I've had the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome -- a gastrointestinal
disorder -- for my whole life, but when I was younger, I didn't realize
anything was wrong. My parents thought my cramps, bloating, constipation, and
diarrhea were normal because they had similar symptoms. So I thought it was
normal, too. As I grew up, I pretty much just coped with it. It was
inconvenient, but I did my best.
But three years ago, when I was 27, after having some minor surgery done, I
had the worst symptoms...
"Moderation is important," says Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, author of the American Dietetic Association (ADA) Guide to Better Digestion. It's important to maintain a balanced diet for good health when you have IBS. So never completely avoid certain groups of foods or you may be deprived of nutrients your body needs.
"People need to be able to take the time to experiment a little bit to find out what works for them," says Bonci. "People could be selective with what they have, saying, 'OK, I'm no good with apples, but I'm alright with a pear. Or grapes don't work for me, but I'm OK with having a little bit of a banana.'"
Keep an IBS symptom journal to track which foods and which amounts cause bouts of diarrhea. It's the best way to figure out which foods cause problems. Remember, different foods have different effects on each person. Also consider an elimination diet -- eliminate certain foods from your diet one at a time and see how you feel.
Get the Right Type of Fiber for IBS Relief
Whether you have IBS or not, there are certain elements in foods that are known to quicken bowel movement. Fiber is one of them, which is why fiber helps relieve constipation. Don't avoid fiber if you have diarrhea. It helps protect your body against heart disease and possibly cancer, so you need it.
Instead, Bonci suggests people with IBS eat more soluble fiber rather than insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber stays in the gut longer, adding bulk to the colon, which helps the colon work normally.
You find soluble fiber in:
Dried or canned beans
The flesh of fruits such as apples and oranges
Vegetables such as carrots
For comparison, insoluble fiber is found in the skins of fruits and root vegetables, in whole-wheat products, wheat and corn bran, and in vegetables such as cauliflower and green beans.
Drink Plenty of Water for IBS
If you have IBS with diarrhea, make sure you drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of plain water each day, but not always with meals.
"Water just makes everything run through a little more rapidly," says Bonci. She suggests drinking water an hour before or an hour after meals.
Be Wary of Certain Foods if You Have IBS
Each person with IBS reacts differently to foods. Only you know which foods send you running to the bathroom. But while you figure out your own triggers, you might want to take special care with foods known to cause symptoms in some people with IBS:
Broccoli, onions, and cabbage
Fried or fatty foods such as French fries
Milk or dairy products such as cheese or ice cream
Caffeine in coffee, teas, and some sodas
Gluten, found in wheat, rye, and barley
Sorbitol, a sugar substitute found in sugarless gum and mints, and fructose, a simple sugar found in honey and some fruits, also trigger IBS symptoms in some people.
How you eat may also trigger symptoms. Some people with IBS are bothered by foods with extreme temperatures, particularly if consumed together, such as ice-cold water and steaming hot soup. Many people develop symptoms after large meals. Try to eat less at each meal, or have four or five small meals a day.
Remember, your reactions to foods are unique, says Bonci. So experiment with different foods until you've developed your own IBS nutrition prescription.
"There isn't an IBS diet, per se," Bonci says. Some people will find they're OK with particular foods, and other people find there's just no way."
Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, author, American Dietetic Association Guide to Better Digestion.
American College of Gastroenterology: "Understanding Irritable Bowel Syndrome".
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: "What I need to know about Irritable Bowel Syndrome" and "Irritable Bowel Syndrome,"
St. Luke's Texas Liver Institute web site.