What is the Best Diet for IBS?

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According to the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG), an estimated 10% – 15% of the population in the United States is affected by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Even though it’s so common, the exact cause is unknown, which can make treatment tricky. One of the best ways to manage the symptoms of IBS is by altering the patient’s diet. But what is the best diet for IBS?

Find the Best Diet for IBS Symptom Management 

Many diets have been studied in relation to IBS and its symptoms. The two types of diet that have improved the quality of life for most patients are a low-FODMAP diet or a gluten-free diet. According to research from the ACG, these diets show promise in helping patients with IBS, but more research is needed to define their roles in managing symptoms. 

Even though many people experience an improvement in symptoms when they have a low-FODMAP or gluten-free diet, it’s important that not everyone with IBS will benefit from these diets. Dietary changes will not help with any underlying conditions that are linked to irritable bowel syndrome, such as motility disorders. To determine the best diet for IBS in your individual case, it will take some trial and error.

Identify & Limit Trigger Foods

One of the first steps you should take in trying to determine the best diet to manage your IBS symptoms is identifying foods that trigger symptoms. Keep a food diary so that when your symptoms flare up, you can look back and see what you ate before the symptoms appeared or worsened. Once you figure out which foods cause your symptoms to get worse, you should limit those foods (or eliminate them if possible). 

Some common types of foods that may lead to worsening IBS symptoms include:

  • Foods containing lactose
  • Fruits
  • Sweeteners like honey or agave nectar
  • Vegetables that cause gas
  • Beans or legumes
  • Foods with sugar substitutes 

Try a Low-FODMAP Diet

One diet that eliminates many common trigger foods is the low-FODMAP diet. This diet looks to limit certain types of carbohydrates that may cause symptoms or make them worse. These carbohydrates are known as FODMAPs:

  • Fermentable
  • Oligo-saccharides
  • Di-saccharides
  • Mono-saccharides
  • And
  • Polyols

Those long words may not mean anything to you, but they are present in so much of what is in the average American’s diet. There are five types of FODMAPS that you probably get a lot of:

  1. Fructans – Found in wheat, onions, garlic, barley, cabbage, and broccoli
  2. Fructose – Found in fruit, honey, syrup, nectar
  3. Galactooligosaccharides– Found in legumes and beans
  4. Lactose – Found in milk and other dairy products
  5. Polyols – Found in sweet potatoes, apples, celery, stone fruits

As you might imagine, a low-FODMAP diet eliminates a lot of potential foods from your diet. But, if you do want to try this diet to control your IBS, don’t despair. There are still plenty of things you can eat on the diet if you do your research. Check out this helpful article from Harvard Health that includes lists of foods that you should avoid and foods that you should eat more of.

You should consult your doctor before trying a low-FODMAP diet so they can give you guidance. They’ll likely recommend eliminating or restricting foods high in FODMAPs for around a month or so. Then, you can reintroduce those foods one and at a time and assess how you feel after you eat them. If you find eating this way helps with your symptoms, then it might be the best diet for IBS in your case.

Try Going Gluten-Free

Similarly, people who follow a gluten-free diet may experience an improvement in IBS symptoms. As you may already know, gluten is a protein that’s found in foods made of cereal grains like wheat, rye, and barley. There are different theories about why eliminating gluten from your diet may help with your IBS symptoms. And you may not benefit from this type of diet, but you might want to ask your doctor about whether it’s worth trying. 

Consult a Gastroenterologist

If you are struggling with the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, you should seek medical attention from a GI specialist for evaluation and treatment. The team at Birmingham Gastroenterology has decades of experience treating diseases and disorders in all parts of the digestive system. This includes diagnosing and helping patients manage IBS. To make an appointment to discuss your symptoms and the best diet for IBS, call us at (205) 271-8000.

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