in these carbs can improve your digestive health.

When eliminating FODMAPs from your SIBO diet, focus on the main categories, including:

  • fructose, simple sugars commonly found in fruits and some vegetables, honey, and agave nectar
  • lactose, a sugar molecule in dairy products
  • fructans, a sugar compound found in gluten products, fruits, some vegetables, and prebiotics
  • galactans, a compound found in some legumes
  • polyols, a sugar alcohol often used as a sweetener

Foods you may want to consider eliminating from your diet that include higher amounts of FODMAPs include:

While the list of foods you should avoid can be restrictive, there are still a number of foods you can enjoy while on this temporary diet. A SIBO diet should focus on foods high in fiber and low in sugar.

Some foods contain low amounts of FODMAPs in small servings but should be limited because larger servings would increase the FODMAPs. Some of the acceptable foods for a low FODMAP diet include:

To help you plan meals and make the right food choices, consider using a FODMAP app like the one created by Monash University (the leading researchers) or Fast FODMAP.

Antibiotics are the primary treatment for SIBO symptoms. However, studies show that dietary changes, such as limiting sugars and lactose, may also help reduce bacterial overgrowth.

The SIBO diet can be used in combination with antibiotics and probiotics. A 2010 study showed that incorporating probiotic supplements and probiotic-rich foods in your diet helps reduce SIBO symptoms.

While on the SIBO diet, drinking more water will reduce pain and ease digestion.

Before making any changes to your diet or implementing new treatment, discuss the risks with your doctor or dietitian.

The SIBO diet is a temporary elimination diet that incorporates low-FODMAP foods to decrease bacterial overgrowth. It typically lasts 2 to 6 weeks.

While seen as an effective treatment method, the SIBO diet treats symptoms but may not treat the underlying cause. Traditional treatment methods shouldn’t be ignored. Prior to incorporating any dietary changes to your treatment plan, discuss your options with your doctor.

It’s important to bring FODMAPs back into your diet when your symptoms ease. This will prevent healthy bacteria loss.

If your symptoms begin to worsen after implementing the SIBO or low-FODMAP diet, seek immediate medical attention.