How to Treat IBS Symptoms with Diet

Three Parts:Eating a Balanced DietKeeping a Diet Log and Other Helpful HabitsUnderstanding IBS Triggers and Symptoms

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that affects the large intestine (colon). It is a chronic digestive condition that requires long-term treatment. While the exact cause of the condition is unknown, the symptoms are generally brought on by abnormal muscle contractions (either too strong or too weak) of the intestines. To help with IBS, we recommend eating a balanced diet, keeping a diet log, and understanding IBS triggers and symptoms.

Part 1
Eating a Balanced Diet

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    Know how soluble fiber works in your body. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and is broken down by the natural bacteria in the bowels. It softens the stools and makes them larger.[1]
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    Increase soluble fiber if you have constipation. Foods to eat more of if you are constipated (having difficulty taking bowel movements) are:
    • Oats
    • Soy (tofu, edamame, soy milk)
    • Flax seed
    • Fruits such as avocado, dried figs, oranges, pears and nectarines
    • Vegetables such as Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, asparagus, and turnips[2]
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    Know how insoluble fiber works in your body. Insoluble fiber is not dissolved in water and it is not easily broken down. It passes through the body mostly intact, absorbing water and allowing stool to pass through the body more quickly.[3]
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    Reduce insoluble fiber if you have diarrhea. If diarrhea is a problem for you, try cutting back for a while on the following:
    • Skins of fruits and vegetables
    • Wheat
    • Bran
    • Corn and beans
    • Whole grains[4]
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    Stay hydrated. Increasing your fluid intake can help with the absorption of food and may aid in softening the stool, which helps prevent excessive straining during bowel movements and alleviates constipation. It also helps people experiencing diarrhea to replace the lost fluids that they need.
    • Drink enough water, juice, and/or non-caffeinated teas so that you’re not feeling thirsty and have clear or light yellow urine.[5]
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    Abstain from caffeine. Caffeine stimulates activity in the colon, which may worsen diarrhea symptoms.
    • Caffeine also causes the constriction of blood vessels, which reduces the blood supply to different part of the body. When there is reduced blood supply to the abdominal muscles, the gastrointestinal system is stimulated to produce strong contractions and an increase in bowel movements.
    • Limit caffeine intake to no more than 3 cups of coffee or tea per day (2 cups of coffee if you drink filtered coffee and not instant).
    • Try weaning yourself from it completely (quitting gradually to avoid headaches) and see if this helps your IBS symptoms.[6]
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    Limit alcohol and carbonated beverages. Alcohol and carbonated beverages can also worsen symptoms of diarrhea.
    • Have at least two alcohol free days per week, and if you do drink occasionally, have no more than two drinks (one shot glass of liquor, one 12 oz. beer, or one 5 oz. glass of wine) in a day. The less, the better.[7]
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    Avoid fatty foods. Foods that are high in fat are triggers for both constipation and diarrhea, as well as abdominal pain.[8]
    • Avoid completely or eat very little of the following foods: butter, cakes and pastries, cheese, fried and greasy foods, salad dressings and oils, and fatty meats such as sausage.
    • Try cooking foods in ways besides frying such as steaming, microwaving, grilling, roasting, and baking.
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    Limit foods that contain fructose and artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are made of chemicals that may interfere with the normal functioning of the intestines, and will introduce toxins into the body, thus delaying digestion and worsening the condition.
    • Products used as substitutes for natural sugar, like sorbitol, can also cause diarrhea due to its laxative effect.
    • Artificial sweeteners are commonly used in processed foods like: baked goods, candy, canned goods, dairy products, jams, jellies, powdered drink mixes, puddings, and soft drinks.
    • Fructose can also cause diarrhea in some people because it is not well absorbed. Limit your intake of fruit juice to one glass per day, and limit your use of honey, which also contains fructose.
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    Limit foods that are known to cause gas. Certain foods can make IBS worse by causing severe gaseous pain and discomfort, and should be eaten in moderation.
    • These foods include: beans, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carbonated drinks, hard candy, lettuce, milk products, onions, and whole grain foods.[9]
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    Take psyllium husk. Psyllium husk is available at most health food stores. Many people with IBS report feeling better after taking psyllium husk. Add ½ to 2 tsp of psyllium seed to a glass of warm water and drink it before it thickens.
    • Or, if you’re using a commercial product that contains psyllium, follow the directions on the package. If you’re not used to taking it, it’s best to begin with a low dose.[10]
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    Try probiotics. They may not work for everyone, but some people report feeling better from taking them. Probiotics ensure there is enough “good bacteria” in the stomach and intestines to help break down food. The supplements (tablets and capsules) as well as yogurt drinks can be found at health food stores.[11]
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    Experiment with a low FODMAP diet. FODMAPs are foods that a surprising amount of people are sensitive to. The acronym stands for Fermentable (carbohydrates that are broken down by bacteria instead of digestive enzymes and become too fermentable), Oligosaccharides (short chain carbohydrates), Disaccharides (pairs of sugar molecules such as milk lactose) Monosaccharides (single sugar molecule such as fructose) and Polyols (sugar alcohols like xylitol and sorbitol)
    • Low-FODMAP friendly foods (foods okay to eat) include: bean sprouts, low servings of broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, and celery, chickpeas, cucumber, eggplant, green beans, bell peppers, squash and zucchini, potatoes and sweet potatoes, kale, lettuce, leeks, tomatoes (except for cherry tomatoes).
    • More good (low-FODMAP) foods are: bananas, blueberries, cantaloupe, grapes, kiwi, lemon and lime, orange, raspberries and strawberries, pineapple, passion fruit, chicken, beef, lamb, pork, turkey, most fish and seafood, almonds, rice and rice flour products, polenta, quinoa, spelt, butter, many types of cheese, and eggs

Part 2
Keeping a Diet Log and Other Helpful Habits

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    Record the time of day a meal is eaten. Noting the time of day helps track exactly when symptoms do or do not occur.
    • It is better to eat meals at approximately the same time of day. This will train your digestive tract so there is enough time for the emptying of the abdomen to take place before the next meal is eaten.
    • Have dinner at least 2 hours before bedtime. This allows for proper digestion to take place and for the digestive tract to have time to rest overnight, which provides a good night’s sleep.[12]
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    Record the type of food you eat. Note down the type of food, including the brand of the food.
    • By recording what you eat and how you feel afterward, you’ll learn what foods agree with you and which ones don’t.
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    Eat slowly. Ensure that your food is chewed thoroughly. This helps to ease digestion and may help relieve IBS-related symptoms. Eating slowly also helps people to not overeat, and overeating could make symptoms of IBS feel worse.[13]
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    Monitor the changes that take place after eating. This should be done approximately 1 hour after eating.
    • This way, you can track the foods that worsen your IBS symptoms and those that alleviate your condition.
    • Note any effects of food in your body including: gaseous discomfort, abdominal pains, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.[14]
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    Eat small, frequent meals. Small, more frequent meals as opposed to fewer, larger meals can help to reduce diarrhea and cramping pain.
    • With smaller meals, the abdomen is emptied more frequently, which relieves symptoms caused by IBS.
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    Get regular exercise and practice yoga or meditation. Since stress can contribute to worsening symptoms of IBS, stress-relieving activities are advised to help relieve them.
    • Get 20 minutes of exercise each day. You can walk, run, bike, swim, play sports, etc. Getting enough exercise lowers stress and keeps your body healthy.
    • Try yoga or meditation. Sign up for a local yoga class to learn poses, or if you already know some basic poses, take time to do them at home. Meditating can also be beneficial to relieving stress, so give this a try if you’re unable to practice yoga.[15]

Part 3
Understanding IBS Triggers and Symptoms

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    Know the triggering factors of IBS. Various stimuli can trigger an outbreak of IBS, although it varies from one person to another. Not all people with the condition react to the same stimuli. Common triggers include:
    • Foods: The relationship between food intake and IBS is yet to be fully established, although there are individuals who manifest more serious symptoms when they consume certain foods. This article focuses mostly on diet triggers, but we will also name other known triggers in this step.
      • A wide range of foods have been implicated in the triggering of IBS: chocolate, spices, fats, fruits, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, milk, carbonated beverages and alcohol are a few.
    • Hormones: Changes in hormonal levels in the body can aggravate symptoms related to IBS. Since these hormonal changes frequently affect the female population, IBS is more likely to develop in women. Most of the symptoms are experienced during or around menstrual periods.
    • Other medical illnesses: IBS can be triggered by other types of illnesses like bacterial overgrowth (elevated number of bacteria in the intestines) or gastroenteritis (acute episode of infection diarrhea).
    • Stress: Most people with IBS find their symptoms become worse during more stressful events. While stress does not cause the symptoms, it can aggravate them.[16]
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    Recognize the symptoms of IBS. IBS can manifest itself in several signs and symptoms, which can vary from person to person. It can also resemble symptoms of other diseases, but the most common ones are:
    • Abdominal pain – cramps and aches in the stomach area
    • Gaseous Discomfort – passing excess amounts of gas or feeling gas rumblings in the abdomen
    • Bloating – feeling extra full and heavy in the abdomen
    • Constipation – inability to have a bowel movement; straining while having a bowel movement; passing very hard stool
    • Diarrhea – runny or watery bowel movements
    • Mucus in the stool[17]
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    Get a diagnosis. If you have not yet been diagnosed with IBS, you should see a doctor because some of the signs are similar to those of other disorders and diseases.
    • Your doctor will help rule out other conditions, and you will be diagnosed with IBS if it is nothing else and you have abdominal discomfort at least three days a month for the past three months, feel better upon having a bowel movement, and/or have altered frequency and consistency of stool.
    • Definitely see a doctor right away if you also are experiencing:
      • Rectal bleeding (blood in the stool)
      • Weight loss
      • Abdominal pain that progresses or occurs at night[18]

Article Info

Categories: Maintaining Diets