IBS Flare-Ups: Causes and Treatment

Nicole Carlson, RD, LD

People often assume the digestive issues they experience ranging from constipation to bloating regularly is normal. Although some fluctuations in our digestive health can happen, pain and discomfort are never normal, and diet modifications can often help. Gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation, cramping or gas may indicate IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). According to the American College of Gastroenterology 5% of the US population has IBS. Currently there is not a well defined cause of IBS. Factors including food sensitivities and intolerances, genetics and intestinal bacteria content and variety may cause IBS symptoms. 

Triggers of IBS 

Two main triggers of IBS:

  • Stress: There truly is a ‘brain-gut connection’ in our body since there are nerves connecting our colon to the brain. When you are feeling stressed out this can cause spasms in your intestines, potentially causing pain or other GI symptoms. 
  • Diet: What we eat plays a huge role in digestive health. With IBS you may feel more uncomfortable with certain types of foods, quantity or timing of meals. Certain foods may help your digestive health while others may have negative impacts. 

Diet-Focused Solutions

The first step to take to assess whether you might be experiencing IBS symptoms is to talk with your doctor. If you receive an IBS diagnosis they likely will suggest you work with a Registered Dietitian to help you find a diet suitable for managing symptoms. 

Over the past 20 years a more formal diet has been prescribed for those with IBS called a low-FODMAP (fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols) diet. These are types of carbohydrates that are naturally found in our foods but may cause issues when digesting in individuals with IBS. A low-FODMAP diet is considered an elimination diet. This requires omitting certain groups of foods, assessing symptoms and then slowly reintroducing foods to identify any triggers. Working with a registered dietitian to accomplish this is vital. The process can be tedious since the elimination phase is 2-6 weeks, however this is usually the best practice to get relief from diet modifications. Not all foods high in FODMAPs will impact everyone the same way, so it is important to pinpoint the problem areas to avoid missing out on essential nutrients from foods without cause. 

Top foods to avoid with IBS following a Low-FODMAP Diet

  • Dairy (soft cheeses, cow, goat or sheep milk, ice cream, yogurt)
  • Gluten (barley, rye, wheat)
  • Certain vegetables: garlic, onion, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, beets, asparagus
  • Certain fruits: apple, blackberries, peach, watermelon, dried fruit, cherries
  • Many legumes: black beans, kidney beans, navy beans
  • Soy based products
  • Sweeteners (agave syrup, molasses, sorbitol)

Foods to Include with IBS following a Low-FODMAP Diet

  • Plenty of fluids
  • Grains other than wheat high in fiber (corn flour, oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice)
  • Certain vegetables: peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, arugula, green beans
  • Certain fruits: clementines, honeydew, kiwi, raspberries, strawberries

Other Nutrition Tips for IBS

  • Keep a consistent schedule while eating, focusing on small balanced meals. 
  • Hydration is important (water, not caffeinated beverages or alcohol-they can stimulate intestines and cause digestive issues)
  • Add a small amount of fiber at a time to keep you regular but not overwhelm your digestive system. Good sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Keep a log of food intakes with symptoms and patterns.  For example, if you always have milk in your coffee and often have a stomach ache shortly after, it is likely you have a lactose intolerance. 
  • Meet with a registered dietitian for more personalized advice specific to your needs. 


Meet with an IBS Dietitian 

Working with a Foodsmart Registered Dietitian can navigating this condition easier. Registered dietitians are clinically trained to treat medical conditions with nutrition. Your dietitian can help guide you on food choices, product recommendations, recipes and meal plans, as well as methods to heal your digestive system and calm any gut health implications.  Book your appointment today and find yourself a step closer to digestive peace, better nutrition, and a healthier you!

Foodsmart offers one-on-one nutrition counseling with a registered dietitian, with nutrition programs such as our IBS Nutrition Program. This program is designed to help you manage Irritable Bowel Syndrome treatment or IBS treatment and will be customized specifically to you. 




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