The Important Role of Diet in IBS Management

CDHF

Written by: CDHF

Updated: May 9th, 2024

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects millions of Canadians, presenting with symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, and altered bowel habits. While there are four pillars of IBS management, including diet intervention, lifestyle changes, gut-brain signal management, and symptomatic medical treatment, CDHF believes dietary choices represent the first foundational step in managing IBS effectively.

Diet plays a central role in IBS management, as certain foods and dietary patterns can trigger symptoms or exacerbate existing discomfort. For individuals with IBS, adopting a healthy diet is not only about symptom management but also about promoting overall gut health and well-being. We are excited to announce that we have partnered with Fody Foods to support Canadians with IBS.

Read on to understand the importance of adopting a healthy diet and identifying potential triggers if you are living with IBS and looking for relief!

View the Press Release detailing the CDHF x Fody Foods Partnership here.

A healthy diet for IBS typically involves:

Emphasizing Whole Foods

Whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, form the foundation of a balanced diet. These nutrient-rich foods provide essential vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants, supporting digestive health and overall well-being.

Prioritizing Fibre Intake

Fibre is essential for maintaining regular bowel movements and promoting gut health. However, some individuals with IBS may experience worsened symptoms with certain types of fibre, such as insoluble fibre found in bran and certain vegetables. Choosing soluble fibre sources like oats, bananas, and legumes can be gentler on the digestive system.

Since it can be difficult to meet your fibre needs regardless, including more low FODMAP snacks throughout your day may help you meet your needs.

Staying Hydrated

Adequate hydration is crucial for digestive health, as it helps soften stools and support proper bowel function. Individuals with IBS should aim to drink plenty of water throughout the day, particularly when increasing fibre intake, to prevent dehydration and promote regularity.

Identifying and Managing Dietary Triggers for IBS

In addition to adopting a healthy diet, identifying and managing dietary triggers is key to effectively managing IBS symptoms. While triggers can vary among individuals, some common culprits include FODMAPs, gluten or lactose, and specific dietary trigger foods. We break them down below.

FODMAPs

FODMAPs stands for:

Moreover, FODMAPs are fermentable carbohydrates that can trigger symptoms like bloating, gas, and abdominal pain in individuals with IBS. Foods high in FODMAPs include certain fruits (e.g., apples, cherries), vegetables (e.g., onions, garlic), dairy products, and sweeteners (e.g., honey, agave nectar).

The low FODMAP diet is a tool that can help up to 80% of individuals living with IBS to manage their symptoms.

Let’s breakdown the phases.

Low-FODMAP Diet Phases

The three phases that comprise the low FODMAP diet include elimination, reintroduction, and personalization.

Elimination

This is where we temporarily eliminate high FODMAP foods, and replace them for low FODMAP alternatives for 2-6 weeks. Up to 75% of people may find symptom relief, and if that’s the case, we move on to phase two.

Patients often find the elimination portion of the low FODMAP diet overwhelming, as it can seem like there is not a lot you can eat. That’s where your registered dietitian can help.

Further, writing out what you currently eat and modifying it from there is often helpful. Look at this phase as a “swap this for that,” which can include things like:

This is where food companies like our partner Fody Foods comes in! Fody Foods products are Monash-certified Low FODMAP, vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free, and non-GMO verified, ensuring they meet various dietary needs and preferences.

Our personal favourites, the Mild Salsa, Medium Salsa, Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce, and Marinara Pasta Sauce are now CDHF certified for being clinically proven to be low FODMAP. That means when you’re craving your favourite pasta dish, or nacho dip for a get together, you can enjoy them confidently knowing that they are free from those fermentable carbohydrates that may trigger IBS symptoms.

For more fun low FODMAP diet recipes check out Fody’s recipes.

Reintroduction

The goal of this phase is to determine which FODMAP subgroups trigger symptoms and which don’t!

This is where we take 1 FODMAP subgroup at a time (for example lactose OR sorbitol) & test it at varying doses over a 3-day period, while the background diet remains low FODMAP. It’s important to implement a 2-3 day break between testing groups to avoid any overlapping symptoms that may confuse the results 

Once all the subgroups are completed, we have a clear idea of:

Personalization

This is where we use all our data from Phase 2 (Reintroductions) and implement a life-long sustainable diet that increases overall variety, meets nutrition needs, all while keeping symptoms under control. We bring back all the FODMAP subgroups that weren’t triggers. We limit the trigger subgroups only to the dose required to avoid symptoms, and even if you don’t tolerate a subgroup, it’s recommended to re-test it every 6-12 months, as our symptom response can change over time.

Food Sensitivities for IBS

Some individuals may have sensitivities or intolerances to specific foods or food groups, such as gluten or lactose. Identifying and avoiding these trigger foods can help alleviate symptoms and improve overall digestive comfort.

Other Trigger Foods for IBS

Certain foods and beverages, such as spicy foods, caffeine, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners, can irritate the digestive tract and worsen IBS symptoms. Keeping a food diary in CDHF’s myIBS app and paying attention to how different foods affect symptoms can help individuals identify and avoid trigger foods.

It’s important to note that dietary triggers can be highly individualized, and what works for one person may not work for another. Working with a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian can provide personalized guidance and support in identifying and managing dietary triggers.

How Diet Compares to Medication

In a recent randomized controlled trial involving 300 adults diagnosed with moderate to severe IBS, the effectiveness of three treatment approaches was compared. These approaches included implementation of a low FODMAP diet alongside standard IBS dietary advice, the adoption of a low-carbohydrate diet, or the administration of medication targeting specific symptoms.

Over the course of four weeks, all three treatment approaches led to significant and clinically meaningful reductions in symptom severity.  Notably, more desired results were found in the two dietary interventions compared to the medication treatment intervention.

Following the initial trial period, a six-month follow-up phase showed that successful reintroduction of FODMAPs occurred, and participants in both dietary groups sustained improvements in IBS symptoms and reported enhancements in their overall quality of life.

Clearly, incorporating diet intervention into the management of IBS offers individuals a proactive approach to managing symptoms. By adopting a healthy diet rich in whole foods, prioritizing fibre intake, and identifying and managing potential triggers, individuals with IBS can experience improved symptom management and live their lives—their way! 

CDHF and Fody Foods Partner to Support Canadians with IBS

The Canadian Digestive Health Foundation (CDHF) and Fody Foods have partnered to promote digestive wellness through informed dietary choices and support for those on a low FODMAP diet. Canada has one of the highest prevalence rates of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in the world, estimated at 18%, compared to the global average of 11%.  (Lovell et al. 2012) The low FODMAP elimination diet, supported by brands such as Fody Foods, is associated with an improvement in gut symptoms in up to 80% of people with IBS. (Shepherd SJ et al). Our partnership aims to educate Canadians about the pivotal role of diet in managing IBS and aid individuals following a low FODMAP diet.

Fody’s Low FODMAP food products listed below are CDHF and Monash certified for being clinically proven to be low FODMAP.

Learn more about Fody Food Co. and explore their low FODMAP products here.

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