What should I eat if I have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?
Harsha Vittal, MD
With irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you can try the FODMAP diet that avoids sugars like artifical sweetners. In this video, gastroenterologist Harsha Vittal, MD, of Good Samaritan Hospital says how eating small, regular meals can help with symptoms.
Judith Mabel
Nutrition & Dietetics

IBS is a catchall phrase for a number of gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances. So sometimes omitting a certain food can help, but not always. In general, I would eliminate sugars (feeds yeast and pro-inflammatory). Some people do well by staying off of refined and processed foods, alcohol and dairy. I would also find out which foods are bothering me through an elimination diet or by using a food sensitivity test. I use the LEAP test by Oxford labs with my clients. Probiotics are often helpful and will not cause harmful side-effects. Herbs such as peppermint and chamomile can calm a nervous system.

Angela Lemond
Nutrition & Dietetics

Nutrition therapy for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can help you feel less constipated and bloated. It can also help ease diarrhea. It may be helpful to keep a food diary so when digestive problems arise, it may help you identify the offending food(s). Keep a list of changes that may make you feel better or worse. In general, it is recommended to do the following:

  • Eat meals and snacks on a regular schedule.
  • Aim for 5-6 small meals per day. Do not skip meals.
  • Increase fiber slowly. Aim for 25-35 grams daily. High fiber foods include whole grains, beans and fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Aim for 6-8 cups of water in addition to your other daily beverages.
  • Follow a low-fat diet, as it is better tolerated.

It may be beneficial to schedule an appointment with a Registered Dietitian (RD) in order to get a customized plan for your specific digestive issues. To find an RD in your area, visit http://www.eatright.org.


Dawn Marcus
The following are some dietary treatments that help improve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS):
  • Fiber therapy: Increasing soluble fiber improves constipation and other irritable bowel symptoms, but not abdominal pain.
  • Peppermint oil: Three to six enteric-coated capsules containing 0.2-0.4 mL peppermint oil daily can reduce irritable bowel symptoms, including abdominal pain. Capsules need to be swallowed and not chewed to avoid reflux.
  • Herbs: Tong xie yao fang, Padma Lax, and STW 5 have been found to reduce the symptoms of IBS.
  • Probiotics: Probiotic supplements or eating more foods rich in probiotics (such as yogurt, kefir (fermented milk), miso and tempeh made from soybeans, and sauerkraut) relieves irritable bowel symptoms and abdominal pain.
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Marilyn Ricci, M.S., R.D.
Nutrition & Dietetics

My daughter has irritable bowel syndrome. Stress can bring on a flare-up, but since stress is rather difficult to avoid in today's world, she has learned which foods cause distress for her and avoids them. Each person is different as to the foods that they find irritating. Often times, it is foods like nuts and seeds. She began by eliminating these. Then gradually, when better, adding some of them back into her meal plans, but in very small amounts. No one food is usually the culprit, so it will take some trial and error.

Lisa Stollman
Nutrition & Dietetics

IBS is a very individualized syndrome. Quite often increasing dietary fiber and drinking at least eight cups of fluid per day can be quite helpful. But the starting point should be a daily food journal. Keep a record of everything you eat and drink and the amount, the approximate time that you ate and, lastly, make a notation of how you are feeling. This way you can look back at the journal and see when you felt well and when you were uncomfortable. The journal may help you uncover specific foods that are causing a problem. Meeting with a Registered Dietitian is a smart thing to do as they will be able to give you personalized nutrition care.

Donna Feldman
Nutrition & Dietetics

Food recommendations for IBS can be very individual. The first step in creating your diet for irritable bowel syndrome is to find out what you're eating when you have symptoms. You should keep a food diary for 2-4 weeks, and note when you have symptoms and how severe they are. You may react immediately, or it may take 1-2 days for the food to cause problems. With the help of a registered dietitian, you can analyze the diary for connections to specific foods or to components common to several foods.

 There are some general recommendations for IBS. Avoid artificial sweeteners like sorbitol and xylitol (and others ending in --ol). These are known to cause diarrhea for some people, and are common in chewing gum and sugarless candies. Milk products can cause problems for lactose-intolerant people, and high fat foods and meals are a problem for others. Caffeine, high sugar foods/meals and gassy foods like cabbage can also be implicated.

Some people cannot digest certain short-chain carbohydrates, referred to as FODMAPS. Fructans, which are chains of fructose, and certain fibers, like inulin, are on the FODMAPS list. The list of foods that contain these fermentable carbohydrates is varied, and includes wheat, apples and onions, as well as any food fortified with inulin. You may find that you tolerate small occasional portions of these, but can't eat a meal with several at one time. FODMAPS food lists are widely available on the Internet, but a qualified dietitian can help you identify those foods in your diet.

IBS diet recommendations do include other fibers, to help normalize bowel function. Whole grains, vegetables and fruits are key, although you certainly need to avoid specific foods known to cause symptoms.

Laura Motosko, MSEd, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics

It is helpful with IBS to keep a food journal of what, and how much you eat with a note of symptoms to determine if there are foods that you may want to avoid. IBS affects everyone individually, generally avoiding caffeine, alcohol and high fat foods are helpful to decrease symptoms. Eating 6 small meals a day is recommended drinking water for hydration in between meals. Nutrient dense foods are recommended including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats such as olive oil, proteins including lean meat, nuts, legumes, beans, soy or dairy and reduced saturated fat, sodium and sugar.

If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a high-fiber, low-fat diet is a good approach:

  • Eat small, frequent meals. Chewing your food well to aid digestion and eating slowly so you don't swallow a lot of air, which may make you feel gassy.
  • Avoid foods that cause too much gas or irritate your stomach.
  • Limit substances that make symptoms worse, like caffeine, alcohol or fat.
  • Drink more fluids to help prevent constipation.
  • Learn to manage stress.
A registered dietitian can help you create an individualized approach to eating that not only helps manage gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms but also helps prevent malnutrition and helps your GI tract function normally.
William B. Salt II., MD
If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), try to select fresh foods and unprocessed foods whenever possible. Foods prepared by others before they get to our households are more likely to have added salt, sugar, saturated fats, preservatives and artificial coloring. Furthermore, fiber and nutritional content decrease with the increased processing required to give foods a longer shelf life.

Eat in moderation and only when you're hungry and while you are in a relaxed, unhurried atmosphere. Take the time to chew food properly and enjoy the sensations. This nourishes not only your body but also your mind and spirit. Chewing properly and eating slowly are vital to healthy digestion. This alone may relieve many of your uncomfortable irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. In addition, eating more frequent, smaller meals throughout the day may result in less discomfort than eating one or two larger meals.
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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.