Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common functional disorder of the digestive system. You can read about the symptoms and causes here.
There are two types of diet for those experiencing IBS. The first IBS-C (C for Constipation) is when you find that you are mostly constipated. The second IBS-D (D for Diarrhoea) is if you are experiencing mostly diarrhoea. IBS-C is caused by food moving through the digestive system too slowly, allowing too much water from the food to become absorbed by the body. Whereas in IBS-D, food is moving so quickly through the system that the body doesn’t have time to absorb enough water, resulting in diarrhoea.
It’s well known that adding more fibre to your diet will help with constipation problems, but that doesn’t mean you should go overboard- filling yourself up with as much as you can eat. The key to this is to take it slow and be gentle with your body. Slowly increase your soluble fibre intake over a period of time to get the best results.
Fibre is found in foods that originate from plants. Meat and dairy foods don’t contain fibre. There are two types of fibre- Soluble and Insoluble. Within the body- soluble fibre dissolves to form into a gel-like consistency, slowing down digestion and causing you to feel full. Good sources of soluble fibre include fresh fruit and vegetables, root vegetables and oats. Insoluble fibre on the other hand, does not dissolve. It passes through the system as it is, adding bulk and speeding up digestion and the elimination of waste. It has a slightly laxative effect so it should be avoided in cases of diarrhoea, but it is useful in general for keeping the bowels healthy. Good sources include whole grains, nuts and seeds and vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and green beans.
A lack of fluids within your diet can cause many problems including constipation as the body needs water to move food through your digestive system. If you start off dehydrated, your body has no option but to accumulate as much liquid as possible from the food that is passing through, which results in dry stools that are hard to pass. If you get sick of drinking water: fruit, vegetable juices and herbal teas are good alternatives.
Our modern, convenient, ready meal diets leave us severely lacking fibre. So if we are experiencing chronic constipation, we really need to start including a fresh salad in our daily diet. Eaten regularly, you will soon see what a huge difference this can make. It doesn’t have to be a large amount to change things around, a little raw everyday could be enough.
Unfortunately for the avid meat eaters out there, animal protein is more difficult to digest and therefore should be kept to a minimum. Instead try some meat-free options in the form of vegetarian meat alternatives or something plant based- for example a juicy Portobello mushroom burger. Aim for a vegetarian alternative 1-2 times a week.
If you eat a lot of refined foods such as white rice, pasta and bread you will be making your problems worse. During the refining process, fibre and other vital nutrients have been eliminated, making these foods a lot more difficult to digest. You will end up with a clogged up system. Switch to complex wholegrain carbohydrates instead.
Prunes contain a sugar called sorbitol, which can help ease constipation. But like all of the IBS-C diet rules, eat them in moderation as a drastic change of any kind could upset your system. In the case of prunes or prune juice, too much sorbitol can cause bloating, flatulence and even diarrhoea.
Drinks such as tea and coffee can have an extremely dehydrating effect on the body due to their caffeine content. Cut down on the amount of cups you have per day or avoid them altogether. Herbal tea and fresh vegetable juices (especially containing fresh ginger) can be an invigorating healthy alternative.
Another food type that is slow and more difficult to digest. They lack essential fibre and are high in fat. Try your best to cut back on milk, butter, cheese and ice-cream.
Foods like cakes and sweets are low in fibre and high in fat and sugar, making them a tricky digestive combination. Try eating a couple of pieces of fresh fruit to get your sugar fix, but remember for digestive purposes it is best to eat them on an empty stomach.
Overconsumption of iron is known to cause constipation. If you take a multivitamin, consult the back and have a look at your diet to check you aren’t getting too much. Dietary sources of iron include seafood, meat, nuts and beans to name a few.
IBS-D is a little trickier to advise about than IBS-C in the sense that with IBS-D, why diarrhoea comes about is often specifically related from person to person. That is why it is especially important to not take any dietary advice to the extreme. Saying that, there are some food types that are common triggers in people experiencing IBS-D. These include: fried foods, dairy products, caffeine, fizzy drinks, alcohol and gluten. The best way to get round this tricky situation is to keep a food diary to record your dietary triggers.
Soluble fibre is preferable over insoluble as insoluble can have a slightly laxative effect. However always test food (especially when it comes to fibre) in moderation, as IBS can be a particularly fragile issue. If you are not careful, you can swing from one side of IBS to the other in terms of constipation and diarrhoea.
Diarrhoea can lead to extreme dehydration and a loss of important nutrients. Make sure you are sipping on water throughout the day to keep your body nourished. Carrot juice is good in making stools less watery but avoid apple juice as it has the opposite effect.
Bananas are particularly good in replacing lost elecrolytes after experiencing a period of diarrhoea. They are also incredibly easy to digest, therefore shouldn’t cause your system any problems.
Foods such as white rice, mashed potatoes, steamed chicken and apple sauce are usually seen as unhealthy because they lack nutrients and fibre, but whilst experiencing IBS-D they could really help. It is not recommended to consume a diet like this for a long period of time, but whilst your symtoms persist, these foods should calm your system down.
Avoid particularly high fibre foods, as this will add to the watery consistency of your stools.
Keeping a food diary is perhaps the most valuable thing you can do when it comes to IBS. It is a difficult condition to work out as there are many different factors that could be involved and so many circumstances that could trigger reactions. Taking at least a couple of months to record and evaluate your findings could be the key to working out your specific issue.
Stress is quite often linked to IBS and for this reason, exercise really is a great help. It also encourages muscles to relax which has even been shown to help calm the system during periods of inactivity. Depending on the type of IBS you experience, getting out to exercise could be difficult. But a little goes a long way and could improve your symptoms dramatically.
As stress of any kind can quite easily disrupt your digestive system, it is best to eat your meals sitting down in a relaxed environment. This way you are letting your body digest well, at its own pace. Slow down from your day and chew your food thoroughly.
Having a regular meal pattern is important. This way your body can expect and prepare for what is to come and this can ultimately improve symptoms.
Ultimately there is no quick solution, IBS can take a long time to figure out. But with the right approach, symptoms can be greatly reduced or eradicated altogether. Take the time, don’t beat yourself up and you hopefully you will soon see dramatic results.