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Dear Dietitian – What diet should I follow for irritable bowel syndrome?

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PICT Leanne McCrate Dear Dietitian
Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC

Dear Dietitian,

I was recently hospitalized overnight for irritable bowel syndrome. The abdominal pain was treated, then I was released the next morning. I was not given any information on what diet I should follow. Can you help?


Dear Julie,

A flare-up of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be very painful, but the good news is it can be well-managed with diet and lifestyle changes. IBS is a common intestinal disorder that affects 25-45 million Americans. It requires a diagnosis by a physician or another qualified clinician. The cause of IBS is unclear; it is usually diagnosed based on symptoms. This condition can cause abdominal pain, gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.

During a flare-up of IBS, avoid foods that are high in fiber – raw fruits and vegetables and whole grains. When the flare subsides, you may slowly add these foods back into your diet. Many research studies point to a high fiber diet to help prevent obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and possibly some types of cancer. It is very important to add these foods to your diet. Most Americans get about half the recommended amount of fiber each day, so if your body is not accustomed to high fiber foods, increase them slowly. Start with 5 grams of fiber each day, increase by 5 grams each week until you reach a goal of 25-35 grams per day. Drink plenty of water and/or noncaffeinated beverages while increasing fiber intake. For a list of foods that are high in fiber, go to

In today’s busy world, sometimes we don’t find enough time to slow down and eat at regular times. As we have routines throughout the day, mealtimes should also be a part of that routine. In this way, food will be moving through your system at regular times. In addition, planned meals tend to be healthier, and you will be less likely to grab fast food on the run, which is often high in fat. 

Stress is a part of everyday life, and it’s important to manage stress when managing IBS. Increasing physical activity, yoga, stretching, breathing exercises, and meditation are all avenues to alleviate pressure brought on by life’s twists and turns.

It’s essential to know what foods your body can digest comfortably when managing IBS. Many people have trouble tolerating sugar alcohols. These are found in some sugar-free products and are commonly known as xylitol, sorbitol, and mannitol, among others. The amount of these artificial sweeteners found in sugar-free gum probably won’t have negative consequences, but avoid large amounts, since they can cause excessive gas and abdominal discomfort.

Finally, while certain foods do not cause IBS, some find that specific foods irritate the condition. Keep a record of these foods so that you remember to avoid them next time. Just carry a pocket-size notebook, and record problem foods as you go about your week.

Until next time, be healthy!

Dear Dietitian

Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC, is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate consumers on sound, scientifically-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her today at Dear Dietitian does not endorse any products, health programs, or diet plans.