Nutrition Tips for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is when you have unexplained abdominal pain, often with severe
bloating, gas, and frequent diarrhea and/or constipation. Symptoms can appear all of a sudden or even
up to 3 hours after a meal. Symptoms may be relieved briefly after a bowel movement. While its cause
is unknown, IBS does not lead to permanent damage of the intestines. Changing diet can reduce
symptoms of IBS.
1. Increase soluble fiber. Soluble fiber stays in your gut longer, which may help with digestion.
Food sources of soluble fiber are: dried or canned beans, oats, barley, fruits and vegetables, and
brown rice. Fiber supplements may help. Start with 1 serving of methylcellulose (like
CitrucelTM) or psyllium (like MetamucilTM) per day, and slowly increase dose to get desired
2. Avoid or limit “non-dietary” fibers (inulin, chicory root). These are often added to wheat or
bran cereals and fiber fortified foods (granola bars, yogurt). These fibers may increase
3. Try peppermint oil. Taking 90 mg of enteric-coated peppermint capsules up to three times
daily may help reduce symptoms. These relax the muscles of intestinal tract. IBgard® and
Mason® are some reliable brands of peppermint oil. They are sold at pharmacies.
4. Drink plenty of fluids each day. Aim for eight or more cups of water, on top of other liquids
daily. Healthy intestines need plenty of water to work well and extra water is needed when fiber
is increased. Be sure you urinate at least two times in an eight-hour period.
5. Eat small meals more often. Try to spread out your food throughout the day by eating several
smaller meals, rather than 2 or 3 large meals.
6. Ask a registered dietitian about a low FODMAPs diet. This diet limits some sugars and
starches that can be hard to digest and can cause irritable bowel symptoms. Here are some tips
to get started:
ξ Reduce lactose (milk sugar). Try drinking less cows’ milk or switch to lactose free milk.
Yogurt, though, may help restore the natural bacteria of the GI tract especially if you have
just used antibiotics or used them often in the past.
ξ Reduce fructose in all forms. Avoid high fructose foods. These include fruit juice, honey,
soda, apples, applesauce, cherries, dates, mango, pears, prunes and watermelon. Low fructose
fruits that you may tolerate better include banana, blueberries, cantaloupe, grapes, grapefruit,
oranges, pineapple, raspberries and strawberries (limit to ½ cup at one time).
ξ Be careful of sweeteners. Sorbitol and other sugar alcohols (ingredients ending in –ol) are
artificial sweeteners often used in “sugar-free” foods, chewing gum and some prescription
medicines. Several servings of foods with this sweetener may worsen IBS symptoms and
7. Think about taking a probiotic supplement. These supplements contain living, helpful
bacteria that may decrease bloating or diarrhea for some people. Some studies have shown the
benefit of the probiotics B. infantis 35624 (Align®) and VSL#3. Talk about the use of probiotics
with your dietitian and doctor.
8. Limit fatty foods. High fat intake can cause the colon to spasm in some people.
9. Reduce coffee, with or without caffeine. Coffee can increase intestinal spasms and diarrhea for
10. Avoid or limit alcohol. Alcohol may also cause your symptoms.
11. Think about your spices. Try to reduce certain spices such as hot sauce, spicy barbecue sauce,
hot chili peppers, garlic, and curry. Small amounts may be okay. Keep a food diary. It can help
you figure out if a certain spice or seasoning is causing symptoms.
12. Avoid or limit foods that cause problems for you. Each person is unique. You may not
tolerate carbonated drinks or certain fruits and vegetables. Sometimes it is the amount of food
that is the problem and choosing smaller portions may help.
13. Relax while you are eating. Take time to chew foods well and to sip drinks slowly. Avoid
washing food down with liquids. Gas can result when foods are poorly chewed and digested so
slowly that bacteria in the intestine begin to ferment.
14. Make time for stress-management and exercise on a regular basis. IBS symptoms often get
worse during periods of stress. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress. At least 30 minutes of
moderate exercise 3 or 4 times per week has been shown to reduce IBS symptoms in some
people. (Exercise is stimulates the intestines, so plan to exercise at the time of day that you tend
not to have symptoms.)
More information is available through:
National Digestive Disease Information
Clearing House -NIH
2 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892
International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders
PO Box 17864
Milwaukee, WI 53217
The Cleveland Clinic Foundation
Department of Gastroenterology
9500 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44195
1-800-223-2273 ex. 48950
The American Gastroenterological Association
7910 Woodmont Avenue, 7th floor
Bethesda, MD 20814
Reference: American College of Gastroenterology Monograph on the Management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Chronic
Idiopathic Constipation, Aug. 2014
What is the most important thing you learned from this handout?
What changes will you make in your diet/lifestyle, based on what you learned today?
If you are a UW Health patient and have more questions, please contact UW Health at one of the
phone numbers listed below. You can also visit our website at www.uwhealth.org/nutrition.
Nutrition clinics for UW Hospital and Clinics (UWHC) and American Family Children’s Hospital
(AFCH) can be reached: (608) 890-5500. Nutrition clinics for UW Medical Foundation (UWMF)
can be reached at: (608) 287-2770.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you have any
questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This is not medical
advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each person’s health needs are
different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using this information. If you have an
emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 11/2016 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved.
Produced by the Clinical Nutrition Services Department and the Department of Nursing. HF#390