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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Health Center

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Finding the Right Diet for IBS

Expert Patsy Catsos, MS, RD, answers questions about eating for IBS.

Can probiotics or digestive enzymes help reduce symptoms?

The use of probiotic supplements may help reduce symptoms in the long run, but I would encourage using a FODMAPS approach before introducing probiotics into the diet.

Lactase is the name of the enzyme that breaks lactose (milk sugar) down to simpler sugars during digestion. Using milk products that have been pre-treated with this enzyme, or taking an enzyme, are good strategies for reducing symptoms. Naturally fermented foods, such as yogurt and kefir and hard cheeses, contain less lactose than milk and may be better tolerated. 

In a nutshell, what are recommended foods for IBS sufferers?

Use lactose-free or reduced-lactose dairy products; small servings of berries and citrus fruits; potatoes, rice, oats and corn products; lean meats, fish and poultry; salad vegetables; and plant-based oils. When it comes to sweeteners, small servings of granulated sugar and maple syrup are usually well-tolerated.

Keep your diet as varied and colorful as you can tolerate. Remember, you can probably tolerate small servings of your favorite high-FODMAPS foods. Even if a whole bowl of grandma’s baked beans is out of the question, a little bite won’t hurt you.

Are people with IBS at risk for nutrient deficiencies?

Some people with IBS eliminate entire food groups to control symptoms. These very limited diets can cause weight loss and at the other extreme, weight gain. Unfortunately, some people with IBS find that the “healthier” they eat, with more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and milk, the worse they feel. All of these situations can put them at risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which is why it's important to have a registered dietitian help with the best dietary plan.

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Reviewed on September 28, 2011

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