If you’re suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), help may be simpler than you thought. While complicated diets are sometimes prescribed as a first response, there may be easier ways to get relief from the abdominal bloating, cramping, gas, diarrhea and constipation that IBS typically causes.
Susan Watkins, RD, CDE, manager of nutrition, education and weight management at St Jude Heritage Medical Group, says that more complicated regimens such as the Fodmap diet may be the ultimate answer, but patients should first try easier steps. Here are a few suggestions:
Remove Common Irritants – Something is irritating your digestion, so it makes sense to avoid foods that commonly cause trouble. As the situation calms down, you may be able to work these foods back into your diet. However, it’s best to start by first eliminating the following and noting your reaction:
- Coffee, including decaffeinated.
- Fatty, greasy foods such as burgers, fries, non-lean ground beef, pizza, chips and pastries, particularly those served in diners or restaurants. Also, foods made with heavy butter and oils (even “good oils” such as olive oil) can cause problems.
- Hard to digest foods such as raw fruits and vegetables (especially those with skin and seeds), whole wheat and high fiber breads, brown rice, nuts, seeds, granola and popcorn.
- Gas-producing foods, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, beans, peanut butter, nuts, seeds and psyllium fiber.
- Dairy may be off-limits for some, or stick with only small amounts of low-fat products.
Watkins says to read labels for added ingredients such as inulin FOS or chicory root, which is found in many soy meats/meat alternatives, granola and protein bars and flavored teas. Also, cut out artificial sugars or sugar alcohols, and decrease citric acid that’s prevalent in flavored crackers, chips and beverages such as lemonade, iced tea and vitamin waters.
Eat more of these – When removing the irritants, add easy-to-digest foods, such as:
- Rice and pasta (if you’re not gluten intolerant)
- Flour or corn tortillas
- Rice crackers
- Yam or sweet potatoes
- Cooked vegetables which are chopped, peeled and seeded (in small amounts only to start)
- Lean grilled or baked meats, such as boneless and skinless chicken, fish or ground turkey with at least 7 percent less fat.
It’s also good to take a fiber supplement to keep bowels regular and help prevent gas, bloating and cramping. The key is getting the right kind of fiber in the correct dosage for your body. Choose a product that does not contain added ingredients or insoluble fiber. Good choices include BeneFiber®, Heather’s Tummy Care Tummy Fiber™ or other clear fiber products. Start with ½ teaspoon before breakfast and dinner, gradually increasing to 1-5 tablespoons per day. You’ve reached your correct dose when you have more consistent bowel movements about once a day with a “normal” consistency –not too soft or hard.
Other tips include eating smaller and more frequent meals at regular hours. Also, manage your stress, especially when eating. Exercising is a big help, too, along with socializing more and meditating.
As you progress, keep a detailed food, exercise and symptom log that documents the date, time, food, activity and your reaction (especially if you’re stressed). The intent is to figure out what triggers IBS flare-ups. Be sure to share this information with you doctor or dietician.
St. Joseph Health has many registered dieticians who specialize in helping patients with IBS. Call (714) 618-9500 for more information. St. Jude Heritage is also launching an IBS program that includes stress management, mindfulness therapy and yoga. For information on this 18-week program, contact Kimson Johnston, wellness navigator, at (714) 578-8724.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.