9 tips for eating when you have irritable bowel syndrome
Your diet can worsen or even help relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Eat to beat IBS with these nine tipsBy Lisa Bendall
At least one in seven Canadians is struggling with the uncomfortable symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Not only are they pesky and embarrassing, they’re often downright painful. While there’s still a lot that’s not known about this gastrointestinal disorder, what we do know is that the accompanying gas, cramps, constipation and diarrhea can often be worsened – or relieved – depending on how and what you eat. Want to tailor your eating habits to your IBS?
Try these nine tips for feeling better!
1. Eat on a regular schedule
Have breakfast within the first hour of your day, and make sure you’re having a meal or snack every three or four hours after that. Don’t skip meals, says Natalie Brown, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant in South Surrey, BC. “When we go through long gaps without eating, it’s easy for the digestive system to fill up with extra air, and you’ll get more cramping and bloating.”
2. Eat a well-balanced diet
Of course, this is sage advice for everybody. But good nutrition is an important factor in allowing your digestive system to function properly. If you’re grabbing potato chips on the go instead of sitting down for a healthy sandwich, it’s extra stress for your system.
3. Eat modest portions
When you overindulge with a mammoth-sized meal, it can lead to digestive distress. And that may mean more cramping and diarrhea. Take smaller portions more frequently instead.
4. Don’t wolf your food
“If you eat more slowly, you’re going to chew your food well, which will digest more easily. And you’re not going to gulp air,” Brown points out. Plus it’s important to remember that stress is a common IBS symptom trigger. So it will help if you take time to relax while you eat, not rush to feed your face between back-to-back meetings.
5. Include soluble fibre in your diet
Try soothing your system with fibre your body can digest, like the fibre in oat bran, barley, peas, nuts and seeds. Although research is mixed, some studies do suggest that soluble fibre may ease IBS symptoms. It’s also linked to lower cholesterol. Psyllium, a soluble fibre included in some cereals and supplements, may help you feel full and control cravings in addition to relieving IBS complaints.
6. Load up on water
Aim for six to eight glasses a day. The fluids will replenish your body if you’re dealing with diarrhea, and will keep things moving if you’re coping with constipation. Either way, drinking lots of water is worthwhile.
7. Avoid fizzy and sweetened drinks
It makes sense that beverages full of air bubbles will add more gas to your digestive system. Since that’s probably the last thing you need, avoid carbonated drinks like beer and pop. Fructose, a key ingredient in sweetened beverages, can also cause gas. Be sure to drink without a straw, since straws often cause people to swallow more air (and are bad for the environment anyway).
8. Take a pass on caffeine and alcohol
It may sound like we’re taking all the fun out of your drinks, but what’s fun about clutching your stomach and making a beeline for the bathroom? Caffeine and alcohol are both stimulants to the digestive system and can increase IBS symptoms.
9. Figure out your own food triggers
While certain foods are more likely to aggravate IBS symptoms – including fatty foods, spicy foods, lactose, gassy vegetables like broccoli and cabbage, and insoluble fibres like apple skins – the exact list of items that cause problems can be very individual. Start a diet diary to keep track of what you eat and how you feel, and you may learn which foods bother you most. Does eliminating them help? If not, it’s important to put them back on your menu, says Brown. “Some people go on too restrictive a diet. You don’t want to set yourself up for not meeting all your nutritional needs.”
Don't miss out! Sign up for our free weekly newsletters and get nutritious recipes, healthy weight-loss tips, easy ways to stay in shape and all the health news you need, delivered straight to your inbox.
Web exclusive, April 2012