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A Diet for IBS With Constipation (IBS-C)

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on July 26, 2020

If you have IBS-C, you may be concerned about what to eat. You need to keep a balanced diet while you avoid foods that trigger symptoms for you. Try a few simple tips to make your diet work better for you.

Keep a Symptom Journal

An IBS symptom journal can help you and your doctor figure out which foods may trigger your symptoms. Make a habit of writing down any symptoms you might have, along with what and how much you ate beforehand. If you see a pattern with certain foods, see if you feel better when you don't eat them, or cut back on how much of them you eat. But cut foods one at a time. If you cut several foods at the same time, you won't know for sure which one may be causing your symptoms.

Build a Diet That Works for You

These tips can help you come up with your own healthy new meal plan:

Limit highly refined foods: These foods lose some important nutrients in the process of making them. They fill you up but don't give you the fiber, vitamins, and minerals you need. Think twice before you eat:

  • White bread
  • White rice
  • Chips
  • Cookies and pastries

Boost fiber: Fiber makes stool easier to pass. It helps many people with IBS-C symptoms, but not everyone.

Too little roughage in your diet can make it hard to have a bowel movement. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends 25 grams of fiber for women and 38 grams for men each day. People over age 50 may need a little less fiber (21 grams for women and 30 grams for men).

Here are some foods that can help you get enough fiber:

Whole-grains: First, make sure you aren't gluten sensitive. If unsure, stop eating gluten for 3 weeks and use alternatives instead (such as rice, quinoa, potato, and flax). You can get 4 grams of fiber easily with a serving of whole grains, such as

  • 1 to 2 slices of whole-grain bread (depending on the brand)
  • 1 cup of brown rice
  • 9 Reduced-Fat Triscuits

Cereals: Some contain 5 or more grams of fiber per serving. Here are a few examples:

  • 1 cup of Raisin Bran = 8 grams of fiber
  • 1/2 cup of All-Bran = 10 grams
  • 1 cup of Shredded Wheat Spoonsize = 5 grams
  • 1 1/4 cups of cooked oatmeal = 5 grams

Fruits: Fruits are great choices because they include both fiber and extra water. Here are a few examples:

  • 1 apple = 3.7 grams of fiber
  • 1 banana = 2.8 grams
  • 1 pear = 4 grams
  • 1 cup of strawberries = 3.8 grams

Vegetables: Vegetables offer loads of fiber plus antioxidants that can help fight heart disease and some types of cancer. Here are a few examples:

  • 1 cup carrot slices, cooked = 5 grams of fiber
  • 1 cup cooked broccoli = 4.5 grams of fiber
  • 1 sweet potato = 4 grams of fiber
  • 1 cup cauliflower, cooked = 3 grams of fiber
  • 2 cups raw spinach leaves = 3 grams of fiber

Beans: Just 1/2 cup can get you to 6 or more grams of fiber in a snap. Here are a few examples:

  • 1/2 cup of Ortega Fat-Free Refried Beans = 9 grams of fiber
  • 1/2 cup of canned kidney beans = 6 grams
  • 1/2 cup of S&W Chili Beans Zesty Sauce = 6 grams

Although meeting your daily fiber needs is best accomplished by eating the right foods, taking a fiber supplement can also help. Examples include psyllium, methylcellulose, wheat dextrin, and calcium polycarbophil.

Don't shock your system with a sudden increase of fiber, though. Your body will need time to get used to it, so add a little each day. Too much at once may make you feel worse.

Try increasing your intake by 2 grams to 3 grams per day. For example, if you normally eat 5 grams of fiber, try getting 8 grams on your first day and go from there. If it helps, stick with it until you're getting as much as experts recommend.

Try prunes and liquids: Some fruity foods that are higher in the sugar sorbitol, such as prunes, dried plums (another name for prunes), and prune juice, can loosen bowels. But again, too much can cause gas, bloating, cramping, and diarrhea.

Add ground flaxseed to your diet: Some people find it helps ease their IBS-C symptoms. You can sprinkle it on salads, cooked vegetables, and cereals. Ground flaxseed also provides fiber, about 4 grams per 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons (depending on the brand).

Stay well-hydrated: Drink plenty of liquids like water and juice. But coffee, carbonated drinks, and alcohol can dehydrate you and make your IBS-C symptoms worse.

Keep some carbs: Be mindful of low-carb diets. A high-protein and low-carb diet can cause constipation. You need protein, but don't cut out the carbs from fruits and vegetables. They'll help keep your digestive tract working.

Change the Way You Eat

Some simple changes may help you gain control of your IBS-C symptoms.

Eat smaller meals more often. Some people with IBS-C find it helps to eat five or six smaller meals throughout the day, rather than three large ones.

Don't skip breakfast. This meal, more than any other, can get your colon active.

Dine at leisure. Too often we eat on the run or at our desks. But eating in a rush can trigger IBS-C symptoms. Try not to do other things while you're eating, such as drive or sit in front of the computer. The stress of multitasking may trigger symptoms, and if you eat quickly and swallow air, it can cause gas or bloating.

Relax and enjoy your food.

Recipes to Try

Try these three recipes that provide fiber and flavor.

Easy 7-Layer Bean Dip

Makes six big snack servings

Ingredients

  • 16-ounce can fat-free refried beans
  • teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • teaspoon Tabasco
  • cup fat-free sour cream
  • 1 cup reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 5 green onions, chopped
  • 2 ounces chopped black olives (optional)

Suggested dippers: low-fat or reduced-fat tortilla chips, soft flour tortillas, pita bread cut into triangles, or vegetables such as celery, carrot, or jicama slices.

Directions

  1. Add beans to small microwave-safe bowl and heat on HIGH for 2 minutes to warm and soften. Stir in chili powder, black pepper, and pepper sauce to taste. Spread into an 8x8-inch baking dish and let cool.
  2. Spread sour cream over the beans. Top beans with shredded cheese then sprinkle chopped tomatoes evenly over the top. Top with green onions and olives if desired. Refrigerate until needed.
  3. Serve with any of the suggested dippers.

Nutritional Information Per Serving (not including dippers):

145 calories, 10 grams protein, 18.5 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fat (2 grams saturated fat), 10 milligrams cholesterol, 4 grams fiber, 400 milligrams sodium. Calories from fat: 21%.

Cruciferous Au Gratin

Makes six side servings

Ingredients

  • 4 cups cauliflower florets (Reserve about 2 cups of the coarsely chopped cauliflower stems)
  • 4 cups broccoli florets
  • 2 tablespoons chopped shallots
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 cup golden mushroom canned soup (vegetable or chicken broth can be substituted)
  • 1 cup fat-free half and half (low-fat or whole milk can be substituted)
  • 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons horseradish (to taste)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 cup grated Gruyere cheese (reduced-fat Swiss or Jarlsberg Lite can be substituted)

Directions

  1. Add cauliflower and broccoli florets to a large microwave-safe dish with 1/4 cup of water. Cover dish and microwave on HIGH until just tender (about 4-6 minutes).
  2. Meanwhile, start heating a medium-sized nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Coat the pan with canola cooking spray. Add the coarsely chopped cauliflower stems, shallots, and garlic, and gently saute until soft (do not brown). Add the golden mushroom soup or vegetable or chicken broth and cook until the stock has almost evaporated. Transfer the mixture to a food processor or blender along with the fat-free half-and-half and pulse until fairly smooth. Add the horseradish and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Coat a 9-inch pie plate with canola cooking spray. Add the cauliflower and broccoli florets to the dish and pour the half-and-half mixture over the top. Gently toss to blend. Sprinkle the cheese over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes until golden brown.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:

115 calories, 10 grams protein, 12.7 grams carbohydrate, 3.5 grams fat (1.9 grams saturated fat), 11 milligrams cholesterol, 3.5 grams fiber, 240 milligrams sodium. Calories from fat: 26%.

High-Fiber Berry Parfait

Makes one parfait

Ingredients

  • cup strawberry or berry yogurt (low-fat or light depending on preference)
  • cup sliced strawberries
  • cup Raisin Bran cereal
  • Garnish parfait with: a small dollop of light whipping cream or light Cool Whip and a whole strawberry or fan a few slices of strawberries on top (optional)

Directions

1. In a 2-cup measure, blend yogurt with sliced strawberries. Spoon half of the mixture into parfait glass.

2. Sprinkle half of the Raisin Bran over the yogurt mixture.

3. Top that with the rest of the yogurt mixture and sprinkle the remaining Raisin Bran over the top with a dollop of light whipped cream and a strawberry if desired. Enjoy immediately.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:

230 calories, 9 grams protein, 50 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fat (.9 grams saturated fat), 5 milligrams cholesterol, 5.5 grams fiber, 255 milligrams sodium. Calories from fat: 8%

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN, nutrition consultant.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: "Irritable Bowel Syndrome," "What I need to know about Irritable Bowel Syndrome," "Constipation."

J. Patrick Waring, MD, Digestive Healthcare of Georgia.

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

University of California at Berkeley Wellness Guide to Dietary Supplements.

Harvard Health Publications: "Understanding and treating an irritable bowel."

International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders: "IBS Diet: What to Do and What to Avoid."

Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, author, Tell Me What to Eat If I Have IBS.

Uptodate.com: “Patient information: High-fiber diet (Beyond the Basics)."

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