It's not easy to find the right diet
when you have irritable
bowel syndrome (IBS). Eating certain foods can cause major discomfort
for people with IBS, but figuring out which foods cause the symptoms is a
highly individual process.
WebMD consulted gastrointestinal nutrition expert Patsy Catsos, MS, RD, author of
IBS -- Free at Last!, for answers to your questions about diet and
irritable bowel syndrome.
Got a question about diet or nutrition? WebMD asked the experts for answers
about eating healthy and losing weight.
What is irritable bowel syndrome and what are the symptoms?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is often defined as abdominal
pain and discomfort with altered bowel habits, in the absence of any other
medical explanation for the symptoms. Patients with IBS often report gas, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation.
How can you distinguish normal digestive problems from those needing medical evaluation?
Certain foods, like beans and prunes, can cause gastrointestinal effects in
most people. A certain amount of gas is normal and healthy. The average
person produces 1-4 pints a day and passes gas 14 times! It’s also normal
for the consistency and frequency of your bowel movements to vary
However, if you are experiencing abdominal pain, a change in your bowel
habits, or if your gas, diarrhea or constipation is interfering with your
normal activities, you should see a doctor. It's important for your health care
provider to help you rule out other problems, especially if you have any of the
In the diarrhea-prominent type of IBS, the primary form of treatment is
diet. Constipation can be more challenging to treat with diet alone. Other
forms of noninvasive therapy that are routinely used are physical therapy and
management, because studies show the mind-gut connection is very real.
Are there certain foods that aggravate the digestive system?
Each person is unique. But in general, foods that are high in fat, fried
foods, spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeinated coffee and tea can be problematic.
Some foods, such as beans, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower,
peas, onions, and bagels, that can cause minor discomfort in a normal GI tract
can cause significant bloating, gas, and abdominal pain in IBS sufferers.
What is the best diet for people with IBS symptoms?
There is no one-size-fits-all diet. A proper diet for
IBS is highly individualized.
A high-fiber diet was thought to be the best diet for almost everyone with
IBS, but recent studies have shown that this isn’t true for everyone.
For people with constipation, it's common to try a high-fiber diet of 25
grams daily for women and 38 grams for men to see if that helps. People should
eat as much dietary
fiber as they can tolerate, and understand that a certain amount of gas
production is a sign of healthy gut microbes at work.
The challenge is finding an acceptable fiber intake without experiencing
debilitating abdominal pain and bloating, and frantic dashes to the toilet. And
sometimes focusing on fiber alone doesn’t address the removal of potential
trigger foods from the diet.