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Dr QM Leong

What To Eat With An IBS Attack (Eat This, Not That!) 

Navigating dietary choices can be daunting, especially during an irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) attack. The answer to what to eat with an IBS attack is not just about selecting food; it’s about comfort, symptom management, and maintaining nutrition without aggravating the gut. The intricate link between our diet and overall well-being cannot be overstated. 

What we consume directly impacts our digestive health, affecting our entire body’s functionality.

Let’s dive into the dietary choices that may help soothe an IBS attack, outline which foods trigger IBS attacks and are best avoided, and provide practical tips for managing IBS symptoms through diet. 

 

Understanding What Is IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition that impacts the large intestine’s functionality. It manifests through various symptoms that can considerably hinder a person’s quality of life. Individuals with IBS may experience recurrent abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhoea, constipation, or a mix of alternating bowel habits. 

These symptoms can lead to an IBS attack which refers to a sudden and often severe onset of symptoms. While the exact cause of IBS is not fully understood, it is recognised that certain foods and stress can trigger symptoms. 

Managing your IBS, and becoming attuned to the body’s signals is a crucial aspect of living with this syndrome. For people with IBS, identifying and avoiding individual triggers is a fundamental part of managing their condition.

Learning what to eat during IBS flare-ups will greatly improve your overall quality of life. During these periods, the gut becomes especially sensitive and reactive, and choosing the right foods can relieve or worsen IBS symptoms.

Recommended Food Choices During An IBS Flare-Up

An irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) attack can be debilitating, leading to a range of uncomfortable symptoms. Certain foods, however, can provide relief and help manage these symptoms. Not all foods affect people with IBS in the same way, but some general guidelines can help during a flare-up.

Soluble Fiber Foods

Foods rich in soluble fibre can be gentle on the digestive system, slowing down digestion and providing a sense of fullness without the irritation that insoluble fibre might cause. 

Soluble fibre dissolves in water, which forms a gel-like substance that can help constipation and diarrhoea by providing bulk or softening the stool.

Examples include:

  • Barley
  • Psyllium husk (found in various fibre supplements)
  • Lentils 
  • Red or green beans
  • Papayas and bananas
  • Guava

Incorporating Fibre: To properly integrate soluble fibre into your diet, start with a small amount and increase it slowly over several weeks. 

This allows your gut bacteria to adapt, minimising the potential for gas and bloating. Additionally, drinking plenty of water can help the soluble fibre work more effectively, easing IBS symptoms.

Low-FODMAP Foods

The low-FODMAP diet is specifically designed to reduce the intake of certain sugars that can cause distress in the gut. It is one of the most scientifically backed diets for managing IBS symptoms and is recommended by many healthcare professionals.

Examples of low-FODMAP foods include:

  • Vegetables: Carrots, choy sum, red bell peppers, spinach, tomatoes
  • Fruits: Grapes, oranges,, strawberries, and pineapple
  • Proteins: Eggs, tofu, and tempeh
  • Grains: Quinoa, rice (brown and white)

It’s advisable to work with a dietitian when starting a low-FODMAP diet to ensure all nutritional needs are met and to plan a balanced, varied meal plan.

Lean Proteins

Lean proteins provide essential nutrients without the added fats that can trigger IBS symptoms. These proteins do not contain FODMAPs and are generally well tolerated by the gut.

Examples include:

  • Grilled or steamed chicken without skin
  • Fresh fish: (snapper, grouper, cod, patin, threadfin)
  • Plant-based protein sources like quinoa and firm tofu

It’s best to prepare these proteins without heavy sauces or spices, which can sometimes increase the likelihood of an IBS flare-up.

Lactose-Free Options

For people with IBS who are lactose intolerant, lactose can be a significant trigger. Lactose-free products are treated with the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose, making them easier to digest.

Lactose-free alternatives:

  • Lactose-free milk and cheeses
  • Plant-based milk such as almond, soy, or rice milk
  • Yoghurts with live cultures or probiotics can aid in lactose digestion

Reading labels is essential, as some products may still contain other IBS triggers despite being lactose-free.

Herbal Teas

Herbal teas can be a calming choice for the digestive system during an IBS attack. Their warm, soothing nature can provide relief from cramping and bloating.

Best herbal teas to consider:

  • Peppermint tea: Known for its muscle relaxant properties, which can relieve spasms in the gut.
  • Ginger tea: Aids in digestion and can reduce nausea.
  • Chamomile tea May help reduce stress and has anti-inflammatory properties.

While herbal teas are beneficial, it’s critical to ensure they’re pure and do not contain high-FODMAP ingredients or artificial sweeteners, which can counteract their soothing effects.

Foods And Drinks To Approach With Caution

The wrong food or drink can worsen IBS flare ups and aggravate the gut, leading to increased discomfort and prolonging recovery from an IBS flare-up.

Here’s an expanded look into the specific items that those with IBS may need to approach cautiously.

High-FODMAP Foods

FODMAPs — a collection of molecules found in food that can be hard to absorb — can significantly impact IBS symptoms. 

Foods high in FODMAPs include certain fruits such as apples and pears, vegetables like cauliflower and mushrooms, grains such as wheat and rye, and legumes like beans and lentils.

During an IBS attack, these foods cause an osmotic effect which draws water into the intestines and ferments, leading to gas, bloating, and altered bowel movements. Following a low FODMAP diet temporarily can help identify triggers and mitigate IBS flare-ups.

Dairy Products

Dairy products, particularly those high in lactose, can be problematic due to the deficiency of the lactase enzyme in many individuals with IBS, leading to lactose intolerance. Consuming milk, cheese, and cream may exacerbate symptoms such as diarrhoea, gas, and bloating.

Opting for lactose-free dairy or fermented dairy products like yoghurt, which have lower levels of lactose, can sometimes be easier on the digestive system.

Fried And Greasy Foods

High-fat meals, especially those that are fried or greasy, can provoke the gastrocolic reflex, the body’s natural response to food entering the stomach, which can be overactive in people with IBS. This can result in urgent bowel movements and diarrhoea.

Additionally, greasy foods may cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax, leading to acid reflux, a condition often comorbid with IBS.

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners including sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol are found in many sugar-free processed foods and can lead to increased gas production and diarrhoea. They are polyols — part of the FODMAP group — and can be difficult for the gut to absorb. 

Substituting these with natural sweeteners or using them sparingly may help manage IBS symptoms during an attack.

Caffeinated Drinks

Caffeine is a well-known gastrointestinal stimulant. It can increase gastric secretions and bowel motility, which might be beneficial for some but can provoke diarrhoea and cramps in those with IBS, especially during a flare-up. 

Reducing or eliminating caffeinated beverages like coffee and softdrinks  may help to keep symptoms in check.

Alcohol

The consumption of alcohol can disrupt the normal function of the digestive system, impairing the intestines’ ability to absorb water and increasing the speed of digestion, which often leads to diarrhoea. Furthermore, alcohol can inflame the gastrointestinal lining, worsening IBS symptoms. 

It is best to limit or avoid alcohol, especially during an IBS attack, to maintain a calm digestive environment.

Spicy Foods

Capsaicin, the active component in many spicy foods, can irritate the mucous membranes of the digestive tract. 

For people with IBS, this can mean an increase in IBS symptoms such as abdominal and back pain, bloating, and diarrhoea. During IBS attacks, it may be wise to stick to bland, non-spicy meals until symptoms subside.

Conclusion On What To Eat With IBS Attacks

It’s important to listen to your body and recognise which foods worsen Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms. Managing an IBS attack involves a cautious approach to a healthy diet, focusing on foods that are easy to digest and steering clear of known triggers.

Remember that a low FODMAP diet is often recommended, but it should be personalised based on your tolerances.

For those who are struggling to manage their IBS symptoms or find the right dietary balance, consulting with a healthcare provider like Dr QM Leong can provide you with tailored advice and support to improve your overall digestive health.

Schedule a consultation today!

 

Frequently Asked Questions On What To Eat With An IBS Attack

Can Drinking More Water Help During An IBS Attack? 

Yes, staying hydrated is important, especially if you are experiencing diarrhoea, which can lead to dehydration. Water can help flush out irritants and support digestive health, but it’s best to sip slowly to avoid triggering further stomach discomfort.

How Long After An IBS Attack Should I Wait Before Reintroducing Regular Foods? 

The duration can vary from person to person. It’s best to reintroduce foods gradually over several days once symptoms have subsided. Starting with low-FODMAP, easily digestible foods is a sensible approach, and observe how your body reacts.

Are Probiotics Beneficial During An IBS Attack? 

Probiotics can be beneficial for IBS as they help maintain the balance of good bacteria in the gut. However, during an attack, it’s important to choose probiotics carefully and start with a low dose, as they can sometimes initially increase gas and bloating.

Can I Eat Rice During An IBS Attack? 

Plain white rice is usually well-tolerated during an IBS attack as it is low in FODMAPs and is a source of easily digestible carbohydrates. It’s a good option to help settle your stomach and add into a low fodmap diet without causing additional stress to the digestive system.

Is It Important To Follow A Strict Diet Plan For IBS?

While there’s no one-size-fits-all diet for IBS, following a plan such as the low FODMAP diet, which limits certain carbohydrates, can help identify triggers and alleviate symptoms. 

It’s generally recommended to work with a healthcare professional or dietitian to create a personalised diet plan based on your specific IBS symptoms.

How Quickly Can Diet Changes Impact IBS Symptoms?

The impact of diet changes on IBS symptoms can vary from person to person. Some individuals may notice improvements within a few days, while for others, it may take a few weeks of consistent dietary adjustments to see significant changes in their symptoms. It’s important to give your body time to adjust to these changes and monitor your symptoms closely.