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How does dietary fiber affect irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

Patsy Catsos
Nutrition & Dietetics
While its a good idea to try a high fiber diet, many people with IBS find it doesn't help, or may even make symptoms worse. In that case, a FODMAP elimination diet might help you figure out what kind of, and how much, fiber you can tolerate. FODMAPs are certain sugars and certain fibers in the diet that can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation for sensitive individuals. A FODMAP elimination diet is a learning diet. At first you limit all of the suspect fibers, then you add them back to your diet in a systematic way to see how they affect you. Because of the well known health benefits of fiber, you should ultimately eat as much of it as you can tolerate without discomfort. 
IBS: Free at Last! Change Your Carbs, Change Your Life with the FODMAP Elimination Diet, 2nd Edition

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IBS: Free at Last! Change Your Carbs, Change Your Life with the FODMAP Elimination Diet, 2nd Edition

IBS should not make you skip a beat—get your groove back! Tired of missing the fun because of your irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)? Confused about what to eat? Think you’re the only one who feels...
William B. Salt II., MD
Gastroenterology
Patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may have a significant problem with abdominal bloating and flatulence when they increase the fiber content of the diet and do not seem to be able to adjust to the change. Because of an increased sensitivity to what is happening in the digestive tract, gas released by the breakdown and fermentation of the complex carbohydrates of fiber causes distention of the colon that is perceived as discomfort, bloating and pain. Furthermore, some people are more likely to produce gas than are others. If bran causes gas and flatulence, try concentrating on eating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Fiber supplements can be tried, and some products may be better tolerated than others.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome & the MindBodySpirit Connection: 7 Steps for Living a Healthy Life with a Functional Bowel Disorder, Crohn's Disease, or Colitis (Mind-Body-Spirit Connection Series.)

More About this Book

Irritable Bowel Syndrome & the MindBodySpirit Connection: 7 Steps for Living a Healthy Life with a Functional Bowel Disorder, Crohn's Disease, or Colitis (Mind-Body-Spirit Connection Series.)

Fast Facts on IBS: One in five people suffers from the frustrating symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). There is no simple answer--no pill, potion, or quick fix--that will cure IBS. But help...
Marilyn Ricci, M.S., R.D.
Nutrition & Dietetics

A high fiber diet excluding dairy, chocolate, eggs, spices, caffeine and wheat products may be helpful to get the condition under control. Once back to normal, you can slowly add in foods to see what you can tolerate. Everyone is different and over time you may be able to add all foods back into your diet. A high fiber diet that does not include the above would be foods such as oatmeal, fruits and vegetables. 

Linda Lockett-Brown
Nutrition & Dietetics

This is a tough question to answer because IBS sufferers are so individual. What affects one person may not affect another. A good idea is to keep a food log and begin with foods that are high in soluble fiber. Try adding a small amount (1/8 to 1/4c) of one food that is high in soluble fiber. Drink lots of water and see what happens in the next 72 hours. If there are no symptoms, eat the same amount of the food and wait another 72 hours. If there are no symptoms, continue the food for two weeks. If there are no symptoms you have successfully added a high soluble fiber food.

Foods that are high in insoluble fiber like wheat bran tend to be more problematic. However, it is very individual and understandably frustrating.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.