This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects roughly 15 percent of Americans and is characterized by abnormal bowel movements in conjunction with abdominal pain, discomfort and bloating.
Sadly, in addition to the pain and discomfort associated with IBS, patients also tend to suffer from nutrient deficiencies, weakened immune systems and compromised bodily functions due to nutrient malabsorption.
Whether you suffer from diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D), constipation-predominant IBS (IBS-C) or an alternating combination of both (IBS-A), there are many foods, as well as complementary food combinations, that can provide relief. And as with many digestive matters, it all comes down to fiber and enzymes.
Worst Foods for IBS Sufferers
- Dairy, including cheese and yogurt*
- Beans and lentils — unless you soak them overnight
- Raw cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower
- Wheat, barley or rye
- Sugar and sugar substitutes such as sorbitol, malitol or mannitol
- Garlic and onions
*It’s critical that individuals with IBS maintain a healthy balance of intestinal flora. In the absence of yogurt, consider a probiotic supplement that contains at least 10 billion CFU.
6 Tips for IBS Sufferers
#1: Eliminate Dairy. Most health experts agree that dairy should be the first food to go. Lactose-free dairy products, however, are thought to be easily tolerated and many experts agree that soy products, such as soy milk and soy cheese, are acceptable substitutes.
#2: Eat fruit by itself. Fruit should only be eaten 30 minutes before or two hours after a meal. It’s best to stick to skinless or peeled fruits containing soluble fiber such as bananas, papayas, apples or mangoes, as they are easier on the digestive system. Roughly 30 minutes after consuming fruits with soluble fiber, insoluble fiber from foods such as leafy green can be more easily digested.
#3: Avoid eating starch and protein in the same meal. The enzymes required to breakdown starches and animal proteins function most optimally in different environments. To be fully broken down and digested properly, animal proteins require an acidic environment. Starches, on the other hand, require an alkaline environment. Consuming these two at the same time produces stomach acid at a pH that results in neither food being adequately digested. This not only compromises nutrient absorption, it causes serious digestive discomfort. For an individual without digestive complications, this food combo poses no threat. But for someone who suffers from IBS, consuming starch and protein in the same meal could lead to severe bloating and cramping.
The only caveat to this rule is if the starch contains soluble fibers, in which case it’s often digested more easily and may not cause the same discomfort when consumed with animal proteins. This ultimately depends on the severity of the IBS.
#4: Skip saturated fats. Saturated fats have a chemical structure that is challenging for the body to digest because enzymes have to cleave more tightly bound molecules. Opt for non-saturated fats instead, such as olive oil.
#5: Ditch the wheat. If the reports of GMO wheat haven’t scared you into trashing all your wheat products, perhaps this will: gluten is one of the most difficult proteins to process and, if enzymatically ill-equipped, can wreak havoc on your digestive system.
#6: Soak your grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Soaking your grains, beans, nuts and seeds before consumption helps breakdown cellulose and oligosaccharides, which often cause gas and bloating in the digestive system.
Best Foods for IBS Sufferers
- Bananas — Put them at the top of your grocery list if you have IBS.
- Olive oil or coconut oil
- Wild fish
- Lean chicken or turkey
- Brown rice
- Goat cheese
Here are 10 food combinations that are perfect for IBS sufferers:
- Protein and non-starchy vegetables
- Organic chicken and kale salad
- Wild-caught salmon with steamed peppers and onion
- Grains/starchy vegetables and non-starchy vegetables
- Brown rice with vegetable stir-fry
- Sweet potato and asparagus
- Oils and non-starchy vegetables
- Avocado and salad
- Olive oil or coconut oil on steamed vegetables
- Fruit by itself