IBS Diet: What to Eat, What to Avoid to Feel Better

If you’re experiencing abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea or constipation (or both), you may have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

It affects up to 4 million adults in the U.S. and twice as many women. Either way, it’s not fun and there is no cure. But by tweaking your diet you can significantly reduce the effects of IBS and feel much better.

Most doctors treating IBS recommend a low FODMAP diet and most people on it report great relief. Research shows that a low FODMAP diet consistently improves symptoms of IBS, specifically abdominal pain and bloating.

FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, which are carbs that ferment in your gut.

Basically, people with IBS do not absorb FODMAP foods well so food travels to the large colon where bacteria digest it and this produces gas and discomfort. This also affects the fluid balance in the gut, which can cause constipation and diarrhea depending on the shift of balance.

Your gut would be much happier on a low FODMAP diet.

You should avoid foods high in FODMAPs, but it gets a little tricky from there. The list below isn’t of foods you can’t eat, but rather foods to limit to find out the effects. Some people are perfectly fine eating some of the foods on the list while others can’t. And the only way to find out is to reintroduce each food slowly and gauge your response.

FODMAP foods:

  • Fructose: Fruits like apples, peaches, cherries and honey, high-fructose corn syrup, agave.
  • Lactose: Dairy like milk, yogurt, ice cream.
  • Fructans: Vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli and asparagus, onions, garlic.
  • Grains: Wheat and rye (Note: some people experiencing symptoms from gluten may actually have difficulty processing FODMAPs. Gluten-containing foods like wheat are high in fructans and some studies show people with gluten sensitivities can’t process the fructans.)
  • Galactans: Legumes, such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans and soybeans.
  • Polyols: Sugar alcohols and fruits with pits or seeds, such as apples, avocados, cherries, figs, peaches, plums, blackberries and watermelon.

Low FODMAP foods:

  • Protein: Eggs, fish, tofu and meat.
  • Dairy: Cheeses like brie, Camembert, cheddar and feta as well as almond, rice and lactose-free milk.
  • Grains: Rice, quinoa and oats.
  • Nuts/seeds: Almonds, pine nuts, walnuts in moderation.
  • Vegetables: Bok choy, carrot, cucumber, eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, ginger and zucchini.
  • Fruits: Bananas, grapes, citrus, strawberries, blueberries and pineapple.

Don’t panic. A low FODMAP diet may sound restrictive, and it can be, but it should be done in phases and slowly.

Keep a food diary for two weeks. Then remove foods one or two at a time to see if there are any changes in symptoms, then reintroduce them and watch your symptoms. The idea is to identify food triggers and avoid them. This means you may not need to restrict everything completely.

So grab a notebook, start your food diary and see your doctor or dietician. You’ll be on your way to feeling better.