Irritable Bowel Syndrome, better known as IBS, is one of the most common gastrointestinal conditions on the planet. It’s estimated that up to one on five adults will suffer from IBS during their lifetime. However, despite it being so prevalent, much about IBS remains unknown. One of these mysteries includes what causes IBS. Theories include genetic predisposition or lifestyles, but there is no conclusive evidence1.

What the scientific world can agree on is that there is no known ‘cure’ for IBS. For many, it becomes a case of managing symptoms; finding out what behaviours are more likely to trigger IBS symptoms and avoiding them. When examining a digestive disorder such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a key component to look at is the role of diet. Again, this can vary from one person to another; some individuals may find that dietary choices do not appear to influence or exacerbate symptoms, while others may find that a particular food can trigger a flare up.

Can food aggravate IBS symptoms?

People with IBS, who find that food is more likely to exacerbate their symptoms, may be recommended a ‘Low-FODMAP diet’ by a healthcare professional or GP. This diet excludes types of foods that are classified as Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols (FODMAPs). Some people negatively react to the digestion of these foods and may experience an increase in uncomfortable symptoms, such as gas, bloating, abdominal pain, constipation and even diarrhoea2. In general, FODMAP foods can be eaten by most of us without any digestive issues.

What is a low-FODMAP diet?

A low-FODMAP diet is just how it sounds – food intake that avoids or reduces the intake of foods that contain these carbohydrates. However, simply cutting these foods from diet altogether may not be a long term solution for everyone, as many FODMAP foods are rich in different nutrients that the body needs. For example, many fruits and vegetables - and even dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt - are considered FODMAPs, so it's easy to see why they shouldn't just be cut out entirely. These foods are major sources of many macronutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that help to support various body functions.

How should I approach a low-FODMAP diet?

Diet is absolutely essential to maintaining the body’s wellbeing, and balance is key. A significant change, such as moving to a low-FODMAP diet, should be done with the guidance of a dietitian or other qualified nutrition professional. A qualified professional can help to identify which foods don’t affect you and which cause symptoms, suggesting alternatives to those that do. By replacing, not removing, particular food products you are not depriving the body of essential nutrients that it needs. For example, some FODMAP foods, including whole grains oats and many different varieties of fruits and vegetables, contain prebiotic fibre. Also known as ‘prebiotics’, prebiotic fibre is important for long term gut health.

This fibre encourages the growth of ‘good’ gut bacteria, which support the body in many key ways. Plus, the gut microbiome is a finite space – the more ‘good’ bacteria there is in the gut, the less space is available for the potentially ‘bad’ bacteria. When looking to support the gut microbiome, a food-first approach is preferential. However, rather than excluding all types of fibre, dietary advice from a healthcare professional, for IBS sufferers, may include the use of a prebiotic supplement which contains galactooligosaccharides (GOS) which selectively feeds your ‘good’ gut bacteria to help ensure these ‘good’ gut bugs thrive.

Fibre Foods

It’s important to realise that following a low-FODMAP diet is not the long-term solution for all IBS sufferers. While in some individuals, it may help to reduce symptoms, it is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution and needs to be carefully planned and balanced to ensure important nutrients are not left out and should always be followed under guidance of a healthcare professional.

Click here to discover more about gut health and the role of gut bacteria.

Please note that this blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice and should not be considered a replacement for a qualified healthcare professional. As with all gastrointestinal concerns, a GP should always be the first port of call.

This post was originally produced on 12th October 2018, but has now been republished with more current information.

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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), better known and abbreviated as IBS, is a common gastro-intestinal condition that affects about 10-15% of people in the developed world. There is a large variation across countries and regions and it is more common in women than in men.

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