The Best Foods for IBS

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Best Foods for IBS

woman eating yogurt
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You may know that there are plenty of foods you know you shouldn't eat for IBS, but you may have found that it is a little more challenging to what to eat!

It has been my experience that people who have IBS tend to focus solely on eating foods that won't make their IBS any worse. What gets overlooked is a focus on what foods might actually help to make their IBS better.

Unfortunately, there is really very little research as to the role of specific foods that can be of help for IBS. Therefore the foods in this slideshow were picked because of the fact that they are likely to have a positive effect on your digestive (as well as overall!) health, without you having to have any worries that they are going to make your symptoms worse.

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1. Lean Meats

Chicken breasts ready for cooking
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Lean meats are comprised mainly of protein. Protein is easily digestible and is not fermentable by gut bacteria - which translates to no unwanted intestinal gas! Therefore you can eat any of the following with confidence:

  • White meat chicken
  • White meat turkey
  • Pork
  • Lean cuts of beef (sirloin, top round, eye round, bottom round)

Fatty cuts may contain pro-inflammatory fats or unhealthy toxins. Therefore avoid dark meat chicken or turkey, and cuts of beef that are marbled. The only exception to this rule is if you are able to source animals that are grass-fed (beef), pasture-raised (pork), or free-range (poultry). Since these animals have been raised under optimal conditions, some people theorize that their fat content may actually be beneficial to your gut bacteria.

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2. Eggs

soft-boiled egg
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In general, eggs are easily digested and therefore make a nice "safe" choice for someone who has IBS. Eggs can be enjoyed hard- or soft-boiled, scrambled or poached. Omelets and frittatas can be your meal of choice for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and make a great option when eating out in a restaurant

However, not every person's body handles all foods the same. Some people report a sensitivity to the proteins in egg whites, while others report that the higher fat content of egg yolks causes a problem. You may need to go through some trial and error to see what works best for you.

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3. Salmon and Other Omega-3 Fish

salmon being sliced
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Omega-3 fatty acids play an anti-inflammatory role within the body. Since inflammation may be contributing to your IBS symptoms, increasing your intake of omega-3s may be of help. Good fish sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Anchovies
  • Black cod
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Rainbow trout
  • Sardines
  • Wild-caught salmon
  • Whitefish

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4. Low-FODMAP Vegetables

green beans almondine
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There is a weird Catch-22 when it comes to IBS. Based on past experience, people who have IBS tend to avoid vegetables because they have found that eating vegetables makes their symptoms worse. However, vegetables are very good for your gut flora, and therefore may be good for your IBS.

The way to cut through this Catch-22 is to start off by slowly increasing vegetables that are less likely to contribute to gas and bloating. Luckily, the FODMAP researchers from Monash University in Australia have conducted studies and identified which vegetables fit that bill. Ideally, you would start with the vegetables on the following list and then slowly broaden the range of vegetables that you eat. 

In addition, to choosing your vegetables carefully, you may find that you are better able to tolerate vegetables that have been cooked, rather than eating them raw.

  • Bamboo shoots
  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Celeriac
  • Corn (half a cob)
  • Eggplant
  • Fennel
  • Green beans
  • Parsley
  • Parsnip
  • Potato
  • Scallions (green parts only)
  • Squash
  • Sweet potato
  • Tomato
  • Turnip
  • Water chestnut
  • Zucchini

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5. Low-FODMAP Greens

greens being washed in colander
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Your gut flora will be grateful if in addition to eating more vegetables, you also ate more leafy greens. These leaves are packed with nutrients and are not likely to cause gut fermentation. 

How to get them into your diet? If you can tolerate them raw, leafy greens can be added to green smoothies, green juices, or made into a salad. If however, you are like most people with IBS, you may find that your body is less reactive if the greens are cooked. The easiest way to do this is to saute them with some garlic-infused olive oil. Just be sure to take the garlic out of the oil before consuming, as garlic is high in FODMAPs.

  • Arugula (rocket lettuce)
  • Bok choy
  • Collard greens
  • Common Cabbage
  • Endive
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Radicchio 
  • Spinach, baby
  • Swiss chard

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6. Low-FODMAP Fruits

basket of raspberries
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Like vegetables, fruits have some nutrients that are good for your gut flora and therefore should be good for your IBS. But as you may have found out the hard way, some fruits are likely to make your IBS symptoms worse. Choosing fruits that are low in FODMAPs is a safer way to go. Just don't eat too many in one sitting or within one day or you may overwhelm your body's ability to absorb the sugar in fruit without fermentation (and the gassiness that goes along with that!).

  • Avocado (limit 1/8 of whole)
  • Banana
  • Blueberry
  • Cantaloupe
  • Grapes
  • Honeydew melon
  • Kiwi
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Mandarin oranges
  • Olives
  • Orange
  • Papaya (paw paw)
  • Pineapple
  • Raspberry
  • Rhubarb
  • Strawberry
  • Tangelo

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7. Nuts

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Nuts are a good source of fiber, protein, and those anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Don't be swayed by the old myth that nuts make you fat. Nuts actually tend to make people feel satisfied after a meal or snack and thus less likely to continue snacking. Nuts do contain unsaturated fat - but this is fat that is good for you as it lowers cholesterol. It is also thought that this healthy form of fat is good for your gut flora and therefore may be good for your IBS. 

You can enjoy nuts by the handful or in the form of nut butters.

Here are some low-FODMAP nuts to get you started:

  • Almonds (limit 10)
  • Brazil Nuts
  • Hazelnuts (limit 10)
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Pecan
  • Pine nuts
  • Walnuts

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8. Seeds

bowl of flaxseed
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Of all the various types of seeds, chia seeds and flaxseed seem to offer the most benefit for people who have IBS, particularly if you tend more toward the constipated side of things. Both of them are a good source of fiber as well as omega-3 fatty acids. You can sprinkle them on top of salads or oatmeal, or add them to your smoothies. (Note: Flaxseed needs to be ground before use.)

For snacking, the following types of seeds have been found to be low in FODMAPs:

  • Pumpkin
  • Sunflower

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9. Fermented Foods

woman eating yogurt
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Fermented foods are those that are prepared in such a way that the food contains many natural strains of probiotics - those good-for-you bacteria. Try to add some of the following foods into your daily diet:

  • Fermented drinks, such as kefir or kombucha
  • Fermented vegetables, including sauerkraut and kimchi
  • Yogurt (without excessive added sugar)

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10. Bone Broth

cup of steaming broth
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For centuries, broth made from the bones of meat or fish, was a staple of human diets. Homemade broths (not the store-bought kind!) are starting to enjoy some new-found attention due a theory that the nutrients in these broths are good for the health of the gut flora and the intestinal lining. Although research is lagging, you certainly cannot beat a warming cup of soup as a way to self-soothe IBS symptoms.

Sources:

Galland, L. & Barrie, S. "Intestinal Dysbiosis and the Causes of Disease" The Environmental Illness Resource Website Accessed August 24, 2013.

Gibson, P. & Shepherd, S. "Evidence-based dietary management of functional gastrointestinal symptoms: The FODMAP approach" Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology 2010 25:252-258.

"Healing Foods Pyramid™" University of Michigan website Accessed May 11, 2015

"Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health" Mayo Clinic website Accessed May 11,2015.

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