Choosing the right foods for your IBS

How to improve digestive health

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder, characterised by frequent symptoms that occur together and can cause a great deal of pain and discomfort.

People who suffer from abdominal pain or discomfort at least three times a month are considered to have IBS, although the condition varies considerably from one person to another in terms of symptoms.

For example, while some IBS sufferers may have frequent constipation, cramps and abdominal bloating, others may also have frequent diarrhoea.

Dietary changes are usually recommended for helping to ease symptoms of IBS and make life easier for sufferers. Below is a guide to some of the most common diets for IBS and what symptoms they can help with.

High fibre diet 

For IBS sufferers with severe constipation, consuming more fibre-rich foods – particularly soluble sources of fibre found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains – can be beneficial. In the UK most people eat well below the recommended average intake of fibre a day (18g), which is essential for softening stools and aiding movement through the gut.

Low fibre diet 

In some cases, a high fibre diet can aggravate IBS symptoms, such as gas, bloating and diarrhoea. If you need to decrease the fibre in your diet, focus on eliminating sources of insoluble fibre such as wheat and bran, corn and nuts. This will help to reduce irritation in the gut and the associated discomfort.

Gluten-free diet

IBS symptoms can be linked to food intolerances such as gluten sensitivity, so choosing gluten-free foods can be helpful for many sufferers. It is likely that removing sources of barley, rye, and wheat from your diet – and opting for gluten-free versions of pasta and bread – will reduce IBS symptoms.

Elimination diet 

This diet is more of a learning process whereby an IBS sufferer focuses on avoiding certain foods for a period of time to identify what is making their IBS symptoms worse. The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders recommends eliminating gut-stimulants such as coffee, chocolate, insoluble fibre and nuts. An elimination diet should be done one food item at a time over a period of a couple of months.

Low fat diet 

Foods high in fat can be very problematic for IBS sufferers – particularly those who experience a mix of constipation and diarrhoea. Instead of eating fried foods and animal fats, it can be helpful to eat lean meats and low fat dairy products to avoid symptoms worsening.

A diet tailored for you 

Everyone with IBS is different, so although you may identify yourself as a sufferer with constipation, you may also show other symptoms. Speaking to your doctor or a nutritionist is vital before embarking on a diet programme to help combat IBS. A nutritionist will help you identify how your body reacts to certain foods and tweak these so you can eat a healthy balanced diet that improves your symptoms.

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Tamara Marshall

Written by Tamara Marshall

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