What Diet is Best for Managing IBS

There really, absolutely, positively IS a sure-fire diet that effectively permanently controls IBS. Here it is: Eat whatever you want that 1) doesn’t aggravate your IBS symptoms, 2) doesn’t create other health problems, such as obesity, heart disease, insomnia, anxiety, or depression, and 3) leaves you feeling healthy, well-energized, and with a confident and optimistic outlook on your future!

We ALL want THAT diet. Sadly, when it comes to a one-size fits all solution, there isn’t one. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since each of us is unique; each of us lives a life that involves different circumstances and conditions; and just as no two of us share the same fingerprint, no two of us requires exactly the same nutrients to be fully healthy.

So, what do we do to bring the frustrating ravages of IBS under consistent control?

Common Elements of Gut-healthy “Diets”

The main issue is to get beyond the idea of a “diet” in the first place. Diet has the implication of being time-limited; a short-term fix to address a temporary condition or situation. The word I prefer to use is diata. The term, which comes from ancient Greek, meant a way of living, and included habits far beyond what we eat. Following a healthy diata involved eating habits seamlessly linking with healthy living habits. This is an important distinction. When you cultivate a healthy diata, you pay attention to:

  • The foods you eat (e.g., whole, nutrient-rich foods with high glycemic values),
  • When and how you eat (e.g., not eating “on the run,” but sitting in a comfortable setting, peacefully, whether alone or with others as an important social bonding time, etc.)
  • Your general daily pacing (e.g., slowing your activity pace to the “speed of healthy living” vs. the rapid, multi-task-filled way that many people function, etc.)
  • Building in time for restful sleep, regular exercise, engagement in mentally challenging activities, and making time for non-goal-oriented playtime, etc.)

When you follow these general guidelines, you are much more likely to achieve a positive impact on IBS symptom patterns. But, in addition to the development of diata-based lifestyle habits, there are several dietary paths that are important for certain individuals to explore. These approaches involve attention to the community of bacteria that live in your digestive tract (your microbiome). Research increasingly recognizes the powerful role the microbiome plays in promoting health and as an underlying contributing factor in many illness conditions, including IBS. Re-vitalizing a healthy microbiome, therefore, can put you in a better position to stick with living a healthy diata.

(Be sure to consult with a qualified health professional before embarking on paths involving significant dietary changes.)

The FODMAP Approach

FODMAP stands for foods that are low in fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharide and polyols. FODMAPs are a type of carbohydrate characterized by having short chains of molecules strung together. A FODMAP diet is strict. It involves elimination of all high FODMAP foods (chart of high and low FODMAP foods), followed by a gradual re-introduction of these foods into your diet, depending upon how well you tolerate them.

Researchers believe foods high in FODMAPs can aggravate IBS in several ways: as they are digested by gut bacteria, they produce high volumes of gas, and excess gassiness is a common complaint of IBS sufferers. Second, they tend to “bulk up” the stool. This puts more pressure on the walls of the intestine. And, since individuals with IBS tend to perceive intestinal signals more intensely, that extra intestinal pressure can be interpreted as pain, cramping, and the discomfort of bloating so common with IBS.

Concerns about following a strict low FODMAP diet are that it can cultivate an unhealthy microbiome when maintained long-term. The health consequences of this aren’t yet fully clear. In addition, having everyone diagnosed with IBS follow a FODMAP diet as a first step ignores the complexity of factors that generate IBS for each person. Deciding on whether this approach makes sense should follow a comprehensive evaluation of potential factors that are relevant for each individual IBS sufferer.

Gluten-free Approach

Glutens are proteins found in wheats that help the grain maintain its shape. Wheat-containing glutens include: rye, barley, semolina, spelt, farina, and faro, among others. The current thinking involving gluten sensitivities is that our food choices and eating patterns have changed much faster than has our gut’s evolutionary ability to manage the change. The very high volume of gluten-containing foods combined with the low diversity and lower nutritional quality of the wheats we consume has sensitized the gut to the presence of glutens.

When they are detected by the immune system cells that line the gut, a cascade of inflammatory changes follows. These immune responses are what are avoided when people sensitive to glutens avoid introducing them into their systems. For a percentage of IBS sufferers, elimination of gluten from one’s diet can result in a noticeable reduction of uncomfortable symptoms, which include: abdominal pain and bloating, headache, fatigue, changes in stool consistency (diarrhea or constipation), and depression (which may reflect how the inflammatory immune response can induce chemical changes in the brain).

High-fiber or Low-fiber Approaches

On average, American’s diets contain 25% (5-14 grams) of the amount of fiber that is thought necessary to maintain smooth movement of food through the gut (20-35 grams). Fiber is a prebiotic that is highly water absorbent. For people with constipation-dominant IBS, increasing fiber-containing whole vegetables and fruits can be helpful.

Because more fiber in your diet can increase the volume of your stool, some people report that IBS symptoms worsen as a result. For them, a low fiber diet can make a positive difference. For people with diarrhea-dominant IBS, adding additional fiber is often contra-indicated.

Low-fat Approaches

High-fat foods are known to cause a variety of health problems (e.g., cardiovascular problems, obesity). However, the type of fat makes a big difference. Certain middle-chain length fat-rich foods, such as those in avocado, nuts, and seeds, can be helpful in reducing IBS symptoms. They have the added benefit of being good for your brain. They also help to maintain steady blood sugar levels for improved energy throughout the day with better and sharper mental focus.

A low-fat diet rich in lean meats, vegetables, fruits, and limited dairy products, can be a useful approach for certain individuals with IBS. Research from the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic suggests that a low-fat diet can be especially beneficial for people with mixed-type IBS (i.e., they fluctuate between constipation and diarrhea).

What’s Right for Me?

What is right for you will depend upon what your IBS symptoms are arising from. Because IBS is a syndrome, it is important to undertake a comprehensive examination of not only what you put in your mouth, but of how you are living your life. Don’t put “all your eggs in one basket,” goes the saying. Take that advice to heart. Use the IBS Relief Now program to help you undertake that whole-life examination. It can help you identify what needs your attention first.

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