The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be wide-ranging and rather vague, although this doesn’t take away from the misery and discomfort the condition can cause. Some people with IBS complain of a bloated stomach and bouts of diarrhoea alternating with constipation. Others may also experience intermittent sharp pains in the gut or a continuous dull ache and general abdominal discomfort.
A good intake of fibre is recommended for people with IBS, most of which should be in the form of soluble fibre, found in apples, pears, dates and most other fruit and vegetables, as well as oats, barley and rye.
√ Aim to have at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day.
√ Peel or remove the skin of fruit and vegetables if you know they irritate your gut. The flesh will still provide plenty of soluble fibre.
√ Incorporate oats, barley and rye into your diet. Porridge or instant oats makes a filling breakfast, providing long lasting energy all morning. Rye or pumpernickel bread makes an interesting alternative for a sandwich and barley is delicious added to soups, salads and stews.
√ Cut down on foods that are known to produce wind, such as pulses, beans and lentils, especially when you are experiencing any symptoms.
X Sprinkle bran on foods or take bran tablets. Bran was once recommended for IBS but is now known to make the condition worse.
X Eat too many wheat-based high fibre breakfast cereals or breads. Try mixing wheat-based cereals with rice- or corn-based cereals and alternating pasta with rice or potatoes for main meals.
Drinking plenty of water is important if you are suffering from either diarrhoea or constipation. Regular bouts of diarrhoea can lead to dehydration as you lose too much body water, whereas constipation can become worse if you do not drink enough. Water helps to loosen stools and allow them to pass through the gut.
√ Aim to drink about 1.5 to 2 litres of water per day. Other drinks count towards your fluid intake – try milk, fruit juices, smoothies, yoghurt drinks and even tea and coffee
√ Sip water and other healthy drinks throughout the day and carry a bottle of water with you wherever you go.
X Wait until you feel thirsty before you drink, by then you are already becoming dehydrated.
X Drink too many fizzy soft drinks, not only are they bad for your teeth and bones, but the gas can upset your digestion.
X Drink too many caffeine-containing drinks. Caffeine can have a mildly dehydrating effect if consumed in large amounts over a short space of time. Caffeine is also a stimulant that some people might find aggravates their gut. Remember, caffeine is not just found in coffee, it is also in tea, cola, energy drinks and chocolate.
Try foods or supplements containing probiotic bacteria. These bacteria are known as friendly bacteria as they help to maintain the balance of bacteria in the gut, alleviate symptoms of IBS and promote general health and well-being.
√ Choose your product carefully. Look for the term ‘probiotic’ on the label. This means the bacteria have been specially selected and treated to survive the their journey through the gut and reach the large bowel, where they can be most effective.
√ Take probiotic foods or supplements after a course of antibiotics. Antibiotics have the side-effect of destroying the beneficial bacteria in our guts, which can cause IBS symptoms to flare up.
X Confuse the terms ‘live’ or ‘bio’ to mean probiotic bacteria. These products may contain beneficial bacteria but the majority of them can be destroyed by stomach acids once they are eaten.
Keeping a food and symptoms diary can be a good way to identify a particular food that causes problems. There is no harm in eliminating a single food from your diet, such as tomatoes if you suspect they are the culprit, but be careful not to eliminate too many foods that will make your diet unbalanced.
√ Use a small note pad to jot down everything you ate and drank during the day and any symptoms you experienced as a result of eating, whether soon after or later that day.
√ Carry the notebook with you and get into the habit of writing items down as soon as you have eaten them. It is very easy to forget what you ate a few days later.
X Use the diary to self-diagnose food intolerances. If you suspect a food intolerance to a group of foods, such as dairy or wheat products, make an appointment with your GP who will be able to refer you to a Registered Dietitian. Take your diary with you.
IBS is known to be linked to stress and periods of stress at work or home can bring on IBS symptoms.
√ Learn to recognise stressful situations or identify potential periods of stress, such as planning a wedding or moving house, and think carefully about what you eat during this time. Try to plan small regular meals and snacks for yourself in advance and eat them slowly and calmly, allowing food to digest for a while after you have finished.
X Allow times of stress to interfere with good eating habits. Don’t skip meals, rush your food or eat food on the go. Try to avoid eating too many high in fat and salt fast foods or take-aways because you are pushed for time.