An introduction to diet and IBS
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a highly individual condition and gives rise to a variety of symptoms.
Although many factors can be involved in the condition, in several cases, IBS can be largely managed through diet. Food intolerance and trigger foods are common issues in IBS which, if identified, can be managed.
Through paying attention to your diet you can work towards improving symptoms of IBS.
Before even considering what you should be eating you need to consider how you eat. Simple eating habits can make a big difference in IBS and we uncover some of these below:
- Chew your food. Chewing your food properly is crucial in order to support digestion. In your mouth you are able to increase the surface area of the food you eat, allowing for better coverage by digestive enzymes. You introduce the first of many digestive enzymes in the mouth – salivary amylase. Salivary amylase begins to break down carbohydrates into their simple sugar components. Chew each mouthful up to 20 times to reap the benefits later on. Read more in our blog on the benefits of chewing
- Eat slowly. If you eat slowly you are less likely to overeat and overload your digestive system
- Bitter foods. Bitter foods help prepare the stomach and gastrointestinal tract for digestion by encouraging the release of digestive enzymes and juices. Try having a small bitter salad containing bitter greens such as endive, dandelion greens or watercress, before a meal. Alternatively try a bitter herb tincture and take 10-15 drops in a little water 5 minutes before a meal
- Manage your liquids. Drinking water is essential for healthy bowels, but when you drink is also important. Don’t drink water during a meal as this can dilute your digestive juices reducing efficacy. Avoid water in the 20 minute period before and after your meal and top up when you aren’t eating.
Fibre is one of the most commonly discussed food types in association with IBS. For some, a reduction in sources of dietary fibre is best. In other cases, you may find increasing fibre in your diet is more beneficial. It is important to consider the quantity and type of fibre you are eating. There are two types of fibre:
- Soluble fibre can be found in foods such as oats, barley, seeds, fruit, root vegetables and soy. This is fibre that is easily digested. It dissolves in water, softening and bulking the stool thus helping with symptoms of constipation. As soluble fibre absorbs water it can also be used if diarrhoea is present.
- Insoluble fibre can be found in wholegrains, cereals, the skin of fruit and vegetables, couscous and brown rice. The insoluble fibre in the food you eat takes more time to be broken down by the digestive system. It does not dissolve in water and can help prevent constipation.
If you find you are experiencing adverse reactions to fibre you may want to consider the FODMAPs within your diet. FODMAPs are specific classes of carbohydrate often found in many fruit, vegetables and legumes. Many FODMAP foods are rich in fibre and, if this is where the problem lies, you can consider FODMAP friendly foods to obtain your dietary fibre.
Click now to browse our FODMAP friendly food ideas!
View our Low FODMAP shopping list and recipe ideas to get started!
Gluten is a protein found in grains including wheat, rye and barley.
Gluten intolerance arises when someone is particularly sensitive to gluten and struggles to digest it. This is often due to a lack of enzymes that are required to break gluten down in the body. As a result of this malfunction, the partially digested gluten travels into the large intestine where it is attacked by naturally-residing gut bacteria and can give rise to undesirable symptoms.
Many of these symptoms are similar to those of IBS and are thought to occur either independently or as part of irritable bowel syndrome.
Gluten intolerance must be differentiated from gluten allergy or coeliac disease. These are serious conditions, which need to be managed by a doctor. Someone with either of these conditions will have to remove gluten completely from their diet.
Lactose is a sugar found in most dairy products. Lactose intolerance is arguably one of the most common food intolerances, affecting from 5%-90% of people in certain communities.
Lactose is broken down by an enzyme called lactase in the body. After a child is weaned, less milk is consumed and the result is that the gut produces lower amounts of lactase.
Insufficient lactase gives rise to lactose intolerance. As you can’t digest this component of dairy properly your gut becomes irritated and symptoms such as bloating, flatulence, stomach pain or diarrhoea can appear.
FODMAPs are classes of short-chain carbohydrates and include Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disacchardies, Monosaccharides and Polyols. These categories of carbohydrate are indigestible and instead undergo fermentation in your large intestine.
Those with a sensitive gut seem to be more sensitive to this process of fermentation and can experience symptoms such as bloating, flatulence, stomach, pain, constipation or diarrhoea as a result.
FODMAPs are commonly found in many varieties of fruit, vegetables, dairy products, legumes and artificial sweeteners.
Foods high in FODMAPs may be ones to try avoiding if you have IBS, click to visit some of our High FODMAP food lists.
Prebiotics and probiotics
Your gut contains billions of good bacteria, which help support digestion. However, if the good bacteria are overrun by bad bacteria, symptoms of IBS can worsen.
Prebiotics help to promote a healthy gut environment. Substances such as L+ lactic acid are classed as prebiotics and help to support and feed your good gut bacteria, which can be helpful for keeping symptoms of IBS at bay.
TOP TIP: A.Vogel's Molkosan, made from fermented whey, is a prebiotic drink high in L+ lactic acid.
Probiotics can also be useful. Certain milk drinks, yoghurts and fermented food such as sauerkraut contain the good bacteria themselves known as probiotics and these can be effective for use after a prebiotic has worked on improving the environment of the digestive system.
Other problem foods in IBS
Although intolerance may not always be apparent, some food types are just more likely to irritate a sensitive gut. Common culprits that you may want to try reducing if you have IBS include the following:
- Acidic foods. Tomato based products, citrus fruits and vinegars are very acidic and can irritate the digestive tract, which can give rise to diarrhoea. Eat them in moderation and not on an empty stomach
- Chocolate. This contains high levels of fat and sugar, both of which can aggravate the gut in IBS. Sugar feeds the bad bacteria in your gut allowing it to thrive and cause you problems
- Caffeine. Stimulants such as caffeine cause the release of adrenaline in your body. Adrenaline is involved in the ‘fight or flight response’, which takes the focus off our digestive system and can result in uncoordinated contractions and abnormal toilet habits
- Alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are very acidic so can aggravate the gut with diarrhoea being a common outcome. Some drinks will also contain gas, which can add to bloating, and beer contains gluten, which as a problem for those with gluten intolerance
- Spicy foods. If you eat food containing lots of spices, these can also irritate the gut and exacerbate symptoms of IBS.
- Fatty or fried foods. Food containing large amounts of fat put a burden on the digestive system. Fat takes longer to digest, which can cause feelings of fullness and nausea. Digesting fat as opposed to other macronutrients (with the exception of alcohol) puts a greater burden on your liver that may be under pressure already if constipation is present. Also, bile, which is secreted to emulsify fat, in excess, can stimulate peristalsis in the large intestine, which can cause urgency or diarrhoea
- Peanuts. Incorporating peanuts into your diet can be a healthy addition. However, they contain fat and proteins that are often tricky to break down. Nut and peanut intolerances are common for this reason.
What can you eat?
Planning meals can be tricky if you have IBS and before you identify potential trigger foods as outline above, it might be difficult to know here to start.
Visit our page on 'What can I eat with IBS?' page to get some top breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack ideas, as well as some handy food swaps.
Food and symptoms diary
It can be difficult to pin-point exactly what foods are triggering your symptoms of IBS, especially in the case of food intolerance when symptoms can take up to a few days to appear!
However, we can't stress enough how useful it can be to keep a food and symptoms diary in order to try to establish patterns of adverse reactions in relation to the food you eat.
We have produced an example of a food and symptoms diary together with our expert’s verdict for you to get an idea of how it can be useful in understanding and treating IBS.