Live better with irritable bowel syndrome: tips for managing your diet
There are many things you can do to help keep your IBS under control if you have been diagnosed. There is no single diet or medicine that works for everyone with IBS1; it is important to find out what works for you.
Meals may seem to trigger symptoms, which may be attributed to certain foods or more generally to the process of eating. Eating stimulates the digestive tract, which can over-respond because of IBS.2
IBS-friendly eating habits
Changing what you eat may help treat your IBS.3 There are some simple things you can do to help take control, regardless of your symptoms1,4:
- Eat three regular meals a day.
- Try not to skip any meals or eat too late at night. Try to eat your last meal no later than 8 p.m.
- Avoid eating large meals.
- Take your time and enjoy eating. Try to eat your meals slowly and chew your food well.
- Drink plenty of water 1.5L minimum
- Keep a food diary to see whether any changes you are making have helped.
- Make changes slowly, according to your symptoms, so you can see what is helping
Food to avoid
Your doctor may recommend that you avoid certain foods and drinks that may cause indigestion or make your symptoms worse, such as the following:
- Alcoholic beverages
- Carbonated or fizzy drinks such as sodas, beer …
- Foods or drinks that contain caffeine such as tea, coke, chocolate …
- Foods that contain a lot of acid, such as tomatoes, tomato products, and oranges
- Spicy, fatty foods, greasy, or processed foods6
Simple tips for managing specific IBS symptoms
There are also certain steps you can take to manage your specific symptoms4:
Bloating and flatulence
- Limit food that causes gas (e.g. beans, pulses, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, sugar-free mints, or chewing gum)
- You might find it helpful to start eating oats (e.g., in breakfast cereal or porridge) or linseeds (up to one tablespoon a day).
- Gradually increase the amount of fiber-rich foods you eat (e.g., wholegrains, oats, vegetables, fruit, and linseeds).
- Avoid making rapid changes in fiber intake, as it can make symptoms worse.
- Add a tablespoon of brown or golden linseeds to a meal each day and drink a small glass of water with it.
- Avoid eating extra wheat bran.
- Replace lost fluids by drinking plenty of water.
- Limit caffeinated drinks to a maximum of three cups a day.
- Reduce the amount of fiber-rich food you eat (e.g., wholegrains and bread).
- Avoid sugar-free sweets, mints, gum, and drinks containing sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol.
It is important that if you are making any changes to your diet, you first seek guidance from your doctor or a dietician.
Did you know?
More than 50% of patients7 find that adopting a special low-FODMAP* diet can help with their IBS. Certain foods contain carbohydrates that are not easily broken down in the gut and that instead begin to ferment, producing gas and causing diarrhea and painful bloating. Avoiding these foods, collectively known as FODMAPs, which include some types of fruits and vegetables, milk, and wheat products, can help alleviate symptoms.2,5 Talk to your doctor to find out what changes to your diet are appropriate for you.
There are other steps you can take to manage IBS symptoms. Read on to learn more about lifestyle changes that you can make to improve your experience with your condition.
*FODMAP: fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols
- National Health Service. Diet, Lifestyle and Medicines Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs/diet-lifestyle-and-medicines/ Accessed 01.10.2020
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. IBS Diet: What to Do and What to Avoid. https://www.aboutibs.org/ ibs-diet/IBS-Diet-What-to-Do-and-What-to-Avoid.html Accessed 01.10.2020
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/irritable-bowel-syndrome/treatment Accessed 01.10.2020
- The Association of UK Dietitians. Food Fact Sheet. Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Diet. https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/IBSfoodfacts.pdf Accessed 01.10.2020
- National Health Service. Further Help and Support Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs/further-help-and-support/ Accessed 01.10.2020
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Indigestion (Dyspepsia). https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/indigestion-dyspepsia/treatment Accessed 01.10.2020
- Halmos E, Gibson P. Controversies and reality of the FODMAP diet for patients with irritable bowel syndrome. J. Gastroenterol. Hepatol. 2019;34(7):1134-42.