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What is the Best Irritable Bowel Diet?

Jessica Ellis
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a stomach and intestinal disorder that results in cramping, constipation, diarrhea and other abdominal discomfort. Although there is no cure for the disorder, certain foods are known to trigger flare-ups of the condition. By creating an irritable bowel diet, chronic IBS sufferers may be able to relieve some of their discomfort and function more normally.

An irritable bowel diet is not a concrete concept. People may be triggered or sensitive to different foods, and what may help one patient may actually cause symptoms in another. Learning to build an irritable bowel diet requires careful observation of what foods are eaten and how they affect the digestive system. Some experts recommend keeping a daily food diary to help determine what foods may soothe or upset the stomach.

Most IBS conditions are the result of the stomach being unable to properly process some types of food. Foods that are high in fat, caffeine, and artificial sweeteners tend to bring on painful symptoms in many IBS patients. Most dairy products should be avoided, as many people with IBS develop some form of lactose intolerance, but some IBS patients recommend pro-biotic yogurt for its beneficial bacteria that can aid digestion.

Hydration is an important part of an irritable bowel diet. Drinking enough water can help regulate symptoms and prevent dehydration during attacks of diarrhea. Alcohol, coffee, and caffeinated sodas and teas have all been linked to IBS symptoms in some patients, and may need to be avoided.

Because IBS affects the digestive system, many irritable bowel diets recommend eating small meals throughout the day rather than a few large meals. Giving the digestive system less to process at one time can help prevent any symptoms from appearing. Eating small meals can also help identify specific foods that cause an adverse reaction; after a big meal, it may be difficult to tell which food caused which problem.

For many patients, an irritable bowel diet needs to be extra-high in fiber to help fight flare-ups of the condition. Eating double-fiber bread and leafy green vegetables can provide additional fiber that can regulate bowel problems. One major concern for IBS patients is the development of gluten intolerance. Ask a doctor to test you for gluten allergies before stocking up on high fiber whole wheat breads.

A diet high in fruits and vegetables is not only healthy, it can be beneficial for many people with IBS. Patients that have adverse reactions to food high in acid may want to beware of citrus fruits, however, which can upset the stomach. In combination with protein from soy or white meat and fiber-heavy carbohydrates, an IBS patient may be able to avoid many unpleasant flare-ups.

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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseGeek. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By CopperPipe — On Nov 16, 2010

Great article! A lot of this echoes what my dietician told me. One other thing that you might want to think about as part of your IBS treatment is that you really should eat different foods when different irritable bowel symptoms occur.

What I mean is, you can eat in different ways to minimize different symptoms. For instance, if you are having diarrhea, then you should probably try to eat smaller than usual, low-fat meals at frequent intervals throughout your day. If you're constipated, then do the opposite.

The same goes for abdominal pain and bloating. Sugary and fatty foods help cause gas, which can lead to abdominal pain and bloating, so if you're particularly concerned about remaining symptom free on one day, then avoid such foods. You should also skip out on the soluble fiber on those days -- that's another big gas cause.

Your doctor and dietician will be able to help you further refine your IBS diet, so be sure to ask them what will work best for you too -- just know that you have a lot of options out there.

By rallenwriter — On Nov 16, 2010

One method for determining which foods your body can or can't handle is to follow an irritable bowel syndrome elimination diet.

This is really the only way to figure out what your "trigger" foods are, and to know for sure what you can and can't eat during your IBS treatment.

The first thing you have to do is to rule out food intolerances, like gluten or lactose intolerance. Your doctor or dietician can help you do that with tests, and can also test for food allergies (like intolerances, but less serious).

The next thing you have to do is to start keeping a food diary, like the article said. In this you can keep track of what foods you eat, and also monitor your stress level and your symptoms. Generally, symptoms from foods can show up within the next three days after you eat the food, so bear that in mind when looking back over your food diary.

When you come upon a food that you think could be causing your IBS, then take it out of your diet entirely for about two weeks. If you see an improvement, great! You've caught one of your triggers. If your symptoms don't change, then you can start re-introducing that food into your diet, but do it gradually -- you don't want to upset your stomach.

As long as you keep doing this, eventually you will be able to figure out what all your trigger foods are, and start eliminating them entirely from your diet. Many people become entirely IBS free via this method, so take it into consideration -- it can work for you too!

By StreamFinder — On Nov 16, 2010

I have tried a lot of diets for irritable bowel syndrome, and I think its important to note that there really is no one size fits all diet -- you just have to experiment and find out what works for you.

For instance, I found that probiotic yogurt really is very helpful for me, whereas others in my IBS support group can't stand to have any milk-based products.

So as the article said, you really can't expect to follow one IBS diet and have it work for everyone -- just keep that in mind next time you get frustrated with someone else telling you how fantastic a certain food that you can't eat works for them.

Just keep writing your food diary, and pay attention to what foods work for you, and eventually you'll figure out the best IBS diet for your body. Best of luck!

By HeatherVan — On Nov 20, 2009

It's critical to note that "fiber" is far too generic a term when it comes to Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Soluble fiber is helpful, insoluble fiber can trigger symptoms.

Fiber information specific to IBS was pioneered in the book Eating for IBS in 2000, which has now been validated by over ten years of subsequent clinical studies. These dietary treatment guidelines and fiber differentiations are now being adopted across the medical community.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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