What You Eat Can Help in Calming an Irritable Bowel

Can what you eat (or not eat) ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome? Read on to see how diet can help.

Is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) getting the better of you? Making changes to your diet may be one of the best ways to help control symptoms.

There is not one diet that works for everyone, though. Experts advise keeping a food journal - writing down everything you eat and drink and keeping track of your symptoms. This is the first step to figuring out what triggers your problems. Abdominal pain, bloating and discomfort are typical symptoms of IBS, although it varies from person to person.

That being said, the following diet suggestions tend to apply to many people with IBS.

Reduce or eliminate alcohol. Alcohol is a strong GI irritant. Just one drink can trigger an attack in some people. If you choose to drink, don't do it on an empty stomach and do not drink to excess. Also be wary of alcohol that contains:

  • Carbonation (beer, champagne)
  • Coffee, dairy (pina coladas, creme liqueurs)
  • Fruit juices that are high in fructose

These things may trigger IBS symptoms in some people.

Eliminate coffee, including decaf. Caffeine is a trigger for IBS symptoms. Also, all coffee beans (decaf included), contain an enzyme that irritates the digestive tract and can cause GI symptoms.

Monitor your dairy. If milk and other dairy products bother you, you may have lactose intolerance. This means that your body can't digest lactose (the sugar in milk). Talk to your doctor if you think you may have this problem.

  • Dairy bothers some people with IBS even if they do not have lactose intolerance. This may be from the casein and whey.
  • If you do need to avoid dairy, be sure to get enough calcium from other food sources or take calcium supplements.

Give probiotics a try. Two small studies have shown positive results with probiotics supplements ("friendly" bacteria). Probiotics, such as lactobacillus, may improve stomach pain and gas in some people.

Cut back on fat. Fatty foods can cause your intestines to contract, which may cause cramping.

Avoid artificial sweeteners, such as sorbitol and xylitol. These are used in sugarless gum, candy, sodas and other foods. They can cause gas and bloating.

Mind what you drink.

  • Aim for six to eight glasses of plain water a day. Together, fiber and water maintain GI muscle tone and dilute waste. This is important for constipation or diarrhea.
  • Avoid carbonated beverages. Many sodas have caffeine and/or artificial sweeteners, which can cause GI upset. Carbonation can trigger bloating, gas and cramping.
  • Try caffeine-free herbal teas such as peppermint, fennel and chamomile.

Don't chew gum or eat too quickly. Both habits can lead to swallowing air, which also leads to gas.

Try peppermint oil. Peppermint oil contains menthol, which appears to relax smooth muscle such as that found in the colon. Check with your doctor first. It can be found over-the-counter in capsule form.

Eat four to five small meals instead of three large ones. This will keep you from getting ravenous and then overeating. Large meals can cause cramping and diarrhea.

Balance your fiber intake. Getting more fiber is helpful if you have IBS symptoms. Too much, though, may cause gas and bloating. This is especially true if the fiber comes from insoluble forms, such as wheat bran and raw fruits and vegetables.

A better choice is soluble fiber, which dissolves in water and absorbs excess liquid in the colon. This helps prevent diarrhea by forming a thick gel and also adds bulk as it passes through the gut. This makes digestion easier and faster, which can relieve constipation, too.

Some tips for fiber intake:

  • Aim for foods high in soluble fiber, such as rice and rice cereal, oatmeal, quinoa, barley, potatoes carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips, squash and mushrooms.
  • Try a soluble fiber supplement, such as psyllium. Several small studies have shown these supplements may help relieve common symptoms.
  • Avoid too many raw fruits and vegetables. Chopping, cooking and pureeing will break down the insoluble fiber in fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts. This makes them much less likely to cause problems.
  • Slowly increase your fiber intake by 2 to 3 grams per day. This will help reduce the risk of increased gas and bloating.

There is no cure for IBS, but a proper diet can help you manage symptoms. If you need help with meal planning, look for a registered dietitian in your area for guidance. If your symptoms persist or get worse, contact your doctor.



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