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IBS: The truth behind the myths and the power of diet

Irritable Bowel Syndrome, commonly known as IBS, is a term many of us have come across. But what exactly is it?

The Mayo Clinic describes IBS as an intestinal disorder; however, its exact root causes are tough to pin down. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all test to diagnose it, but certain symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and constipation can be hints you may be battling IBS.

Over the years helping IBS clients in my nutrition practice, I’ve observed an interesting pattern. Some people find relief by tweaking their diet, lifestyle and stress levels, but others might need a combination of medication and therapy. However, the role of diet is important in both cases, and cannot be understated. It’s the key that can unlock a near-normal life for many IBS patients.

Certain foods are common offenders that cause distressing symptoms of IBS. Common triggers include beef, pork, lamb, soybeans, wheat and dairy. Steering clear of these for a while can give your digestive system the break it needs, often alleviating the discomfort they cause.

If you’re grappling with severe symptoms, pinpointing the exact food irritants can be challenging. But here’s the silver lining: Prioritizing your digestive health can pave the way for healing.

Debunking IBS myths

Probiotics are the Magic Bullet for IBS. While probiotics are beneficial, they aren’t a cure-all. Incorporating probiotic-rich foods into your diet can be even more effective. But remember, it’s essential to eliminate foods that nurture harmful bacteria – sugar, for example.

More fiber Equals fewer IBS symptoms. It’s also a common misconception that loading up on fiber can alleviate IBS symptoms. The reality is that digestion begins in the stomach, which breaks food down into molecules that can be absorbed by the body. With IBS, this process can be compromised, which means that piling on hard-to-digest fibers might just add to the stress your gut is already struggling to keep up with. Instead, opt for cooked vegetables over raw ones during flare-ups as they’re gentler and easier to digest.

Steer clear of sugars that trigger inflammation. Inflammation often accompanies IBS, making nutrient absorption challenging. This is a state where sugars can make IBS symptoms even worse as they typically increase inflammation in the body. Watch out for table sugar, fructose, lactose, high-fructose corn syrup and certain sugar substitutes, such as sorbitol, erythritol and xylitol. If you’re looking for a safer alternative, liquid stevia might be your best bet, but be cautious of additives like dextrose in its powdered form. Taming your sweet tooth to reduce sugar intake can be a game-changer when it comes to significantly reducing IBS symptoms.

IBS might seem like a life sentence with its unpredictable flare-ups and discomfort, but there’s hope. A tailored nutrition plan, combined with effective stress management, can lead to prolonged periods without any symptoms. While it’s crucial to start by identifying and eliminating dietary irritants that exacerbate the condition, the broader objective should go beyond just managing symptoms, and focus on the restoration and healing of the digestive system.

With the right approach, living with IBS can become significantly more manageable, allowing for a better quality of life.

Fran Sutherlin, RD, MS is a local registered dietitian, specializing in using digestive wellness to prevent or manage chronic disease. She has a master’s degree in nutrition, is a personal health coach, speaker, and owner of Sustainable Nutrition. Reach her at 444-2122 or fran@fransutherlin.com.