IBS Foods

IBS Foods

By J. E. Davidson

Irritable bowel sydrome or IBS, is a group of symptoms than include abdominal pain and cramping, bloating, and chronic diarrhea or constipation or a combination of both.  Researchers are unsure of the cause of IBS, but it may be that the muscles and nerves in the colon (large bowel) are extra sensitive, and muscles may contract too much when you eat a large meal, or the nerves may react to the bowel being stretched.  IBS does not damage the colon or cause other health problems, but can cause great discomfort, and can be a life-limiting inconvenience when you have to spend so much time in the bathroom.

Diet plays a large role in IBS flare-ups.  Traditionally, IBS sufferers have been advised to add fiber to their diets and avoid certain foods that are known to be triggers.  Foods high in fat (red meat, dairy products and egg yolks, and fried foods), alcohol, and caffeinated or carbonated beverages are generally discouraged for IBS patients.

To determine which foods you specifically need to avoid, it may help to keep a record of your eating habits.  A journal of what you have eaten, how much, and any symptoms you have will help you to discover which foods are your particular triggers.  You may discover that some foods will always produce a flare-up, or may only occasionally give you problems.  By avoiding known triggers, you can keep your IBS under control and regain a normal life.

Plant foods contain two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble (no animal food contains fiber).  Eating the right combinations of both types of fiber can provide a healthy diet while reducing flare-ups.

Soluble fibers will dissolve in liquid.  These are commonly known as “starchy” foods.  In the colon, these foods will absorb the water in your digestive system, soothe and regulate the digestive tract, and normalize your bowel function.  Foods containing soluble fiber that are often recommended for an IBS diet include white rice, pasta and noodles, high-quality white bread, oatmeal, and potatoes.

In the digestive tract, soluble fiber combines with water to form a gel which gently stretches the colon.  The gel adds bulk to loose stools, softens fecal matter, and will stabilize your system whether you are suffering either recurrent diarrhea or constipation.

You will still want to add insoluble fiber to your diet, but in small amounts to avoid gas and bloating.  Insoluble fiber foods include whole grains, nuts, popcorn, beans, berries, pineapple and melons, among others, and are the healthiest foods.  Any plant food that is seeded, stringy, rough, with a tough skin, pod, or peel is probably high in insoluble fiber.  Cutting insoluble-fiber foods out of your diet entirely will leave you with a very unhealthy diet, but eating them in combination with larger amounts of soluble-fiber foods, or after eating soluble-fiber foods, will minimize their effect on your digestive system.

To combine soluble and insoluble fiber, try adding small amounts of chopped vegetables to pasta or rice.  Create a smoothie using bananas or other soluble fiber fruits as a base, a little rice milk and a few berries, blending them well.  Finely grind nuts and add them to pumpkin bread.  Use your imagination to create combinations of both types of fiber contained in foods you enjoy, always with soluble fiber as the main component.

You may be concerned that adding starchy foods to your diet may cause weight gain or add to an existing weight problem, but by cutting fatty foods from your diet and adding soluble fiber you may find a calorie reduction is the result.

A few more hints to stabilize your IBS and make life easier:

-Add fiber to your diet gradually to avoid gas and bloating.

-Eat four or five small meals during the day, instead of large regular meals, to avoid overfilling your digestive system.

-Snack on soluble-fiber foods during the day.

-Chopping, peeling, de-seeding, and cooking insoluble-fiber fruits and vegetables will break down the fiber they contain and make them easier to digest.

-Most meal-replacement or supplement nutrition drinks and shakes can seriously aggravate IBS.

-Vitamin and mineral supplements generally cause IBS symptoms to flare up; try prenatal vitamins (you can have your doctor call in a prescription), or ask your pharmacist to recommend a product.

-Avoid coffee, even decaffeinated, because it contains enzymes which irritate the digestive tract.

-Go for a walk after a meal.  Mild activity will keep the digestive system functioning properly.