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Struggling with IBS? How diet modifications can help


Struggling with IBS? How diet modifications can help

There’s no cure for irritable bowel syndrome, but changing what you eat may help you find relief from symptoms.
IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder often characterized by abdominal cramping, bloating and significant changes in the frequency and consistency of bowel movements. It affects up to 45 million Americans of all ages.
“No two people will have the exact same symptoms, and no two people will have the same triggers,” says Jamie Kandora, clinical nutrition manager at Tidelands Health. “However, identifying the foods that cause symptoms to occur is often quite helpful for people with IBS.”

Symptoms and diagnosis

The underlying causes of IBS are not fully understood, and there’s no single test to confirm the diagnosis. Rather, health care professionals assess a patient’s medical history and symptoms to diagnose the condition. Symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain, cramping or bloating
  • Changes in the frequency and/or consistency of bowel movements
  • Increased gas and bloating
  • Urgency associated with bowel movements
  • Mucus in the stool
  • Pain relief following bowel movement

“IBS symptoms alter people’s lives. It really becomes a quality-of-life issue,” Kandora says. “It usually doesn’t impact your health, but if you have serious diarrhea, it could cause nutritional deficiencies and dehydration.”

A connection to food

Kandora says up to 70 percent of people experience increased symptoms when they eat certain foods. One way to help identify triggering foods is through an elimination diet such as the low-FODMAP diet.

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The approach temporarily eliminates certain short-chain carbohydrates that can be difficult for the body to digest. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. In some people, FODMAP carbohydrates aren’t absorbed and remain in the intestines, where they ferment and cause symptoms common to irritable bowel syndrome.
By limiting your FODMAP intake for a brief period of time, then reintroducing each type of FODMAP one at a time, Kandora says you can help determine which ones are causing your symptoms and make corresponding, long-term changes to your diet.

Trigger foods

However, low FODMAP isn’t the only elimination diet you can try for IBS relief, Kandora says. If you notice symptoms occur when you eat a particular type of food, cut it out and see if your condition improves, she says. Foods that frequently trigger IBS symptoms include:

  • Coffee
  • Milk and ice cream
  • Some fruits and vegetables
  • Alcohol
  • Soda with artificial sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup
  • Foods or beverages that contain sweeteners such as sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol, which are often also found in sugar-free gums, candies and cough medicines

Kandora also says some people find symptom improvement by eating fermentable foods such as sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, yogurt and other foods that introduce beneficial bacteria to the GI tract.
“You can’t eat some fermentable foods during portions of a low-FODMAP diet because dairy isn’t allowed. But if dairy is something you can tolerate, those types of foods are a great way to help maintain the health of your GI system.”

Help is available

If you are interested in pursuing an elimination diet, be sure to work with a registered dietitian or digestive health provider to help ensure you get the nutrition you need as you temporarily eliminate some food staples.
Other ways to modify your diet to reduce IBS symptoms include:

  • Adding fiber to add bulk to your stool. Eat soluble sources of fiber such as beans, oatmeal, avocados, sweet potatoes and berries.
  • Avoiding gluten. Foods made with barley, rye and wheat can cause some people intestinal discomfort.
  • Eating low-fat foods. Studies have shown a low-fat diet that includes fewer than 27 grams of fat per day can help some people decrease symptoms of IBS.

If you’re struggling with IBS-like symptoms, Kandora says it’s a good idea to see a digestive health provider for help. As part of your care plan at Tidelands Health, our region’s largest health care provider, you may also be referred to Kandora or a member of her team of registered dietitians. The health system’s dietitians collaborate closely with digestive health experts to provide patients with individualized, comprehensive support and assistance.
“Everyone’s body chemistry is different, and it often takes a team approach to alleviate symptoms. By working closely with our gastroenterology team, we can help patients find relief from IBS and a variety of other digestive health disorders,” Kandora says.

Meet the Expert

Jamie Kandora

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