Not just an ordinary tummy ache, irritable bowel syndrome can cause serious discomfort. But watching what you eat can minimise the pain.
What is IBS?
IBS is a disorder that affects the gastrointestinal system. The walls of your intestines are lined with muscles that contract and relax as they move food from your stomach through your intestinal tract. For those with IBS, these contractions may be stronger and last longer than normal, causing abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhoea or constipation (or a mixture of both). IBS can occur at any stage of life, although it’s most common in women under the age of 50. We asked Vanessa Clarke, a Durban dietitian and spokesperson for the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA), to get to the belly of the truth.
Indigestion or IBS?
The same symptoms caused by IBS can be experienced for many other reasons, so it’s often hard to diagnose. Think it may be IBS? Your symptoms should occur for at least three days in a month for three months and include changes in your bowel habits. The causes of IBS are not clear, but there are certain factors that can aggravate it.
A matter of lifestyle
Stress and anxiety are notorious IBS triggers, which is why certain treatment measures will factor in managing these. In conjunction with a healthy diet, exercise and rest are important to keep your digestive system functioning well. Consult a dietitian if your symptoms continue, as they can assist you with identifying your triggers through an elimination diet or a Fodmap diet, and ensure you are still receiving all the necessary nutrients.
Probiotics to the rescue!
Research suggests probiotics assist with restoring the natural bacteria found in the digestive system and can help to alleviate some IBS symptoms. When you are choosing a probiotic, find one with a bifidobacterium strain such as B. infantis or B. lactis. If you suffer from constipation, you could also try using golden linseed or psyllium, both of which are good sources of soluble fibre and will help to keep the bowel functioning well.
Read our article on probiotics for more on these fascinating bacteria – plus two gut-friendly recipes!
Eat for your health
Controlling the symptoms of IBS is all about what you put on your plate:
1. Follow a healthy, balanced diet made up of a variety of foods.
2. Eat several small, regular meals throughout the day.
3. Chew thoroughly and eat slowly.
4. Drink plenty of fluids – mainly water – especially if you struggle with constipation. Also, if you are suffering from constipation, eat lots of foods that contain soluble fibre, such as oats, fruit and vegetables.
Common food triggers
• Refined breads and cereals (you’ll love our quick & easy seed bread)
• Spicy, fatty and fried foods (try our raw veggie & cashew stir-fry)
• Gas-forming foods, such as cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and beans
• Chewing gum
• Coffee, fizzy drinks and alcohol (our virgin pink lemonade will quench your thirst just fine this summer)
• Dairy products (dairy-free crème brûlée, coming up!)