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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects 1 in 20 people in the United States. This intestinal disorder can create severe discomfort and throw the normalcy of everyday life off balance. Additionally, each individual’s experience with IBS can significantly differ from one another. For example, one  person with IBS may experience severe constipation, while another may experience occasional diarrhea.  Luckily, there are specific ways to ease the burden of these symptoms, and you can change the course of the condition by crafting an IBS diet. By modifying your food and eating habits to your condition, you can often manage discomfort.

What is IBS?

IBS is an intestinal disorder that can cause abdominal pain and altered bowel habits without obvious anatomic or organic pathology. Those with IBS can experience severe bloating, diarrhea, constipation,  and a general feeling of poor health. An 'equal opportunity' disorder, IBS affects both men and women.

IBS is a chronic condition, so you need every advantage to maintain your health in the long run.

IBS is not the same as IBD

While the name is similar, IBS or inflammatory bowel disease is very different from IBS.  Most importantly, IBS doesn't cause inflammation, while an IBD causes inflammation that can lead to damage of the gastrointestinal tract. The most common forms of IBD include Crohn’s Disease,  ulcerative colitis, and microscopic colitis. 

What Are IBS Symptoms?

The main IBS symptoms are usually:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Cramping
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea

Other secondary symptoms include

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite

Since IBS does not cause inflammation of the intestinal tract, if you experience the following symptoms, seek medical care to look for other causes

  • Anemia
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Bleeding

How an IBS Diet Can Change Your Life (and Your Health)

A large part of dealing with IBS and your health is eating healthy and modifying your food intake. Along with standard treatments like medication, diet modification can further help you live comfortably with this condition.


FODMAP, or fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, are types of carbohydrates that can worsen IBS symptoms. FODMAPs are difficult for your body to absorb.

FODMAPs make their way through your body, virtually unchanged, and adversely affect the intestines for those with IBS symptoms. Some common foods with FODMAPs are milk, wheat, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and artificial sweeteners.

Where fiber benefits your system, the opposite happens with FODMAPS, which can result in bloating, excess gas, and overall discomfort.

That's why engaging in a low FODMAP diet can greatly benefit you and your digestive system.

Gluten-Free Diet

Eliminating gluten from your diet may help ease IBS symptoms for those sensitive to gluten, the protein found in wheat products such as bread. While IBS is not true gluten intolerance or celiac disease, some people feel better by reducing foods that contain gluten

High-Fiber Diet

Having a diet with high-fiber foods can significantly assist the bowels and reduce symptoms. If your IBS causes constipation, as opposed to diarrhea, engaging in a high-fiber diet can make things a lot easier. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the recommended daily fiber intake should be anywhere from 25 to 31 grams.

Combining this recommended diet with plenty of fluid intake should produce positive results for specific individuals.

Some high-fiber food includes:

  • Fruits like blueberries, bananas, and apples
  • Vegetables like carrots, broccoli, and artichokes
  • Legumes, like kidney beans, chickpeas, and black beans
  • Grains, like quinoa and oats
  • Other notable high fiber foods like popcorn, chia seeds, and almonds

Having regular fiber intake can have added benefits, like lowering cholesterol, regulating blood sugar, and adding bowel bulk.

Smaller Meals

Eating smaller meals that are more spread out can ease your digestive system. The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) recommends that those attempting to alleviate symptoms should change their meal schedule from three to five or six smaller meals.

The Elimination Diet

The elimination diet is a more experimental approach to food management. If you suspect a particular food is increasing the severity of your symptoms, stop eating it for several weeks. An important part of the elimination diet is to keep a log of how your IBS symptoms change as foods get eliminated and reintroduced.

The IFFGD recommends staying away from problem food and drinks like:

  • Coffee or caffeine
  • Nuts
  • Chocolate
  • Insoluble fiber (e.g., beans)

IBS Diets and the Next Steps for your Future Health

Crafting the IBS diet that works best for you and your body can lessen the symptoms of your condition. Whether you need to add fiber or eliminate FODMAPs and other foods entirely, your health can significantly improve from these small decisions. While there is no cure for IBS, that doesn't mean that you can't comfortably live with the condition.

At Summit Health, our gastroenterology department is here to help you with everything from IBS to colonoscopies. Ensure that your colorectal health is all it could be by scheduling an appointment with one of our specialists. You can even schedule a direct access colonoscopy. This easier way of scheduling a screening colonoscopy allows you to stay on top of your colorectal health.