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Eating to Soothe an Irritable Bowel

By Alana Gold, Registered Dietitian

Are you wondering if there are foods you should eat or avoid in order to help soothe your symptoms from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?  IBS is a common gastrointestinal complaint affecting about 15-20% of the adult population and research shows it can be helped by dietary changes.  Let Truestar show you how to eat to soothe your irritable bowel. 

What is IBS?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is characterized by abdominal pain, cramping and changes in bowel function such as bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation.  It affects twice as many women as men and usually develops in late adolescence or early adulthood.  The syndrome occurs when the muscles that move food through the digestive tract go into a spasm for unknown reasons, becoming uncoordinated and move residue through too quickly (diarrhea) or too slowly (constipation).  The severity and frequency of symptoms varies among individuals and there is no known cure. 

Causes of IBS are unknown, but may be related to:

• Food Sensitivities or allergies
• Diet consisting of processed foods
• Parasitic or candida (yeast) infections
• Stress

Dietary Changes
Watching your diet is a key component in the management of IBS.  Avoiding foods that are well-known irritants, as well as those foods that may irritate you personally can help relieve your symptoms dramatically.  Consider the following dietary changes to help soothe an upset and irritable bowel:

• Avoid problem foods.  Everyone reacts differently to certain foods.  However some common culprits include:

Stimulants such as caffeinated beverages including coffee, tea, soda and other caffeine-loaded foods such as chocolate; alcohol and spicy foods are also irritating to the colon.
Gas forming foods such as beans, peas, lentils, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, cucumbers and leafy greens. 
Fructose, the simple sugar found in honey, fruits and some soft drinks might contribute to IBS symptoms.  A study from the University of Iowa found that people with IBS who eliminated fruit and fructose-rich foods showed an improvement in symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea.

• Reduce “bad” fats and increase “good” fats.  Foods high in the “bad” saturated fats such as butter, margarine, mayonnaise, ice cream and red meat may be an irritant to the colon because they are hard to digest.  Alternatively, studies show increasing your intake of essential fatty acids such as omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil and flaxseed oil can help protect the intestinal lining and reduce inflammation in the colon.  Try also using healthier monounsaturated oils (olive and canola oil) and choose lowfat dairy products over full fat. See “Fats: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” for more information.

• Experiment with fiber intake.  If you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, fiber can be a mixed blessing.  On the one hand, if you’re experiencing constipation, increasing the amount of fiber in your diet can help. Fiber acts by absorbing water from the intestines to keep moisture in the stool and help it pass easier.  Fiber also bulks up the stool, helping to fill out the colon and minimize the chance of going into a muscle spasm. On the other hand, it can also make other symptoms such as diarrhea, gas and cramping worse.  Here’s what to do:


 

Try gradually increasing fiber in your diet over a few weeks.  If symptoms improve, use it on a regular basis. If symptoms stay the same or worsen, or you normally experience a lot of gas, bloating or diarrhea, you may want to try reducing your fiber intake. 
o Also, many Irritable Bowel Syndrome sufferers experience food sensitivities and wheat—although high in fiber—is a common allergy.  Try getting fiber from non-wheat sources such as oat bran, legumes, rice and psyillium.

• Drink plenty of water.  Fiber absorbs liquid in your intestine, so try to drink at least 6-8 glasses of distilled water a day to form a soft stool.

• Eat small, more frequent meals.  Many people with IBS eat smaller meals throughout the day, as this tends to be easier on an already disrupted digestive system.  Also, it’s helpful not to skip meals, and eating at the same time each day helps to regulate bowel function.

• Be Careful with Dairy Products.  Many people suffer from lactose intolerance, which is the inability to digest lactose (milk sugar) in dairy products.  IBS symptoms and lactose intolerance symptoms are very similar.  Eliminating dairy from the diet temporarily to see if it’s the trigger of your symptoms can be helpful.  If symptoms improve, try lactose-free products such as soymilk, soy cheese or soy yogurts, or use an enzyme product such as Lactaid to help break down the lactose in dairy products.

• Try a Food Elimination Diet.  Food sensitivities or allergies can be a huge irritant for IBS.  Some people may have sensitivity to dairy, egg, corn or wheat.  An elimination diet is helpful in identifying upsetting foods.  Try eliminating one problem food at a time and monitor your condition using a food journal.  Write down what you eat or drink and the symptoms, if any, it causes.

Other tips to help ease the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome include:

• Daily exercise.  See a Truestar for Women center near you or check out the online exercises.
• Practice stress-relieving techniques such as meditation and yoga.
• You can also try supplements such as those in the Truestar Healthy Digestion Plan:

Acidophilus aids in proper digestion and can also inhibit harmful bacteria which contribute to Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  See True DOPHILUS, a probiotic supplement. 
Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) to help increase, balance and maintain “good” bacteria to offer optimum intestinal health. FOS is also found naturally, in small amounts, in some fruits, vegetables and grains such as bananas, tomatoes, onions, garlic, asparagus and barley.

Be well and stay healthy!

References

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