When you suffer from a digestive health issue such as IBS, the food you eat can help to control your symptoms or serve to exacerbate them. This means that paying attention to your diet is vital. Because every patient’s body is different, and IBS sufferers in particular can have opposing symptoms, it’s important to identify the best diet plan for your condition.
A vital first step is to identify particular ingredients or types of food which aggravate your symptoms. The best way to do this is to keep a detailed food diary, recording everything you eat and drink alongside your symptoms. By comparing the two, you may then be able to see a pattern and identify your triggers.
When you identify a potential trigger, you should avoid that item completely for at least 2-3 weeks, continuing to maintain your diary to record diet and symptoms. If there is no change, it’s unlikely to be a trigger. If your symptoms ease, you should then try to reintroduce the potential trigger gradually; if the symptoms return, you know that this is a food that’s best avoided.
Every person’s body is different, and everybody responds to food in different ways, so a diet that works for somebody else may not work for you. However, there are common triggers such as wheat, yeast and lactose that you may wish to test with food exclusion first, and some common diets, designed to tackle particular IBS symptoms, which may be suitable for you.
High Fibre Diet
If one of your main symptoms is constipation, your doctor is likely to recommend increasing your fibre intake to “bulk” up your faeces, making it easier for your intestines to pass it through. Some common high fibre foods include:
|High Fibre Foods|
|Dried beans, peas lentils and other legumes||Sweetcorn||Brussels Sprouts|
|Raspberries||Raisins and Prunes||Wholewheat (brown pasta, brown bread etc)|
|Blackberries||Cherries and Plums||Potato skins|
In addition to increasing the fibre intake in your diet, you can also add fibre supplements to your daily routine. These are readily available at pharmacies and the like in sachet form to be added to water as a drink, and they are a convenient way of increasing the amount of fibre you take in.
Low Fibre Diet
In some cases, increasing the fibre in your diet can actually aggravate your IBS symptoms, particularly if they are caused by inflammation or bacterial overgrowth in your bowel. If this is the case for you, your doctor is likely to suggest a low fibre diet. Some common low fibre foods include:
|Low Fibre Foods|
|Milk||White rice||Jams and marmalade (without pips/seeds)|
|Cheese||Custard||Butter, margarine, oils|
|Yoghurts (without fruit pieces)||Rice Krispies and Cornflakes||Ice-cream and sorbet|
|All meats and fish||White bread, white pasta||Honey and syrup|
|Eggs||Potatoes without the skins||Plain biscuits (e.g. Rich tea, Ginger nuts)|
Whilst on a low fibre diet, it is important to maintain your bowel movement frequency to prevent constipation. Your doctor may prescribe non-fibre, non-fermenting bulk-forming supplements such as normacol or linseed to help; these will help to ensure that you still go to the toilet regularly, without the side-effects of fibre.
Low FODMAP diet
The low-FODMAP diet restricts the amounts of fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols – a range of sugars and alcohols found quite commonly in the Western diet. They are thought to contribute to IBS symptoms by causing increased buildup of fluids and gases in the intestines. This diet was pioneered at Monash University in Australia.
Some common foods which are high in FODMAPS and which should be avoided or reduced are:
|High FODMAP Foods|
|Cherries||Garlic (in large quantites)||Chickpeas, lentils and beans|
|Nectatines and Peaches||Beetroot||Rye and Wheat|
|Plums and Prunes||Ricotta cheese||Custard|
|Brussel Sprouts||Cream Cheese||Ice-cream|
Foods which are low in FODMAPs and therefore suitable for this diet include:
|Low FODMAP Foods|
|Oranges and Mandarins||Raspberries and strawberries||Oats|
There are many low-FODMAP diet books available commercially which will make it much easier to follow this diet.
Whilst these diets can provide self-help options for sufferers of IBS, it’s also important to seek medical advice; both to be sure of your diagnosis, and also so that you can access a full range of treatments and therapies.