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Fiber and Irritable Bowel Syndrome


Saturday, March 26th, 2016

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder of the intestines.

Common IBS symptoms include:

Some people with IBS have constipation (infrequent bowel movements). Others have diarrhea (frequent, loose stools). Some people have both.

Eating more or less fiber can help control these problems.

Tips to Increase Fiber in Your Diet and Help Constipation

If you have constipation, a high-fiber diet can help. Foods high in soluble fibers — like oats, peas, and beans — can help ease both constipation and diarrhea.

Add fiber a little at a time

  • Try to eat 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day. Use food labels to tell how many grams of fiber are in foods you eat.
  • Add more fiber to your diet a little at a time. Adding too much fiber too quickly may trigger other IBS symptoms. Be sure to increase your fluid intake at the same time.
  • Put more fiber in meat dishes by adding beans, bran, or oatmeal.
  • Ask your doctor if a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement with 100 percent of the U.S. recommended daily fiber intake (RDI) may be helpful.

RELATED: Understanding Indigestion: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Watch for foods that cause your IBS symptoms

  • Pay attention to when your symptoms occur. If you can relate these times with certain foods, avoid those foods.
  • Keep a food diary.
  • To help reduce gas, try an over-the counter pill like Beano®.

Drink plenty of fluids and eat slowly

  • Drink at least 8 cups of fluid per day. Water is best, but fruit juice and decaf drinks also are fine.
  • Eat more slowly. Take the time to enjoy your food.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals. For instance, eat 4 or 5 small meals instead of 3 large meals.

High-Fiber Foods to Relieve Constipation

Choose more fresh fruits and vegetables

High-fiber fruits and vegetables to choose
  • Pears
  • Potatoes
  • Prunes
  • Raisins
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini

Choose more whole-grain breads, pastas, and cereals

Look for:

  • Breads and cereals that list whole-grain or whole-wheat first on the food label.
  • Cooked and ready-to-eat cereals with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.
High-fiber foods to choose
  • All-Bran®
  • Barley
  • Bran Flakes
  • Brown rice
  • Granola
  • Oat bran
  • Oatmeal
  • Pumpernickel bread
  • Raisin Bran®

Choose more dried beans, peas, nuts, and seeds (as tolerated)

High-fiber foods to choose
  • Baked beans
  • Lentils
  • Peanuts
  • Soy products, such as tofu and TVP (textured vegetable protein)
  • Split peas
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Walnuts

Choose more snacks that are high in fiber

High-fiber snacks to choose
  • Cereal mixed with nuts and seeds
  • Fresh fruit
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Popcorn
  • Whole-grain cereal
  • Yogurt with bran cereal

Plan more vegetarian meals

High-fiber foods to choose
  • Bean and rice burritos
  • Beans and rice
  • Hummus and pita bread
  • Pasta with vegetables
  • Split pea or lentil soup
  • Vegetable stir fry

Tips to Control Diarrhea with a Low-Fiber Diet

During a flare-up of IBS, a low-fiber diet can help control diarrhea.

This means more cooked foods, fewer raw fruits and vegetables, and fewer bran-based grains, cereals, and breads.

Sometimes changing the number of meals you eat, choosing different foods, and adjusting food temperature can help relieve diarrhea.

Limit fat and dairy in your diet

  • Add less fat to foods.
  • Select baked foods instead of fried foods.
  • Choose low-fat versions of foods and dairy products, such as cottage cheese and yogurt.
  • You may want to limit dairy products or use a lactase product.
  • If you’re limiting dairy, ask your doctor if you should take a calcium supplement.

Eat smaller portions and drink more liquids

  • Eat smaller portions.
  • Don’t skip meals.
  • Avoid very hot meals and caffeine. They tend to cause diarrhea.
  • Avoid foods that cause gas.
  • Try to rest after meals. This can help slow the rate at which food passes through the intestines.
  • Drink plenty of liquids between meals.
  • Try drinking liquids at room temperature. Best choices are water, broth, non-acidic juices, nectars, and sport drinks.

Not all of these tips may work for everyone. If there’s something you haven’t tried, test it to see if it helps your diarrhea and other IBS symptoms.

RELATED: Diarrhea Causes, Treatment, and Symptoms

Low-Fiber Foods to Choose and Avoid

Choose foods known to bind and help control diarrhea

  • Applesauce
  • Barley
  • Carrots
  • Grated apples
  • Green beans
  • Oats/oat bran
  • Pectin
  • Whipped potatoes (no skin)

Try other foods and products that may relieve diarrhea

  • Avocados
  • Boiled white rice
  • Crackers
  • Cream of rice
  • Metamucil®
  • Nectars

Choose foods high in potassium

Diarrhea may rob the body of electrolytes (sodium and potassium), so make sure that you eat foods high in potassium such as:

  • Avocados
  • Bananas (if tolerated)
  • Fish
  • Nectarines
  • Nectars (apricot or peach)
  • Potatoes (boiled or mashed)

Avoid foods and drinks that may cause diarrhea

Certain foods produce loose stools. You should avoid these if your IBS causes diarrhea.

  • Bacon
  • Baked beans
  • Beer
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee, in large quantities
  • Corn
  • Dried beans
  • Fatty foods
  • Fructose
  • Garlic
  • Highly spiced foods
  • Hot beverages
  • Large meals
  • Licorice
  • Mayonnaise
  • MSG
  • NutraSweet®
  • Nuts
  • Processed meats
  • Prune juice
  • Raw fruits
  • Raw vegetables
  • Red wine
  • Shellfish
  • Sorbitol/mannitol
  • Soups
  • Spinach
  • Sugar
  • Whole grains

Need More Help Controlling Your IBS Symptoms?

Check out our blog post on the Low FODMAP diet for IBS patients.

At the UPMC Digestive Disorders Center, we can help you manage constipation, diarrhea, and other IBS symptoms.

digestive disorders

Digestive Disorders

The Digestive Disorders Center (DDC) is a convenient point of access to the full range of digestive health care services available at UPMC. Our team has expertise in treatments for inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, as well as swallowing disorders, gastrointestinal cancer, and liver, pancreatic, and biliary diseases. Read More