What foods should I eat if I have IBS?


Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a disorder characterized by chronic abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea or constipation.  In the United States, there are 15 billion people suffering from IBS, and this disorder accounts for 25-50% of referrals to gastroenterologists.  When it comes to treating IBS, there is a strong consensus amongst all naturopathic doctors that diet is one of the key components to address.  In this blog, I will share five essential dietary tips in managing IBS.  

Avoid raw foods/salad, whole grains and beans.

Raw foods require more digestive power than foods that are cooked.  People who struggle with IBS tend to have low stomach acid and digestive enzymes production, so these ill-digested foods are left for the bacteria in the gut to ferment and cause problems.  Many healthy foods, like salads, whole grains and beans are rich in fiber.  Fiber is a great thing for the body, but it is also the main food for the bacteria.  If your IBS is due to an overgrowth of bacteria in the gut, meals rich in fiber can make you even more bloated and uncomfortable.

Meat, seafood and eggs are generally well tolerated.  

People with IBS tend to tolerate animal proteins better, because most bacteria don’t digest them. However, I realize it is problematic to ask my vegetarian patients to become carnivores.  Some plant proteins that are better tolerated include tofu, tempeh, split peas, lentils, lima beans and soya beans. Make sure they are well soaked and slow cooked and limit to only ½ cup per meal.

Portion size makes a difference. 

The reason that portion size matters is because there is a difference in how well your body digests certain foods.   If your body doesn’t digest Food A well, that means a majority of Food A will be left for the bacteria to do the digestion for you.  If your body does a good job digesting Food B, a majority of Food B will be processed and absorbed in the beginning part of the small intestine. There will be no food particles for the bacteria to ferment.

Trust your body’s reaction over any list/diet.

Diet, lifestyle, history of antibiotics, steroids or birth control use and genetics all play a part in determining how your immune system responds to foods and what bacteria makes up your microbiome.  Therefore, everyone is unique and will not react the same to foods.  I often tell my patients that the diet I recommend is a general guideline.  From there, you will notice that there are some foods that you can eat just fine even though they are listed under the ‘Avoid’ section.  There will also be foods that are listed as allowed, but you absolutely can’t tolerate even a bit.  This doesn’t mean that the diet is wrong, it just means that it doesn’t fully represent who you are.  You should expand and restrict the diet based on your own reaction.  

Meal spacing can be quite helpful.  

Meal spacing is particularly important for people whose IBS is related to Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO).  Our small intestine performs a cleansing wave every 90 minutes.  The purpose of this cleansing wave is to assist prorogation foods towards the colon and prevent any bacteria in the colon from migrating into the small intestine.  This wave stops every time you eat.  I recommend that you space your meals at least four hours apart.  Also, avoid eating two hours before bedtime and fast overnight for 10-12 hours. 


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