Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Pittsburgh Dietitian Blog Posts
March 10, 2016

Student submitted blog post: By Lindsay SmoreLet’s talk about something nobody wants to discuss, but everyone should know: irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This post will highlight the things you need to understand about IBS, and how nutrition plays a huge role in managing symptoms. First, lets determine if you actually have IBS. Think back to the last couple days, weeks, or even months, have you noticed:

ibs blog post
  • abdominal discomfort that goes away after defecating?
  • change in frequency of having to go to the bathroom?
  • change in the form of your stool?

If you have seen any of these happen at least 3 times per month for 3 consecutive months, then you may have IBS. IBS can be characterized by having diarrhea, constipation, or even both. It is important to understand that IBS is considered a “spectrum disorder,” this means it is not diagnosed by getting lab tests done, but strictly based on symptoms you are facing. Unfortunately, this means that a food that triggers IBS in me may not have the same effects on you.So then how are you supposed to know what to eat and what not to eat to keep you and your bowel healthy? The answer is trial and error. Everybody is different, and only you know what your body can and cannot tolerate. It is important to keep track of the foods that tend to trigger your IBS symptoms and discuss them with your physician or registered dietitian.Common foods that are poorly tolerated in those experiencing diarrhea or mixed IBS include:

  • high fat foods and fried foods
  • caffeine such as coffee and tea
  • lactose foods: milk products (milk, yogurt, cheese)
  • high fructose foods: honey, baked goods, sweets
  • sorbitol: sweets, dried fruits, jams
  • and alcoholic beverages

For those with constipation IBS, fiber should be an important factor in your diet. Depending on your age and gender, you should aim to consume 25-38g of dietary fiber per day. However, be warned that some fiber supplements may actually worsen symptoms of constipation IBS. Though it is important to limit high fat fried foods, consuming a moderate amount (5-15g) of fat at each meal can be beneficial in softening stool and keeping gut motility.There are two types of dietary fiber, soluble and insoluble, and they play very different roles in digestion. Soluble fiber is known to attract water and slow the digestion process, whereas insoluble fiber does the opposite. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to the stool and helps it pass more quickly through the intestines. The key to fiber is maintaining a balance between these two types of dietary fiber. Soluble fiber is shown to help with IBS symptoms, so it is important to aim to consume at least one fourth to one half (9-15g/day) of your total dietary fiber through soluble fiber. Some sources of these fibers include:

Soluble fiber:

Nuts and seeds


Fruits (Berries, Apples, etc)

Oat bran

Insoluble fiber:

Wheat bran

Leafy Vegetables

Root & Stalk Veggies (celery, carrots, etc)

Whole grains

For a more extensive list of the fiber content in common foods, please visit:

In all forms of IBS, it is very important to drink adequate amounts of water (about 91oz per day, or 11 cups for women and 125oz or 15 cups per day for men) to keep hydrated. Keeping this in mind, while also trying to reduce the amount of high fat foods and increasing fiber intake, should help in keeping your IBS symptoms under control. Remember the 3F’s of IBS: Fat, Fluid, and Fiber. Balancing these three crucial dietary elements, along with avoiding foods that trigger your symptoms, should help reduce flare-ups of IBS.

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