“My son and I have both been diagnosed with IBS. I get constant diarrhea that disrupts my life. I often get bloated and feel frequent heartburn. It also sometimes leads to nausea, or even vomiting. My son has excluded lots of foods that he says he cannot tolerate. He has constant stomach aches, alternating constipation/diarrhea and so on. What can we do to feel better…”
Current first-line treatments of IBS mostly consist of switching from unhealthy to healthy habits. It is about choosing healthy diet, having regular meals, smaller portions and implementing moderate physical activity into your daily lives.
Having regular meals, i.e. breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as 1-3 snacks can be very important to prevent gastrointestinal problems. When you do not wait too long between meals (2-4 hours apart is just right), the risk of eating too large portions is minimised. Both overeating and hunger can trigger/worsen symptoms. Eating regularly requires planning. It is important that there is food and snacks available for it to work in everyday life. Make sure to always have fresh or frozen vegetables at home as well as fruits and berries (frozen ones are fine).
Help the intestines in advance
If you have diarrhea and gas, try limiting the intake of fruit (maximum about 2 per day) as well as the intake of fatty foods such as chips, french fries, pastries, ice cream, sauces, cheese, pizza, etc. Fatty foods can trigger symptoms that include abdominal pain, bloating, urgent need for toilet visits, etc. Try replacing white bread with crispbread instead and reduce the intake of pasta. Even strong spices, coffee and alcohol can trigger similar symptoms and they should not be excessively consumed. Rather opt for more cooked vegetables (boiled/stir-fried/oven-baked) with light seasoning.
Eat more fiber
It is recommended to eat products rich in fibre (comes from plant-based food) – but these should be evenly distributed throughout the day’s meals. Start with a low dose (3-4 g/day) and built up gradually to avoid bloating. For example, having oatmeal porridge with fresh or frozen berries for breakfast can work great. It might however be important to distinguish between soluble and insoluble fiber.
Soluble fiber (found in oats, peas, apples, carrots, etc.) – dissolves in water. It helps improve digestion, lowers blood glucose, and cholesterol levels.
Insoluble fiber (found in potatoes, bean, nuts, etc.) – attracts water into the stool. In case of diarrhea, it is better to limit the intake of insoluble fiber since it may worsen the symptoms.
Some examples of fiber-rich foods that usually work nicely when you have gut problems are oats, quinoa, parsnip, celeriac, haricots verts, berries, carrot, banana, pineapple, walnuts, buckwheat, whole grain rice, etc.
Consider the portion size and variety of the diet
It is more important to limit the amount of food that you eat rather than completely exclude foods. A balanced diet is important to get all the nutrients you need from the food. Food not only consists of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, but also contains a lot of nutrients, vitamins and minerals that every cell in the body needs! Large portions often cause worsening of the symptoms whether it is lasagna, soup, cake, chips or sandwich – if you eat too much and/or too quickly you more often get gastrointestinal symptoms than if you eat less and chew thoroughly.
Physical activity is good for the gut! The intestine is stimulated by the body’s movements and daily movement can effectively relieve abdominal pain and gas. All types of movement count (even going for a walk) but you need to move AT LEAST for 30 minutes regularly every day, preferably longer. It is recommended to start with light to moderate activity and see what makes you feel better.
Probiotics are a type of “good” bacteria that are naturally found in the gut. They can be found in certain types of food (yoghurt, kefir, fermented foods, kimchi) and they may be an effective treatment for IBS symptoms. It is however not possible to recommend a specific probiotic specie. It is better recommended to test out what works for you personally. Learn more about Probiotics and IBS.
Vasant, D. H., Paine, P. A., Black, C. J., Houghton, L. A., Everitt, H. A., Corsetti, M., Agrawal, A., Aziz, I., Farmer, A. D., Eugenicos, M. P., Moss-Morris, R., Yiannakou, Y., & Ford, A. C. (2021). British Society of Gastroenterology guidelines on the management of irritable bowel syndrome. Gut. https://doi.org/10.1136/gutjnl-2021-324598