Not only are the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) pesky and embarrassing, they’re often downright painful. While there’s still a lot we don’t know about this gastrointestinal disorder, what we do know is that the accompanying gas, cramps, constipation and diarrhea can often be worsened (or relieved) depending on how and what you eat. Try these nine tips to eat better with IBS.
1. Eat on a regular schedule
Have breakfast within the first hour of your day, and make sure you’re having a meal or snack every three or four hours after that. Don’t skip meals, says registered dietitian Natalie Brown. “When you go through long gaps without eating, it’s easy for the digestive system to fill up with extra air, and you’ll get more cramping and bloating.”
2. Have a well-balanced diet
Of course, this is good advice for everybody. But good nutrition allows your digestive system to function properly. If you’re grabbing potato chips on the go instead of sitting down for a healthy sandwich, it’s extra stress for your system.
3. Choose modest portions
A mammoth-sized meal can lead to more cramping and diarrhea. Eat smaller portions more frequently instead.
4. Don’t wolf your food
“If you eat more slowly, you’re going to chew your food well, which will digest more easily. And you’re not going to gulp air,” Brown points out. Plus, remember that stress is a common IBS symptom trigger. So it will help if you take time to relax while you eat, not rush to feed your face between back-to-back meetings.
5. Include soluble fiber in your diet
Try soothing your system with the kind of fiber in oat bran, barley, peas, nuts, and seeds. Although research is mixed, some studies do suggest that soluble fiber may ease IBS symptoms. It’s also linked to lower cholesterol. Psyllium, a soluble fiber included in some cereals and supplements, may help you feel full and control cravings in addition to relieving IBS complaints.
6. Load up on water
Aim for six to eight glasses a day. The fluids will replenish your body if you’re dealing with diarrhea and will keep things moving if you’re coping with constipation.
7. Avoid fizzy and sweetened drinks
Beverages full of air bubbles will add more gas to your digestive system, so avoid carbonated drinks like beer and soda. Fructose, a key ingredient in sweetened beverages, can also cause gas. Don’t use a straw, since straws often cause people to swallow more air (and are bad for the environment anyway).
8. Take a pass on caffeine and alcohol
Caffeine and alcohol are both stimulants to the digestive system and can increase IBS symptoms.
9. Figure out your own food triggers
While certain foods are more likely to aggravate IBS symptoms–including fatty foods, spicy foods, lactose, gassy vegetables like broccoli and cabbage, and insoluble fibers like apple skins–the specific foods that trigger symptoms for you can be very individual. Start a food diary to keep track of what you eat and how you feel, and you may learn which foods bother you most.
Web exclusive April 2012 Best Health magazine