IBS 101: What to Eat + a Free IBS Diet Sheet

Wondering what to eat with IBS? Start with these ten simple tips, download your free IBS Diet Sheet, and start feeling better today!

Photo of IBS Diet Sheet photo featuring waffles, oatmeal, and fruit.

Before I share my top IBS Diet tips and IBS Diet Sheet, here’s an overview of IBS, including prevalence, symptoms, and diagnosis.

What is IBS?

IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) is a functional disorder of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. In a nutshell, changes in how the GI tract works can lead to IBS. Unlike other GI disorders such as Crohn’s or celiac disease, IBS does not damage the GI tract,

But, the reality is that the symptoms can be severe and debilitating for many people, affecting their quality of life, which is why it is vital to raise IBS awareness.

Chances are, if you do not have IBS yourself, you know several people who do. The good news is that it is possible to live well and thrive with IBS with proper diagnosis and treatment!

Who is affected by IBS?

IBS affects many people, estimated at 10-15% of adults in the United States. Both men and women may develop IBS, but it more commonly occurs in women.

Although there is still a lot to learn about the exact cause of IBS, some theories proposed by researchers include:

  • People with IBS may have greater colon sensitivity than others.
  • Hormonal changes may trigger IBS symptoms, partly explaining the more significant number of women who suffer from IBS versus men.
  • Varying levels (increased or decreased) of neurotransmitters produced in the gut, such as serotonin, may act on digestive tract nerves triggering IBS symptoms.
  • Contractions in the gut may be perceived in the brain differently by people with IBS, but IBS is NOT all in your head! Research suggests that anxiety, stress, and depression may all contribute to digestive system symptoms of IBS. Various mind-body therapies, including gut-directed hypnotherapy, may help manage IBS symptoms.

Read more: The Gut-Brain Axis and What to Eat to Boost Your Mood.

What are the symptoms of IBS?

Symptoms can vary amongst individuals, but common symptoms may include bloating, cramping, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation. Since these symptoms can occur in many disorders, including celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis), and GI cancers, it is crucial to work with a gastroenterologist to rule out other gastrointestinal conditions.

How is IBS diagnosed?

The American College of Gastroenterology recommends using the Rome IV criteria to diagnose IBS, which includes “recurrent abdominal pain on average at least one day/week in the last three months, associated with two or more of the following criteria: 1. Related to defecation. 2. Associated with a change in frequency of stool. 3. Associate with a change in form (appearance of stool.”

IBS subtypes are:

  • IBS with predominant diarrhea (IBS-D)
  • IBS with predominant constipation (IBS-C)
  • IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M)
  • IBS unclassified (IBS-U)

How is IBS treated?

Although there is no single, specific treatment for IBS, symptoms of IBS can be managed successfully with a healthy, well-balanced diet, lifestyle changes, and potentially medications or supplements.

As a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in gut health and digestive disorders, I find a holistic, integrated approach works best with my clients and that collaboration with other healthcare professionals {i.e., physicians, dietitians, therapists, etc.} is key to living well and thriving with IBS.

Disclaimer: The information in this post is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always see the advice of your healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding treatment for a medical condition.

10 Simple IBS Diet and Nutrition Tips

Graphic with 10 IBS diet tips listed and food in the background.

As noted above, there is no one best IBS diet strategy. However, there are several simple dietary changes you might want to start with to help manage your IBS symptoms before trying a low FODMAP meal plan, a gluten-free diet, or any other restrictive diet.

In addition to these IBS diet tips, try to consume a primarily whole-foods-based healthy diet rich in plant-based foods for digestive health and overall health. If you need help getting started, join my 30-40+ Plants per Day Challenge! Now, on to the IBS diet tips and free IBS diet sheet!

  1. Eliminate or minimize common gas-forming foods. These include cauliflower, cabbage, beans, soft drinks, and other carbonated beverages.
  2. Avoid chewing gum or drinking liquids through a straw, which can lead to swallowing air and causing more gas. No fun!
  3. Minimize fried food or other high-fat foods, which may slow down digestion. This includes fried meats, french fries, ice cream, and even large amounts of healthy high-fat foods such as nuts and peanut butter.
  4. Avoid large meals and consume small portions instead. Note: This strategy may work for some, but not everyone, especially if small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is present. In this case, it’s best to space meals and snacks at least 4-5 hours apart to initiate the migrating motor complex {MMI}.
  5. Minimize dairy products high in lactose, such as milk, ice cream, and soft cheeses, especially if you suspect lactose intolerance. On the other hand, hard cheeses, lactose-free milk, and other lactose-free dairy foods are often well tolerated. (Related: Try my Easy 1-Minute Almond Milk for a tasty lactose-free dairy alternative.
  6. Drink adequate fluids to help alleviate constipation. Make water your drink of choice and avoid fruit juice which tends to be high in fructose and may trigger uncomfortable symptoms.
  7. Avoid or minimize alcohol and caffeine, especially if diarrhea is present, as both substances can stimulate the intestines. In addition, alcohol may lead to changes in intestinal permeability, aka leaky gut syndrome, which may exacerbate symptoms of IBS. Note: If you’re a coffee lover like me, don’t despair! It’s not an IBS trigger for everyone and may be helpful to “get things moving” if you have IBS-C.
  8. Stay away from artificial sweeteners that contain sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol, which may cause diarrhea. Also, avoid foods containing high fructose corn syrups, honey, and agave. Choose cane sugar or maple syrup for sweeteners instead.
  9. Consume foods rich in soluble fiber such as carrots, flax seeds, oats, oranges, sweet potatoes, strawberries, nuts, and carrots. Note: Although foods rich in soluble fiber may help IBS symptoms, foods high in insoluble fiber, such as whole wheat, wheat bran, raisins, and corn bran, may further aggravate IBS symptoms in some people. In addition, other sources of soluble fiber, such as lentils, apples, pears, and beans, may also not be tolerated, as they are sources of fermentable carbohydrates (see low FODMAP diet notes below). Additionally, while most of us should aim for ~ 25-35+ grams of fiber per day, you may want to increase it slowly to avoid aggravating symptoms.
  10. Probiotics, fiber supplements, peppermint oil, & other supplements may help. Unfortunately, there’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to supplementation, so be sure and check with your physician, dietitian, or healthcare provider for recommendations. Two good fiber supplements that may help with both diarrhea and constipation are PHGG (partially hydrolyzed guar gum)-I recommend Sunfiber and Regular Girl (use code EASTEWART10 for 10% off) brands-and psyllium husk powder-I recommend Organic India Psyllium Husk. If you are new to fiber supplements, start slowly to minimize possble initial additional GI discomfort.

Tip! You may also want to keep a food and lifestyle journal and a symptom tracker to help identify your food triggers.

Download your FREE IBS Diet Sheet & Start Feeling Better Today!

Tried all of these simple IBS diet strategies & still not feeling well?

Many of my clients benefit from a Low-FODMAP Diet developed by researchers at Monash University. The low FODMAP diet temporarily eliminates or reduces the intake of high FODMAP foods, including apples, Brussels sprouts, onions, garlic, wheat, beans, milk, and other foods high in short-chain carbohydrates.

The low-FODMAP elimination diet consists of 3-phases-an an elimination phase, a reintroduction phase, and a personalization phase. But, don’t worry, there’s still a wide variety of low fodmap foods you can enjoy. The Low FODMAP diet has a success rate of up to 75%, so it’s worth trying if you have IBS!

Be sure to refer to this post, “What is the FODMAP diet? The Definitive Guide to Feeling Better with IBS“, to learn more about the benefits of a low FODMAP diet.

IBS Diet References

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Let’s Chat! Have you tried following an IBS diet but still not feeling well? Have you given up most of your favorite foods but still have symptoms? My ultimate goal is to help you add nourishing & delicious foods BACK into your diet while minimizing IBS symptoms. So get in touch with me todayI’d love to hear your story and see how I can help!

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