Diet Do's and Don'ts for IBS

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How you eat and what you eat may contribute to your symptoms if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, there's no diet that works for everyone with this condition. Do talk with your doctor about your diet. Don’t try any drastic diets. Ask about healthy changes you can make.

Here are some other do's and don’ts:

Do keep a food diary.

Many people with IBS notice that some foods make their symptoms worse. A food diary can help you and your doctor know what foods you need to avoid. List what foods you eat during the day. Note what symptoms you have after eating them. Watch out for foods that cause symptoms in many people with IBS. These foods include high-fat foods, milk, alcohol, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, beans and cabbage. After several weeks, share your food diary findings with your doctor. Together, you can work out an eating plan that's right for you.

Don’t eat big meals.

A good general rule for anyone with IBS is to avoid eating too much at one meal. Eat 5 to 6 smaller meals a day instead of 3 big meals. Spread your meals out during the day. Eat slowly and drink plenty of water with your meal. Big meals are more likely to cause cramping and diarrhea.

Do eat low-fat and high-carb foods.

Most people with IBS have more symptoms from foods high in fat. Fried foods and high-fat foods may cause abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are healthy foods that are high in carbohydrates and fiber. These foods may reduce IBS cramps and constipation. They make your stools softer and easier to pass.

A dietitian or nutritionist can help you make sure you are getting enough fiber in your diet. You may also want to use the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s tool to find out how much fiber and other nutrients are in the foods you eat.

Don’t add fiber quickly.

High-fiber foods like whole grains, cereals, beans and vegetables are good for avoiding constipation. But, you can have too much of a good thing. If you are not used to fiber, adding too much too soon can cause gas and bloating. Most experts suggest about 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day. If you don’t get that much and want to add fiber, do it slowly. Add about 2 to 3 grams each day.

Do avoid gas-producing foods.

Vegetables are good for IBS because they give you a healthy source of carbohydrates and fiber. That can make you less constipated. However, some vegetables are gas producers. These vegetables can cause gas and bloating in anyone. They can be especially bad if you have IBS. Here are some to avoid: beans, onions, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, lentils and legumes.

Do talk with your doctor about FODMAP.

FODMAP (Fermentable Oligo- Di- and Monosaccharides and Poly) is a special diet that seems to help some people with IBS. This diet avoids foods that are high in carbohydrates that are harder to digest. For instance, a FODMAP diet limits certain fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and grains. It also has you avoid some sweeteners, candy and honey. This diet might help, but it is complicated and involves many types of food. You will also need to work with a dietitian. Start a search on Healthgrades.com for registered dietitians in your area.

Ask your doctor if a FODMAP diet might be right for you.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 10

  1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome/treatment.html

  2. Eating, Diet, and Nutrition for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/irritable-bowel-syndrom...

  3. IBS Diet: What to Do and What to Avoid. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. http://www.aboutibs.org/ibs-diet/ibs-diet-what-to-do-and-what-to-avoid.html

  4. IBS Diet: Cramping and Diarrhea. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. http://www.aboutibs.org/ibs-diet/cramping-and-diarrhea.html

  5. Gas and Bloating. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. http://www.aboutibs.org/ibs-diet/foods-that-cause-gas-and-bloating.html

  6. Dietary Fiber. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. http://www.aboutibs.org/ibs-diet/dietary-fiber.html

  7. The Low FODMAP Diet Approach: Dietary Triggers for IBS Symptoms. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. http://www.aboutibs.org/low-fodmap-diet.html

  8. USDA Food Composition Databases. U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/nutrients/

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