Diet and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

ExitCare ImageNo cure has been found for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Many options are available to treat the symptoms. Your caregiver will give you the best treatments available for your symptoms. He or she will also encourage you to manage stress and to make changes to your diet. You need to work with your caregiver and Registered Dietician to find the best combination of medicine, diet, counseling, and support to control your symptoms. The following are some diet suggestions.


  • Fatty foods, such as French fries.

  • Milk products, such as cheese or ice cream.

  • Chocolate.

  • Alcohol.

  • Caffeine (found in coffee and some sodas).

  • Carbonated drinks, such as soda.

If certain foods cause symptoms, you should eat less of them or stop eating them.


  • Keep a journal of the foods that seem to cause distress. Write down:

  • What you are eating during the day and when.

  • What problems you are having after eating.

  • When the symptoms occur in relation to your meals.

  • What foods always make you feel badly.

  • Take your notes with you to your caregiver to see if you should stop eating certain foods.


Fiber reduces IBS symptoms, especially constipation, because it makes stools soft, bulky, and easier to pass. Fiber is found in bran, bread, cereal, beans, fruit, and vegetables. Examples of foods with fiber include:

  • Apples.

  • Peaches.

  • Pears.

  • Berries.

  • Figs.

  • Broccoli, raw.

  • Cabbage.

  • Carrots.

  • Raw peas.

  • Kidney beans.

  • Lima beans.

  • Whole-grain bread.

  • Whole-grain cereal.

Add foods with fiber to your diet a little at a time. This will let your body get used to them. Too much fiber at once might cause gas and swelling of your abdomen. This can trigger symptoms in a person with IBS. Caregivers usually recommend a diet with enough fiber to produce soft, painless bowel movements. High fiber diets may cause gas and bloating. However, these symptoms often go away within a few weeks, as your body adjusts.

In many cases, dietary fiber may lessen IBS symptoms, particularly constipation. However, it may not help pain or diarrhea. High fiber diets keep the colon mildly enlarged (distended) with the added fiber. This may help prevent spasms in the colon. Some forms of fiber also keep water in the stool, thereby preventing hard stools that are difficult to pass.

Besides telling you to eat more foods with fiber, your caregiver may also tell you to get more fiber by taking a fiber pill or drinking water mixed with a special high fiber powder. An example of this is a natural fiber laxative containing psyllium seed.


  • Large meals can cause cramping and diarrhea in people with IBS. If this happens to you, try eating 4 or 5 small meals a day, or try eating less at each of your usual 3 meals. It may also help if your meals are low in fat and high in carbohydrates. Examples of carbohydrates are pasta, rice, whole-grain breads and cereals, fruits, and vegetables.

  • If dairy products cause your symptoms to flare up, you can try eating less of those foods. You might be able to handle yogurt better than other dairy products, because it contains bacteria that helps with digestion. Dairy products are an important source of calcium and other nutrients. If you need to avoid dairy products, be sure to talk with a Registered Dietitian about getting these nutrients through other food sources.

  • Drink enough water and fluids to keep your urine clear or pale yellow. This is important, especially if you have diarrhea.


International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders:

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: