According to WebMD, irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is a mix of belly discomfort or pain and trouble with bowel habits: either going more or less often than normal (diarrhoea or constipation) or having a different kind of stool (thin, hard, or soft and liquid). It is a common condition that affects the digestive system and results in symptoms like stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and constipation whose frequency and intensity varies among individuals as they tend to come and go over time and can last for days, weeks or months at a time.
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Lavleen Kaur, Head Dietitian and Co-founder of Diet Insight, shared, “IBS is a very, very common health issue in India and it’s been noticed that women suffer through this condition more than men. Some have only minor discomfort while for others it may end up disrupting daily routine. Irritable bowel syndrome is a collection of symptoms that include abdominal discomfort and changes in bowel motions, which might be only diarrhea, only constipation, or even both. It’s not the same as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and it has nothing to do with other bowel problems.”
She asserted that diet, like any other health issue, is the key to managing IBS as well. While certain food items can help you keep the symptoms under control, others can aggravate the pain further.
Food to avoid if suffering from IBS
Dietician Lavleen Kaur insisted on eliminating these foods from your diet to help you avoid uncomfortable IBS symptoms:
1. Refined, packaged, and processed carbohydrates should be avoided.
2. Dairy and gluten-containing foods may cause diarrhoea in certain IBS sufferers and should be avoided.
3. Deep-fried meals and artificial sweeteners are never suggested since they contain significant levels of trans and saturated fats as well as can cause further digestive irritation in IBS sufferers.
4. Insoluble fiber, such as whole grains and vegetables found in beans, carrots, broccoli, apricots, sprouts, and foods like apple, guava, and pears, is also not suggested. Peeled apple can be had though.
Adding her expertise to the same, Functional Nutritionist Mugdha Pradhan, CEO and Founder of iThrive, listed food products that can damage the intestinal lining and disrupt gut mucosal integrity. These include:
1. Gluten – Many people have allergies due to gluten sensitivity, which can cause symptoms like diarrhoea, stomach pain, tiredness, bloating etc. Many people do not test positive for celiac disease but still react negatively to gluten.
2. Vegetable/ seed oils – Vegetable oils are high in polyunsaturated fats, which our bodies are not designed to consume. Unhealthy fats can also make a contribution to skin cancer if they enter the skin. Vegetable oils are high in omega 6, which promotes cancer cell growth, blood clotting, and inflammation in the body.
3. Dairy products – Overconsumption of dairy products can cause lactase enzymes to deplete faster because they are overworked. After consuming dairy products, symptoms of lactose intolerance include abdomen bloating, gas, stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhoea.
Foods to consume if suffering from IBS
According to Dietician Lavleen Kaur, “Food recommendations with patients with IBS needs to be highly personalised as few food items may help some, while it may trigger IBS even more for others. Therefore, one needs to be very cautious of what they eat and when they eat, in order to realise which food items, trigger their IBS. Once the triggers are identified, it’s easier for dietitians to create a personalised diet plan to sooth the pains of IBS.”
She added, “Some common food items that may help IBS patients are cabbage, lettuce, fermented food, certain types of nuts and seeds, digestive protein options like eggs (in certain cases) and lastly certain fruits such as papaya, strawberries and oranges but remember, dietary modifications only start the process of IBS management. Regular interventions and changes in diet are a must to ascertain what is working and what is not, as every body reacts to different groups in different ways.”
Nutritionist Mugdha Pradhan listed food products that help in maintaining gut mucosal integrity and are good for acid production in the stomach. These include:
1. Herbal teas – A cup of herbal tea after meals aids in the digestion of food. Herbal tea contains spearmint, which soothes the digestive tract and acts as a tonic, reducing the desire to overeat.
2. Garlic – Garlic’s high sulphur content gives it antibiotic properties, which aid in keeping the digestive tract clean by flushing out toxins.
3. Mastic gum – Mastic Gum helps reduce stomach acid and protect the stomach and intestine lining. Mastic also contains fragrant oil that has the potential to kill bacteria and freshen the breath. Mastic gum can be chewed like regular gum, or it can be taken as a capsule or powder. Mastic gum essential oil is also available.