Foods that are ‘good for your gut’ aren’t always good for IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) sufferers – in fact, they can actually aggravate symptoms!
One of the things I’m keen to do is separate the conversation around gut health for those with a condition – and those without. With this in mind, here’s my top tips on those ‘gut healthy foods’ and how they need to be adjusted for someone with IBS.
Fibre helps us poo – but for people with IBS, eating more isn’t always helpful, as it can aggravate loose stools, bloating and pain. Your tolerance will depend on your IBS type
If you have IBS-C (constipation), upping some types of fibre intake can help. Try oats for breakfast, snack on fruits (bananas, berries, kiwi, oranges and pineapple are IBS-friendly) or supplement with linseeds (start with a teaspoon, and gradually increase up to a maximum of 2 tbsp. per day). If you are increasing your fibre intake, do so slowly over the space of a few weeks and make sure you drink plenty of water – without water, fibre can’t do its job.
If, on the other hand, diarrhoea is the issue, reducing your fibre intake can help – choose lower fibre cereals (this might mean switching to white pasta and rice), reducing fibre from beans and raw veggies, and avoiding skins, pips, and peels.
Pulses (think hummus, beans, peas, lentils and some other veggies like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and onions) tend to produce lots of gas, which can cause bloating and pain for people with IBS. Have smaller portions of these veggies, or swap for less windy alternatives like spinach, kale, carrots and Mediterranean veg like tomatoes, aubergines and courgettes.
The evidence for probiotics and IBS is mixed, but some studies have shown there is a significant benefit in symptom severity in IBS patients using a probiotic compared to a placebo (a ‘dummy’ treatment). Look for a probiotic which matches the benefit you want to get. So, you’ll want to look for a probiotic which contains a strain or strains scientifically proven to help with IBS, or your specific symptom profile e.g. bloating, or constipation.
Take your probiotic for at least four weeks to see if it has any effect on symptoms. If you haven’t seen any benefit by then, chances are that you won’t. Instead, you can choose to try a different strain, or a combination of strains.
Some probiotic supplements contain additives or other ingredients like chicory, inulin or fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) which can aggravate gas and bloating in IBS-sensitive tummies – check the label and avoid these ingredients if you struggle with bloating.
We are still learning how fermented foods affect the gut, but some scientists think that consuming fermented foods may positively influence the levels of helpful bacteria in the gut.
However, it is very early days – there is extremely limited research into how fermented foods affect gut health – and even less for IBS-specific populations. In addition, some fermented foods are rich in FODMAPs – groups of short chain sugars which can be a trigger for gas and bloating.
If you have IBS and you want to try out fermented foods, it’s best to test them out individually and in very small amounts so you can work out your tolerance. Grabbing a big jar of sauerkraut and a fork to chow down is likely going to make your IBS-sensitive tummy worse, not better!
If you want to learn around managing IBS, head to happygutguide.co.uk to learn about my 12 week programme which involves meals, mindset and movement!