DEAR DOCTOR K:
I have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and I hear there is a diet to help that. Can you tell me about it?
Unfortunately, IBS is pretty common. Symptoms include cramping, diarrhea, gas and bloating. But you are right: Research has identified certain foods that tend to trigger IBS, and avoiding these foods can help you reduce your symptoms.
The new diet for IBS targets and eliminates certain types of carbohydrates that the small intestine has trouble absorbing. We’ll call it the “IBS diet,” even though its official name is the “low FODMAP diet.” (Please don’t ask what “FODMAP” stands for; you don’t want to know, and I don’t want to try to remember.)
Research has found that certain carbohydrates increase the amount of fluid in the bowel and create more gas. This leads to bloating and changes the speed at which food is digested. The result is gas, pain and diarrhea. Avoiding these foods reduces IBS symptoms in most people with IBS.
These are the foods to avoid:
- DAIRY: cow’s milk, yogurt, pudding, ice cream, cottage cheese and ricotta cheese.
- FRUITS: apples, apricots, blackberries, cherries, nectarines, pears, peaches, cherries, mangoes and watermelon.
- VEGETABLES: artichokes, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, beetroot, cauliflower, garlic, mushrooms, onions and snow peas.
- GRAINS: wheat and rye.
- LEGUMES: chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans and soy products.
- HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP.
- SWEETENERS such as honey, agave nectar, sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol and isomalt found in sugar-free gum and mints.
Since you are avoiding the foods mentioned above, you may want to eat more of these foods, to compensate:
- DAIRY: lactose-free milk; rice, almond and coconut milk; lactose-free yogurt; hard cheeses.
- FRUIT: bananas, blueberries, cantaloupe, grapefruit, honeydew, kiwi, lemon, lime, oranges and strawberries.
- VEGETABLES: bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, bok choy, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, ginger, lettuce, olives, parsnips, potatoes, spring onions and turnips.
- PROTEIN: beef, pork, chicken, fish, eggs and tofu.
- NUTS/SEEDS: almonds, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pine nuts and walnuts.
- GRAINS: oat, oat bran, rice bran, gluten-free pasta, white rice, corn flour and quinoa.
Don’t misunderstand me: People are different, including people with IBS. Not all of the foods I advise you to eat less of will negatively affect your IBS. Some will, some won’t. And some that will make your symptoms worse will not do so for another person with IBS. Likewise, eating only the foods I advise you to eat more of won’t guarantee you freedom from IBS. But they are a good place to start in reducing the symptoms of IBS.
You need to limit only those foods that you know are problematic for you. And if you’re not sure about some, try what’s called an elimination diet. That involves removing all foods from the “eat less” list from your diet, and then reintroducing one food at a time, noting whether it worsens your symptoms. If not, add it back to your diet. The IBS diet really can help you.
(This column is an update of one that ran originally in October 2012.)