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Is Your Diet Hurting Your Stomach?

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Nearly everyone gets a stomach ache every now and then. For most people, an upset stomach takes the form of a short-lived wave of pain that disappears just as quickly as it came. But for others, stomach pain is characterized by much more severe symptoms, including intense nausea, painful cramps and constant bloating, which can interfere with their ability to live freely and without worry.   

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common disorders of the digestive tract that affects between 10 and 20 percent of Americans. Though the cure is currently unknown, there are certain steps you can take to prevent and/or reduce symptoms related to the syndrome – and it starts with the food you eat.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Diet

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a collection of symptoms such as cramping, abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating and constipation for a period of at least three months. IBS is most commonly diagnosed in women, people younger than 50 years old and those with a family history of the syndrome. While there is no one-size-fits-all treatment plan for managing IBS, making important dietary changes can be one of the easiest and most effective methods for symptom prevention and relief.

Keep a Food Log

If you have been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, different things can trigger your symptoms, including stress, irregular mealtimes, and in many cases, certain foods. Many doctors will recommend patients suffering from IBS keep a daily food diary to identify personal trigger foods. Keep a running log of when and what you eat, noting any symptoms you may experience after mealtime.

Eliminate IBS Trigger Foods

After a while, you may begin to notice patterns in your food diary, including certain foods that cause symptoms more than others.  The best thing you can do to control IBS is to try to limit or eliminate all trigger foods that make diarrhea, gas and bloating worse. Common trigger foods include the following, and should be avoided when possible:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Carbonated (fizzy) drinks
  • Milk products
  • Foods high in sugar
  • Fatty foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Gas-producing foods, such as beans, cabbage and broccoli
  • Sorbitol and xylitol (artificial sweeteners found in sugarless gum, sugarless candy and diet soda)

Modify Your Diet

Knowing what to eat can be just as important as knowing what not to eat when living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. With the approval of your doctor, consider incorporating the following into your diet to help to manage your symptoms:

  • Fiber (25 grams daily for women and 38 grams daily for men)
  • Water (six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day)
  • Berries and citrus fruit  (small servings)
  • Corn products
  • Lean meats, fish and poultry
  • Salad vegetables
  • Plant-based oils

Change Your Eating Habits

IBS sufferers may be tempted to skip meals, believing that it will help to reduce symptoms. However, skipping meals won’t help you meet your ultimate goal of regularity. To prevent cramping and indigestion, simply avoid eating large meals, instead opting for four to five small meals per day (or, eat smaller portions of food at mealtime). Remind yourself to chew slowly – chewing about 30 to 50 times per bite and drinking water in between bites – to give your body a chance to properly digest the food.

Talk to Your Doctor if Symptoms Persist

Though Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be painful and uncomfortable at times, it doesn’t typically cause any long-term damage to a person’s gastrointestinal tract. However, IBS symptoms can happen in conjunction with other “red flag” symptoms. Before making a self-diagnosis of IBS, especially if you have additional symptoms of blood in the stool or anemia, unexplained weight loss or significant abdominal pain, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider who may recommend an appointment with a gastroenterologist, a doctor who is specialized in treating digestive system problems, to rule out any other diseases that could be more serious.

Having IBS can be challenging, but with the right balance of diet and exercise, as well as the ongoing support and care of your gastroenterology team, it can be managed. Take charge of your health today, so you can live healthier and happier tomorrow – finally free of stomach pain!