Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

How can my diet treat the symptoms of IBS?

Eating smaller meals more often, or eating smaller portions, may help your irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms. Large meals can cause cramping and diarrhea if you have IBS.

Woman drinking glass of milk at table

Eating foods that are low in fat and high in carbohydrates, such as pasta, rice, whole-grain breads and cereals, fruits, and vegetables, may help.

Fiber may improve constipation symptoms caused by IBS because it makes stool soft and easier to pass. Fiber is a part of foods such as whole-grain breads and cereals, beans, fruits, and vegetables. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services state in its Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 that adults should get 22 to 34 grams of fiber a day.3

While fiber may help constipation, it may not reduce the abdominal discomfort or pain of IBS. In fact, some people with IBS may feel a bit more abdominal discomfort after adding more fiber to their diet. Add foods with fiber to your diet a little at a time to let your body get used to them. Too much fiber at once can cause gas, which can trigger symptoms in people with IBS. Adding fiber to your diet slowly, by 2 to 3 grams a day, may help prevent gas and bloating.

What should I avoid eating to ease IBS symptoms?

Certain foods or drinks may make symptoms worse, such as

  • foods high in fat
  • some milk products
  • drinks with alcohol or caffeine
  • drinks with large amounts of artificial sweeteners
  • beans, cabbage, and other foods that may cause gas

To find out if certain foods trigger your symptoms, keep a diary and track

  • what you eat during the day
  • what symptoms you have
  • when symptoms occur
Woman writing in journal

Take your notes to your doctor and talk about which foods seem to make your symptoms worse. You may need to avoid these foods or eat less of them.

Your doctor may recommend that you try a special diet—called low FODMAP or FODMAP—to reduce or avoid certain foods containing carbohydrates that are hard to digest. Examples of high FODMAP foods and products you may reduce or avoid include

  • fruits such as apples, apricots, blackberries, cherries, mango, nectarines, pears, plums, and watermelon, or juice containing any of these fruits
  • canned fruit in natural fruit juice, or large quantities of fruit juice or dried fruit
  • vegetables such as artichokes, asparagus, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, garlic and garlic salts, lentils, mushrooms, onions, and sugar snap or snow peas
  • dairy products such as milk, milk products, soft cheeses, yogurt, custard, and ice cream
  • wheat and rye products
  • honey and foods with high-fructose corn syrup
  • products, including candy and gum, with sweeteners ending in “–ol,” such as
    • sorbitol
    • mannitol
    • xylitol
    • maltitol

References

February 2015
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