Knowing what to eat with an IBS attack can be difficult, burdensome and inconvenient whilst going about your daily life. That is why having an understanding about what you can eat with an IBS attack is essential to improve your symptoms and quality of life.
In this article, I will discuss what you should eat to manage an IBS attack so that you are not making the situation worse.
What is an IBS attack?
An IBS attack also known as an ‘IBS flare up’ occurs when you experience a heightened response in your gut to your IBS symptoms. The range of symptoms that you may experience include (1).
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Excess gas
- Mucus in the stool
- Urgency to use the toilet
The types of symptoms experienced and their frequency can vary from person to person and change over time. Generally, the duration of your IBS symptoms varies depending on the causes of your IBS attack.
Should you eat vegetables with an IBS attack?
You may feel like you need to avoid eating vegetables to prevent or manage an IBS attack due to their fibre content as high intakes of dietary fibre have been previously associated with the development of IBS symptoms (1).
However, it has now been shown that dietary fibre is actually good for IBS as it bulks your stools and decreases your intestinal transit time to prevent diarrhoea and it also helps to regulate your bowels for constipation (7).
It is advised to stick with fibre that is non-fermentable to reduce your symptoms of IBS (8). Therefore, it is important to consider how fermentable the dietary fibre within vegetables are based on their FODMAP content in order to identify which vegetables you can tolerate and in what amounts.
Overall, eating a diverse range of vegetables that you can tolerate with IBS is essential to ensure you meet the recommended 30g/day of dietary fibre for your gut and long-term health (7).
Using the low FODMAP diet when you have an IBS attack
The low FODMAP diet is traditionally used as a way of diagnosing food intolerances.
During an IBS flare up you may want to avoid any foods which are high in FODMAPs as they add more gas and fluid to your large bowel. So, if you are already having a flare up of symptoms this will only worsen the situation.
Even if you usually tolerate certain FODMAPs it is wise to avoid them whilst in a flare up.
Should you skip meals with an IBS attack?
You may feel like you need to avoid food or skip a meal during an IBS attack to prevent or reduce your symptoms. However, having a regular meal pattern is recommended as first line dietary advice for the dietary management of IBS as skipping meals may worsen your symptoms of IBS (4).
See the previous post on ‘Intermittent fasting and IBS’ to understand more.
Avoid foods which are high in fat or chilli
In some people chilli can be a gut irritant so it is probably wise that you avoid this until your gut settles down. Instead, use herbs and other spices to flavour your food.
Foods that are high in fat may cause symptoms of stomach pain to worsen. Fatty foods can also trigger the gastro-colic reflex which will send you running to the toilet.
If you are having loose stools during your IBS attack then you will be losing more fluid and need to increase your intake of water.
Equally, if you are constipated you will need to drink adequate amounts to help lubricate your stools.
Limit alcohol intake
Alcohol has a negative impact on the digestive symptom even for people who do not have IBS so you will need to avoid this entirely during a flare up.
You can read more about the relationship between alcohol and IBS here.
Avoid caffeine during an IBS flare up
Caffeine is an active ingredient in many foods and drinks you may consume such as coffee, tea and chocolate. Caffeine is a drug and has a stimulant affect on the gut which may worsen any symptoms of pain and loose stools.
You can read more about coffee and IBS here.
The causes of an IBS attack as well as the type, duration and frequency of symptoms experienced can differ from person to person.
Excluding or avoiding all vegetables due to their fibre content as well as skipping meals is not recommended when experiencing an IBS attack. What is more important is to identify which vegetables you can tolerate and in what amounts depending on their FODMAP content.
There are various supplements and medications that can be taken alongside the dietary management strategies for IBS in the event of an IBS attack to help relieve your symptoms.
Post written by Emily Stynes BSc. in Human Nutrition and reviewed by Kirsten Jackson