Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that affects your large intestine. Symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea and even cramping. IBS can affect your quality of life, and symptoms can be exasperated by stress, illness and eating styles. Here are our seven top tips to beat the discomfort and manage your symptoms:
1. Find your trigger
Keep a record to track or log your food intake and symptoms. This will help you to pinpoint which foods are the real culprits. Once you have identified the offending foods, remove them from your diet for a few weeks and then slowly introduce them back to assess your tolerance levels. Bear in mind that the concern with cutting foods from your diet in a random fashion is that you risk having an unbalanced diet, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies (especially fibre), which can eventually worsen your symptoms.
2. Consider a low FODMAP diet
The term FODMAP is an acronym for "Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols". They are a group of carbohydrates that are not well digested by some people, which can worsen IBS symptoms. The low FODMAP diet should always be controlled by a registered dietitian to ensure that you get adequate nutrition despite the many food restrictions on this diet.
Long-term restriction of FODMAPs is not recommended. Reintroduction of single foods is recommended after six to eight weeks to assess individual tolerance. This is to promote variety and reduce the risk of nutrient inadequacies.
3. Create good eating habits to improve digestion
- Eat three regular meals a day and do not skip meals.
- Eat slowly and mindfully in a relaxed manner (preferably at a table) and avoid gobbling down food on the run.
- Do not overeat at mealtimes and avoid second portions.
- Eat slowly and chew your food well.
- Avoid carbonated beverages.
- Don’t drink through a straw.
- Avoid chewing gum as this will cause you to swallow air.
4. Trial a probiotic
Some strains of bacteria that live in our gut called probiotics may provide relief for your IBS symptoms. These bacteria are called Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 and Lactobacillus rhamnosus strains (GG and Lc705).
It is recommended to increase the number of bacteria by taking a supplement. The products that contain these strains are LP299V and Vivomixx.
Remember that the "good" bacteria in your gut feed off fibre, so while taking a probiotic might help, ensuring an adequate intake of fibre is vital as these bacteria produce substances we called short-chain fatty acids that facilitate good gut movement. Soft or soluble fibres (such as rolled oats, oat bran, butternut, pumpkin, gem squash, papaya, banana and sweet potato, or additional peeled fruits and vegetables) are usually better tolerated at the start, with a gradual progression to a higher fibre diet.
5. Choose water as a drink
Choose water as your main source of fluid. Not only does water hydrate you, but it also replaces lost fluids (especially if you have diarrhoea) or contributes to a desirable stool consistency (if you have constipation). The general recommendation for fluid intake is six to eight 250ml glasses (or one to two litres) per day. But bear in mind that this is a general recommendation, which is influenced by your water losses, the environmental temperature, your size and even your gender.
6. Curb your stress
Stress can have a profound effect on IBS symptoms, but telling you to "simply stop stressing" while there are so many factors that cause stress in your everyday life is futile. Aim to manage your stress as best you can. A good strategy to do this is through exercise or various relaxation techniques (like meditation, yoga, prayer or even reading a book).
7. Practise it
Making dietary changes is difficult and the abundance of information available on the Internet can be overwhelming. Your registered dietitian is the right person to help you figure the trigger in a responsible and balanced manner, trial appropriate low FODMAP foods, suggest realistic behavioural changes with practical solutions, and recommend an appropriate probiotic and fluid level for you.
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