Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Controlling Symptoms With Diet


Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a problem with the intestines. IBS can cause belly pain, bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea. Most people can control their symptoms by changing their diet and easing stress.

No specific foods cause everyone with IBS to have symptoms. Many people find that they feel better by limiting or eliminating foods that may bring on symptoms. Make sure you don't stop eating all foods from any one food group without talking with a dietitian. You need to make sure you are still getting all the nutrients you need.

How can you manage IBS with diet?

Changing your eating habits

For some people, changing what they eat makes IBS symptoms better. Different things work for different people.

Here are some ideas to get you started. Don't try them all at once. It's best to try one or two things at a time. It can take a few weeks before you know if it's helping.

  • Keep a daily food diary.

    Track what you eat, your emotions, activities, and your symptoms after eating. If you notice patterns of symptoms after eating certain foods, you can try removing those foods from your diet.

  • Try the low-FODMAP diet.

    FODMAPs are carbohydrates that are in many types of foods. It stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.

    If you have digestive problems, these can make your symptoms worse.

    A low-FODMAP diet is when you stop eating high-FODMAP foods for about two months. Then you slowly add them back in to your diet to see what foods cause digestion problems.

  • Try adding soluble fiber every day.

    This is the kind that dissolves in water. Some foods with soluble fiber are oats and fruit without skin. Some supplements you can try are Benefiber and Citrucel.

    Talk to your doctor or a dietitian about whether you should increase how much insoluble fiber you eat. Insoluble fiber is in fruits and vegetables with skin, most whole grains, and beans. If the doctor or dietitian suggests more of this kind of fiber, go slowly. Add a little bit at a time.

  • Limit or avoid caffeine, such as from coffee and tea.
  • Avoid alcohol and fizzy (carbonated) drinks.
  • Avoid foods that may cause gas and bloating.

    Vegetables such as artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, green peppers, onions, peas, radishes, and raw potatoes may not be digested well by your body and can cause gas and bloating.

  • Limit your intake of fresh fruit and fruit juice.

    These are high in fructose. People who have IBS may not be able to digest fructose well. This can cause diarrhea, gas, and bloating.

  • Limit the amount of lactose you get.

    Lactose is a sugar found in milk. People who have IBS may have worse symptoms when they eat or drink dairy.

  • Drink plenty of fluids.

    Be sure to drink water in addition to your other beverages. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.

  • Eat slowly, and have meals in a quiet and relaxing environment.
  • Try to eat meals at about the same time each day.

    Don't skip meals or wait too long between meals.

Avoiding foods that might cause symptoms

Many people find that their IBS symptoms get worse after they eat. Sometimes certain foods make symptoms worse.

Foods that may increase symptoms include:

  • Cabbage.
  • Onions.
  • Peas and beans.
  • Deep-fried and fried foods.
  • Cream.
  • Alcohol.
  • Carbonated (fizzy) drinks.
  • Fatty meats like hot dogs and marbled beef.
  • Canned fruit in heavy syrup.
  • Prune, apple, or grape juice.
  • Honey.

Other types of food that can make IBS symptoms worse include:

  • Lactose. This is a sugar found in milk. Some dairy products (like cheese and yogurt) have less lactose.
  • Fructose. This is a sugar found in vegetables and fruit.
  • Sugar alcohols like sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, and isomalt. These are artificial sweeteners found in sugar-free chewing gum, drinks, and other sugar-free sweets.
  • Caffeine.


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