Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) has a variety of symptoms, most commonly cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. Symptoms can vary from person to person, and may alternate between diarrhea and constipation. IBS causes discomfort and often is upsetting, but it does not harm the intestines or lead to diseases such as cancer.

Foods to avoid with IBS

Changing your diet might help improve your IBS symptoms. Having a well-balanced diet, eating regular meals, and drinking plenty of fluids are important in order to keep your digestive system moving.

Foods that might cause problems vary from person to person, but some foods might make your IBS worse.

You might find it helpful to avoid foods that cause gas or flatulence, including:

Whole milk

Whole-milk cheeses

Fatty desserts

Brussels sprouts



Fatty meats




In some people, sweeteners, such as fructose or sorbitol, or use of alcohol or caffeine can make IBS symptoms worse.

Tolerance to specific foods is very individualized.

Keeping a food diary can help you decide if any specific foods are causing symptoms.

You do not need to completely avoid certain foods or groups of foods, unless you are able to link them with your IBS symptoms.

A registered dietitian nutritionist can review your food diary and help you identify foods that might make your symptoms worse.

Foods that can help IBS

Certain foods can possibly help those suffering from IBS. A diet high in fiber seems to help with IBS symptoms. Experts recommend 25–35 grams of fiber/day depending on your age. See our Fiber handout under the Nutrition tab for additional recommendations.

Good sources of fiber include:

  • Most fruits and vegetables (remember you might need to avoid the vegetables listed under Foods to avoid)

  • Dried beans, such as pinto beans and black-eyed peas

  • Whole-grain breads and cereals

Other treatments

If you feel stressed frequently and have IBS, stress management may help your symptoms.

Examples of stress management include:

Relaxation training and therapy

Counseling and support

Regular exercise

Adequate sleep

Removing stressful situations

References and recommended readings

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Nutrition Care Manual®. Available to subscribers at: Accessed October 22, 2012.

Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (spastic colon). Available at: October 22, 2012.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Oral probiotics: an introduction. Available at: Accessed October 22, 2012.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). Irritable bowel syndrome. Available at: Accessed October 22, 2012.

University of Michigan Health System. Low FODMAPS Diet Introduction. Available at: Accessed October 22, 2012.