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How can diet help with IBS?

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Low FODMAP foodsHigh FODMAP foodsTreatmentSummary
Specific dietary changes may help you manage IBS symptoms. Paying attention to your fiber intake and eating low fat foods may reduce the frequency of IBS flare-ups.
Medically reviewed by Imashi Fernando, MS, RDN, CDCES
Updated on

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic gastrointestinal condition that can cause sudden changes in bowel movements. IBS can result in various symptoms, including diarrhea and constipation.

People with IBS may regularly experience cramps and abdominal pain. Eating an appropriate diet and avoiding foods that can trigger IBS may help reduce discomfort.

Eating foods high in FODMAPs — which stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols — may increase the risk of IBS flare-ups. Foods high in FODMAPs include certain fruits and dairy products.

What foods can help with IBS?

Several containers of strawberries and blueberries.
Kristin Duvall/Stocksy United

If you have IBS, eating a low-FODMAP diet may reduce symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

Low-FODMAP foods include:

  • lactose-free products, such as certain soy milks and oats
  • fruit, such as blueberries, strawberries, and grapes
  • eggs
  • meat, such as beef and chicken
  • vegetables, such as carrots, green beans, and zucchini
  • rice and quinoa

People with IBS may consider following a gluten-free diet as this type of food generally has lower FODMAPs when compared to food containing gluten. Eating foods containing gluten may trigger an IBS flare-up, even for people who do not have celiac disease.

It may be beneficial to consider eating a fiber-rich diet. Doctors recommend people with IBS have a fiber intake between 2234 grams per day.

There are two types of dietary fiber:

  • soluble fiber, which dissolves easily in fluids. Examples include oats and apples.
  • insoluble fiber, which does not dissolve easily and remains intact. Examples include potatoes and beans.

Foods rich in soluble fiber typically cause less bloating and other symptoms of IBS when compared to vegetables and whole-grain products.

Examples of fiber-rich foods include:

  • beans, such as garbanzo beans, pinto beans, and kidney beans
  • fruit, such as raspberries, oranges, and bananas
  • oats
  • chia seeds
  • chickpeas

It’s important to know that fiber-rich foods should be eaten in moderation.

Rice-based products, such as rice milk and flour, can also be a great alternative for people with IBS. This is because rice generally tends to be easier to digest and reduces the risk of developing an IBS flare-up.

A nutritionist can recommend a diet plan to reduce your intake of foods that may cause flare-ups and increase those that can help improve your symptoms.

What foods can trigger an IBS flare-up?

Around 5–10% of the general population has IBS. A 2017 review of studies found that restricting the consumption of foods high in FODMAPs can improve IBS symptoms. However, further research is still needed into the long-term benefits of a low-FODMAP diet.

High-FODMAP foods can include:

  • fruit high in fructose, such as pears, peaches, watermelon, and plums
  • dairy products containing lactose, such as cheese, milk, yogurt, and ice cream
  • legumes, such as lentils
  • certain vegetables, such as cabbage, onions, and Brussels sprouts
  • wheat- and rye-based products, such as bread, pasta, and cereals
  • sweeteners
  • honey and corn syrup
  • canned fruit
  • dried fruit

Other types of food and drink that could trigger IBS include:

  • spicy food
  • foods high in saturated fat, such as biscuits and cakes
  • ultra-processed foods
  • caffeine in large quantities
  • fizzy drinks
  • alcohol in large quantities

You should also avoid foods that can produce gas in your intestines, as this can lead to bloating and cramps. This can include foods like beans, raisins, or bagels.

Consider speaking with a healthcare professional, such as a dietician, to identify which high FODMAP foods may trigger your IBS symptoms. This can be done using an elimination diet, as each person with IBS has a highly individualized response to which foods they can and cannot tolerate.

Other treatment options

While dietary changes may help improve IBS, doctors may also recommend additional treatments to implement in your day-to-day life to relieve symptoms. These may include:

Medication

If you experience diarrhea regularly, a doctor may prescribe you some medications to help control your bowel movements. Medications for diarrhea can include:

If IBS causes you constipation, a healthcare professional may recommend you take laxatives, fiber supplements, or one of the following drugs:

People with IBS may also experience abdominal discomfort. Doctors may prescribe medications to help people with this condition relieve their symptoms. These medications can include:

  • antispasmodics, such as Atropine
  • low doses of tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline (Elavil)
  • peppermint oil capsules

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Talking therapy

High levels of stress may trigger IBS flare-ups. Talking therapy can help to improve your IBS symptoms by enhancing the relaxation of your muscles and reducing your stress levels.

Talking therapy for treating IBS may include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This treatment helps you change your behavior and thought patterns to improve IBS symptoms.
  • Gut-directed hypnotherapy: During these sessions, a therapist uses hypnosis to improve your IBS symptoms. Hypnosis is a trance-like state that increases your focus or relaxation.
  • Relaxation training: This type of therapy can help you reduce stress and increase the relaxation of your muscles.

Probiotics

Doctors may recommend probiotics to people with IBS. Probiotics are microorganisms, including bacteria, that live in the digestive tract. It is thought that probiotics may help restore the natural balance of bacteria in the gut and this may help improve IBS symptoms.

Before taking probiotics, you should speak with a doctor to identify how much probiotics you should take and for how long.

Summary

IBS is an intestinal disorder that can cause symptoms such as abdominal cramps, constipation, and diarrhea. Eating certain foods may cause a flare-up of your symptoms.

People with IBS may find it beneficial to avoid eating certain high-FODMAP foods that cause them additional bloating and changes in bowel movements.

Dietary changes that may help manage IBS symptoms include:

  • following a low-FODMAP diet
  • eating adequate amounts of soluble fiber daily
  • following a gluten-free diet

An eating pattern that works well for one person with IBS may not be the best for another person with IBS, so it’s important to work with a healthcare professional to identify what your specific trigger foods are.

Doctors may also prescribe additional treatment for people with IBS to improve their symptoms. This can include medications to treat diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal cramps. Probiotics may also help restore the correct balance of the bacteria in your gut, which can ease IBS symptoms.

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