Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition the affects up to 20% of people in the U.S. Although not known to cause permanent damage to any of the body’s systems, IBS can cause pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea severe enough to impact a person’s daily life.

There is no cure for irritable bowel syndrome, but proper management of diet can help ease symptoms.

A proper IBS diet has the following components, eaten in smaller meals more frequently (instead of three large meals): fiber (both soluble and insoluble), probiotics, and plenty of fresh foods. Soluble fiber is fiber that can be dissolved in water and thus pass easily through the digestive system. Foods that contain soluble fiber are oatmeal, pasta, rice, potatoes, lentils, and oat bran. Nuts have soluble fiber but also contain fat and should be eaten in small quantities to avoid attacks.

Soluble fiber can be very soothing to the stomach, but the bulk of fiber ingested should be insoluble. This type of fiber is not dissolved in water and is considered “rough” fiber.  This is where eating for IBS relief gets complicated. Although the body needs this “rough” fiber in large quantities, it cannot be eaten raw in large quantities. These fresh foods can trigger an IBS attack when eaten on an empty stomach.

To incorporate insoluble fiber into your diet, make sure to eat small amounts after you have eaten something else. For example, have a bowl of oatmeal (soluble fiber) and follow it with apples or berries. Vegetables can be incorporated into pasta dishes, and salads can be eaten at the end of a meal instead of the beginning. Similarly, wheat bread can be very difficult for those suffering from IBS due to its high amount of insoluble fiber, but French bread or sourdough bread can be incorporated into the daily diet.

Fruits and vegetables with tough peels (e.g. blueberries and apples) can trigger attacks, so proceed with caution or peel and cook them when necessary. Foods that are acidic, like tomatoes and citrus, can be upsetting to the GI tract, but the effect can be tempered by cooking or incorporating them into a dish with insoluble fiber (like a stir fry with rice).

Another important key component of an irritable bowel syndrome diet is probiotics. 

Whether you eat yogurt with live cultures, drink kombucha or kefir, or take a supplement, probiotics ensure a healthy environment in your gut, which aids digestion. Many times those who suffer from IBS have eliminated the healthy bacteria in their gut through antibiotics or a high level of yeast. Probiotics help restore a healthy balance.

Everyone’s body is different, and different foods will affect some more than others, but there are several common foods to avoid, including red meat, fatty fried foods and fat in general, coffee, alcohol, carbonated beverages, and artificial sweeteners and fats.

Irritable bowel syndrome attacks can be dramatically reduced by paying attention to diet. What is your favorite IBS healthy meal?

Image by Coso via Flickr

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