Irritable Bowel Syndrome | IBS | Nucleus Health
Your IBS Sick Day Diet
Whether your IBS causes diarrhea or constipation, changing your diet can help calm your gut. Get help from these sick day menus.
By Marie Suszynski
Medically Reviewed by Farrokh Sohrabi, MD
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Finding the right foods for managing IBS, especially when you're having a sick day, is a lot like solving a mystery — piecing together clues and uncovering culprits. As you learn ways to ease symptoms like diarrhea and constipation, you're likely to get overwhelmed by the long list of foods you shouldn’t eat. You want to know what you can eat when IBS symptoms strike so that you can stay well nourished.
Several studies have unearthed some clues — that following a low-FODMAP diet helps improve IBS symptoms and involves eliminating foods that are high in certain carbohydrates called FODMAPs, or fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.
However, the diet doesn’t offer specific dietary advice based on whether you’re having diarrhea or constipation, said Baharak Moshiree, MD, associate professor in the division of gastroenterology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Miami. Tweaking your diet based on specific sick day symptoms will help even more.
IBS Sick Day Diet: General Guidelines
Some people with IBS experience diarrhea and some experience constipation, while others cycle between both. It helps to have some strategies to turn to when your IBS symptoms act up.
Some diet changes will help regardless of which category you fall into. For one, start by eating small meals and make them low in fat. It’s better to grill foods using a light cooking spray than dousing your meal with oil, Dr. Moshiree advised. Red meat can also irritate the stomach, so it’s best to go for white meat.
Also, a high protein diet will help with both diarrhea and constipation, so choosing a piece of fish or chicken is better than a bowl of pasta. Because raw vegetables are more likely to cause gas and bloating, consider cooking your vegetables, Moshiree said.
It’s very important to know your own body and how it will react to different foods. Most people with IBS have a very hard time with dairy products, so eliminate them right off the bat.
You might also be sensitive to gluten, found in bread and baked goods made with wheat, rye, and barley. Moshiree tells her patients to do a two-week trial of eliminating gluten to see if symptoms improve. If they do, you probably need to follow a gluten-free diet, especially when your symptoms are acting up.
The same can be done for other food categories that are associated with IBS symptoms, such as foods with high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and garlic and onions along with dairy. Once you know your trigger foods, you’ll know what you need to avoid when IBS is acting up.
Because gas and bloating is also an issue when you have constipation or diarrhea, pass on beans and other legumes and foods that contain insoluble fiber such as apples, grapes, and blueberries when you’re having symptoms.
Also remember to eliminate alcohol, which is known to provoke symptoms.
Diarrhea-Predominant IBS: What to Eat
When people are sick, they tend to turn to high-carbohydrate foods with sugars to feel better, but that’s not what you want to do when you have IBS, said Melissa Garrett, MD, gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. That’s because many problems with IBS are from intolerance to some carbohydrates in foods.
Instead, try these meals when you’re having IBS-related diarrhea.
Breakfast:A bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon without sugar or artificial sweeteners.
Lunch:Grilled or baked fish or chicken and a baked sweet potato without butter.
Dinner:A spinach salad with lean protein such as grilled chicken (made without oil).
Snack:Protein shake or protein bar. Be sure to read the label and avoid products with high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners because those ingredients alone can cause significant diarrhea.
Drinks:Moshiree tells her patients to hydrate with water or an electrolyte replacement drink like Hydralyte or Pedialyte when they have diarrhea.
Constipation-Predominant IBS: What to Eat
Figuring out what to eat when you’re constipated can be trickier, according to Dr. Garrett. Adding in some fruits and vegetables that are typically banned on a low FODMAP diet can help move your bowels, but they can also increase bloating. The key is to avoid gas-forming insoluble fiber. Choose stone fruits such as prunes and peaches over bananas and apples, she said.
Breakfast:Fresh peaches and prunes with peppermint tea or something with natural peppermint oil, which is a laxative, Dr. Garrett said.
Lunch:A fruit and vegetable salad with some lean protein such as fish and a little oil. If you don’t make it a heavy meal, it should help to relieve constipation, she said.
Dinner:Another light meal with a fruit, cooked vegetables or a salad with a little oil and vinegar, and lean protein such as fish or chicken.
Drinks:Water, tea, or coffee, which may act as a laxative.
IBS Sick Day: When Will You Feel Better?
How long symptoms last varies from person to person. As you work on your diet, remember to also work on lowering stress. Even when you’re eating perfectly, high stress may mean your symptoms will stick around, Moshiree said.
When you do start to feel better, Moshiree warns against rushing back to eating foods that you know make your symptoms worse; sample only in small amounts. That’s an individual thing you have to determine on your own.
If you eat a healthy diet and learn what to avoid when symptoms strike, you should be better able to manage your IBS.
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