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What foods can I eat with IBS?

Why is your nutrition so important for managing IBS symptoms?

Published:

September 10, 2022

Written by:

Dr. Max Pitman

Board-certified Gastroenterologist

Medically Reviewed by:

Published:

September 10, 2022

Nutrition
Nutrition
Recipes
Recipes
IBS
IBS

If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you’ve probably been dealing with abdominal discomfort or pain, diarrhea or constipation, and bloating or lots of gas. Since food can have a major impact on IBS symptoms, you may also have questions about strategies for helping manage IBS through what you eat. What, for example, is the best eating plan? What are FODMAPs and why do they matter? Why is your nutrition so important for managing IBS symptoms?

With so much advice floating around out there, it can be tough to tell which eating plan makes the most sense for you. It may help to focus on two things:

  1. There is a strategy to manage IBS using your food (a method to the madness, in other words!)
  2. IBS symptoms and food triggers can be very personal, so it may take some time and experimentation to find out exactly what works for you

How to help control IBS with what you eat

One key to IBS symptom management is to discover the foods that nourish you and that your body can tolerate (while also figuring out the best foods to avoid). These may shift over time, so it’s helpful to stay alert and flexible. It’s also good to team up with a physician or nutritionist who specializes in IBS so you can secure the best oversight possible.

You could also consider getting:

  • A food and symptom journal: use an app, a specially designed symptom diary, or a simple notepad where you can record your meals, symptoms, and stress levels in detail
  • An accountability partner: they could be a spouse, sibling, or friend who regularly touches base with you to encourage you throughout your IBS eating journey
  • A list of allergens or food sensitivities: some people are lactose intolerant, while others have gluten or nut allergies. Mention all your allergies and food sensitivities to your care team so all of you are on the same page as you come up with your new eating plan.

Next, you can follow three main steps:

Elimination: Use low FODMAP eating to cut out certain foods

FODMAPs are food types that may make IBS symptoms worse. As an acronym, FODMAPs stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols. What a mouthful!

In plain speaking, that boils down to foods (certain types of carbohydrate) that can be challenging to digest. Because your body does not fully digest these foods, they pass through the gut undigested and then can be digested, or fermented (the F in FODMAP) by bacteria in your colon. This fermentation causes gas and fluid to rush into the colon, which then leads to increased bloating, gas, and diarrhea.

The point of a low FODMAP eating plan is to eliminate the most challenging types of food and then gradually add higher FODMAP foods back in to pinpoint what your gut finds most compatible.

A few notes:

  • The elimination phase of low FODMAP eating isn’t meant to be long-term…it’s only a strategy that helps you find your personal eating triggers. It should generally last between two and six weeks.
  • If you do follow a low FODMAP diet for too long, you may run into issues with vitamin and mineral imbalances.
  • Once you notice some stability in your symptoms, you’re ready for the next phase.

Full meal recommendations for the FODMAP elimination phase

Success in figuring out your triggers is more likely when you use a full FODMAP list or a nutrition plan during the elimination phase, like the one Salvo Health Members use. However, it’s very important that you’re eating full meals during the elimination phase of the FODMAP process! Here are a few meals that we recommend that can help you practice IBS-friendly eating during the elimination phase of your low FODMAP adventure.

Breakfast

With IBS, sometimes a big breakfast can be a great start. For people with IBS-D (diarrhea type IBS), a little more fiber or caffeine can help get things moving.

  • Greek or vegan yogurt (full fat) with coconut, cinnamon, granola, and blueberries
  • Buckwheat pancakes topped with strawberries
  • Shakshuka (a middle eastern dish with peppers, eggs, and tomatoes)
  • Hot oatmeal, molasses and berries
  • Scrambled eggs and veggies on top of sweet potato hash
Morning Snack

Remember to pick low-oil, unprocessed snacks!

  • Hard boiled, seasoned eggs
  • Veggie sticks
  • Nuts (walnuts, peanuts, pecans)
  • Pumpkin muffins
Lunch

A balanced meal can help keep you going for the rest of the day, and there are a lot of delicious options!

Afternoon Snack
  • Seaweed snacks
  • Corn chips and salsa
  • A snack board of rice crackers, veggies and IBS-friendly spreads
Dinner

Reintroduction: slowly ease higher FODMAP foods back in

As you get a clearer sense of what foods work for you, start to ease higher FODMAP foods back in, one food type at a time. This phase may be frustrating, but can eventually help you enjoy a healthy, varied menu that tastes great and helps control IBS symptoms. The goal is to figure out which higher-FODMAP foods your body can tolerate and which ones make your symptoms worse.

Tips include:

  • Reintroduce one new higher-FODMAP food group every three days.
  • Note any differences in your symptoms in your journal.
  • Set yourself up for success by exercising regularly and by eating small frequent meals (instead of three main ones) spread out throughout the day.

If low FODMAP eating doesn’t help, try a gluten-free diet

Low FODMAP eating plans can help, but they don’t work perfectly for everyone. Some people find more success controlling their IBS symptoms with gluten-free eating, or even with a specialized combination of eating styles. Your food journal will help you notice eating patterns that hurt or help. Don’t forget to ask your accountability partner to look up specific recipes, send you jokes, or do whatever else you need to feel more supported as you figure all this out. Also remember to support yourself. About 86% of people find some symptom relief with a low FODMAP plan, so you should feel encouraged that improving your symptoms is possible!

How to put all this advice onto your plate                              

Be proud of yourself as you navigate IBS-friendly eating. It’s not always easy! It is, however, doable, with time, practice, and self-awareness. Remember: small steps add up over time, and one good food decision at a time can soon amount to a much happier gut overall. As a few final tips:

  • Exercise regularly, or at least take long walks to help with digestion
  • Use good eating techniques: sit up straight, eat slowly and mindfully and chew thoroughly
  • Bring a low FODMAP dish you when you’re invited to a friend’s house, so you’ll always have something safe to eat at hand
  • Read restaurant menus ahead of time so you can plan what to order or request                                                                              

How Salvo Health can help

Salvo Health is leading the future of digital health with a virtual clinic app that is low-cost and radically accessible for those living with IBS, GERD, SIBO or chronic gut issues.

When you download our app and become a member with Salvo Health, you get immediate access to a coordinated Salvo Health Care Team, including a certified gastro-specialist and board-certified health coach. Your Care Team will communicate with you async via the app, create a  custom Care Plan based on your symptoms, and check in with you regularly to guide your gut health journey. Daily tasks, notifications, quizzes, and helpful articles can also keep you on track when managing your IBS!

Sign up to get started with Salvo Health today.

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Written by:

Dr. Max Pitman

Board-certified Gastroenterologist

References: