10 Dietician-Approved Lifestyle Changes That’ll Curb Those Uncomfortable IBS Symptoms
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder of the gut-brain interaction. Before going on any extreme diets or cutting out major food groups, we spoke to dieticians Emily Innes and Sandi van Zyl about how to implement healthy eating and lifestyle changes to curb those IBS symptoms.
What are the typical IBS triggers?
Some of the known trigger foods include dairy products high in lactose (such as regular cow’s milk), foods containing gluten, onion, garlic, high-sugar foods, some artificial sweeteners, fried foods and those containing a relatively high ratio of fructose to glucose (think apples, pears, mango, watermelon, honey and raisins).
But… weirdly, some of these foods might not trigger any symptoms in some people and can be included in their diets without any problems.
Yay or nay to the FODMAPS diet?
The FODMAPS diet is a dietary approach that helps limit symptoms of IBS through avoidance of some of the known trigger foods. “The idea behind it is that once your symptoms have subsided and your gut has had time to restore itself (which can take up to eight weeks), you slowly reintroduce the foods again to see what amount is tolerated. In the interim, it might be necessary to supplement with B vitamins and calcium if you’re unable to meet your daily requirements for these nutrients,” says Sandi.
IBS supplements and their benefits
Research shows that a healthy gut microbiome is essential when it comes to maintaining a heathy, well-functioning gut and overall health. Dietician Sandi van Zyl says a diet rich in fibre and antioxidants and low in protein and saturated (animal) fat appears to be optimal when it comes promoting a healthy gut microbiome. “Ironically, during active flare-ups of IBS, one often has to reduce the overall fibre content of one’s diet in order to best manage symptoms,” she says.
An alternative option is IBS Supplements…
Some people have found relief from IBS symptoms by taking a mixture of digestive enzymes and probiotics. “This is a strategy that might work to relieve symptoms during active bouts of IBS. The strain and dose of bacteria in the probiotics is important and the general consensus is that strains from the Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus bacteria are the most favourable and most likely to bring about an improvement,” says Sandi. She continues to say that any supplementation with probiotics needs to be supported with good nutrition in order to ensure that the gut environment is suitable for optimal growth of the healthy bacteria.
Let’s talk about lifestyle changes…
Dietician Emily Innes says many people want to go on ‘elimination diets’ and cut out many foods in an attempt to manage their symptoms, but it’s not great to jump straight into a restrictive diet. “One should first implement some healthy lifestyle changes. IBS may be affected by certain foods, but note that it’s a condition that can also be impacted by stress, depression and anxiety,” she says.
Here are few changes you can implement…
- Eat regular meals. Don’t skip meals or leave long gaps between eating. Take time to eat your food and chew it properly.
- Drink at least eight cups of water per day.
- Restrict caffeine intake to three cups of tea or coffee per day and limit alcohol and gassy cool-drink intake.
- Reduce your intake of processed foods.
- If you have diarrhoea you should avoid sorbitol, an artificial sweetener found in sugar‑free sweets (including chewing gum) and drinks, and in some diabetic and slimming products.
- People with wind and bloating may find it helpful to eat oats (such as oat-based breakfast cereal or porridge) and linseeds (up to one tablespoon per day).
- Don’t eat insoluble fibre (for example, bran); rather get your fibre from soluble fibre, like oats.
- Exercise regularly.
- Make sure you’re getting enough good quality sleep.
- Put stress management strategies in place and seek the help of a mental healthcare professional if you’re struggling with anxiety and/or depression. Set aside some downtime for yourself every day, whether it’s walking the dogs, meditating or reading a book.
Prevention is better than cure
As with most things in life, it’s all about finding the right balance. “Often IBS sufferers can manage their symptoms effectively by managing their portion sizes and the combinations of food they eat. For example, having a bowl of watermelon, apple, raisins and honey all together might not be the best combination for someone prone to IBS, while having just one apple on its own might be perfectly okay,” says Sandi.