What To Eat on an IBS Diet: 14 Menu and Snack Ideas

Good Food for Fewer Symptoms

If you’ve been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, you may be worried that it is considered a chronic, lifelong condition. No one wants to struggle with abdominal pain, bloating, cramping, and emergency bathroom visits for the rest of their lives. However, there’s no need to despair. With the right information and treatments, you can enjoy an excellent quality of life, free of flare-ups, fatigue, and pain.

One of the most important treatments for managing IBS is diet. While dietary change can be challenging, I hear IBS patients say it’s worth the effort.

Here are some real-world food guidelines, recipe ideas, and tips to help get you started on an IBS diet.

ibs diet: woman preparing vegetable salad in the kitchen

Which Diet Is Best for Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

If you’re not already eating a healthy, whole foods diet, this can be an important place to start. A diet high in processed foods, sugars, alcohol, and poor quality fats can aggravate IBS symptoms [1 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

The most important basics for an IBS diet are to choose fresh, whole, unprocessed foods, and reduce alcohol and caffeine intake. The Paleo Diet is anti-inflammatory and can be a good next step for improving your gut health.

For patients who want to take additional steps in managing their symptoms through diet, I recommend a low FODMAP diet. This diet was developed specifically to help patients with gut conditions. It works by reducing foods that can feed bacterial overgrowth.

There’s a significant amount of high-quality research showing that a low FODMAP diet helps IBS patients reduce their digestive symptoms and increase their quality of life [2 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 3, 4 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 5 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 6 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 7 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 8 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 9 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 10 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. The low FODMAP diet has also been shown to improve diarrhea and normalize bowel function [11 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 12 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 13 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 14 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. One study found the low FODMAP approach works better than standard dietary advice [15 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

The low FODMAP diet has also been shown to reduce abdominal pain for IBS patients [16 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source] and to reduce pain levels for fibromyalgia patients [17 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. Research has found a strong association between IBS and fibromyalgia — one study involving fibromyalgia patients found that 48% of them also had IBS [18 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Foods To Eat and Foods To Avoid on an IBS Diet

FODMAP is an acronym for fermentable oligosaccharides disaccharides monosaccharides and polyols. Essentially, these are fermentable carbohydrates that can cause your IBS symptoms to flare up.

The low FODMAP diet is an elimination diet intended to help you identify your personal trigger foods. In the elimination phase of the diet, you will replace high FODMAP foods with lower FODMAP choices. After 2-3 weeks of elimination, you can slowly reintroduce foods, one at a time, while observing your reactions.

TypeLow FODMAP FoodsHigh FODMAP Foods
VeggiesZucchini, green beans, bok choy, red bell pepper, eggplant, carrot, lettuce, potato, tomatoCauliflower, artichokes, asparagus, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, green bell pepper
FruitsBlueberries, kiwi, banana, grape, lemon, lime, orange, cantaloupeBlackberry, apricot, mango, apple, avocado, pear, peach, nectarines, plums, watermelon
LegumesxLentils, beans, chickpeas, peas
Nuts and SeedsMacadamia nuts, almonds (<10), peanuts, pecans, walnuts (<10)Cashews, pistachios, almonds (>10)
Dairy ProductsFeta cheese, lactose-free milk or cheese, almond milkBrie, ice cream, yogurt
GrainsWhite rice, quinoa, milletWheat and rye
Natural and Artificial SweetenersGlucoseFructose, high fructose corn syrup, mannitol, xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol, agave,
Prebiotics & AdditivesxGalactooligosaccharides (GOS), isomalt, inulin, fructooligosaccharides (FOS)

For more detailed FODMAP food lists based on laboratory food testing, see this health information from Monash University.

Gluten on an IBS Diet

ibs diet: wheat product in a table

Gluten is the protein in wheat that triggers symptoms for patients with celiac disease. Wheat is restricted on the low FODMAP diet, but not because of it’s gluten content.

Wheat is high in fructans, which is a fermentable carbohydrate that can cause IBS symptoms. Research suggests that, for some patients with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, digestive symptoms such as bloating, flatulence, and abdominal pain may be triggered by the fructans content in wheat rather than gluten [19].

Some gluten-free products may be appropriate for a low FODMAP diet because they are made with low FODMAP grains such as rice or corn. However, you can’t assume that gluten-free foods are low in FODMAPS, so it’s important to check ingredient labels.

Fiber on an IBS Diet

Soluble fiber supplements like psyllium or Metamucil can be very helpful for IBS patients with constipation [20 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. Research shows that soluble fiber can even improve global IBS symptoms [21 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 22 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 23 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. However, IBS patients need to use fiber supplements with caution. For some IBS patients, fiber triggers bloating, gas, and abdominal pain [24 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

If you want to try a fiber supplement, start at a very low dose that you slowly increase. But if you experience negative side effects, discontinue using the fiber supplement. You can try the same process again once your gut health has improved.

A Low FODMAP Menu Plan

When you start a low FODMAP diet, sticking to a very simple menu plan will increase your chances of a successful transition. You can always try out new recipes once you feel more comfortable with your dietary changes.

Make-Ahead Foods

Here is an example of a simple, low FODMAP menu plan based on a few make-ahead foods. The idea is to have easy-to-prepare and delicious meal options cooked and ready to go in your fridge.

Oven-Roasted Root Vegetables

ibs diet: Homemade Roasted Root Vegetables in a plate
  • Choose low-FODMAP root vegetables such as potato, yam, carrots, turnips, and/or parsnips.
  • Cut into 1-inch chunks, and arrange a shallow layer in a large roasting pan.
  • Toss in olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and your favorite herbs. Try rosemary for an earthy, Mediterranean flavor.
  • Roast at 400 degrees. Give the veggies a stir after 25 minutes. Check with a fork at 45 minutes. Allow 45-60 minutes for cooking time.

Low FODMAP Minestrone Soup

ibs diet: Italian minestrone soup in a bowl
  • Chop carrots, potato, zucchini, green beans, and green onion (green parts only) into bite-sized chunks. Aim for about 4 cups of chopped vegetables.
  • Cook carrots and potatoes in 2 cups of water or chicken broth for 15 minutes. Add zucchini, green beans, and green onion. Steam with carrots and potatoes for an additional 5 minutes.
  • Season with salt, pepper, oregano, and thyme to taste.
  • Add 1 small can of diced tomatoes and the juice of 1/2 a lemon.
  • Add a handful of low FODMAP rice or corn pasta. You may need to add more water or broth. Cook until the pasta is tender.

Simple Roast Chicken

baked chicken on table
  • Drench a chicken in lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
  • Oven-roast at 350 degrees for 20 minutes per pound plus 15 minutes. Or pressure cook in an Instant Pot for 8 minutes per pound.
  • If you want more browning, place chicken under your oven broiler for 5 minutes.

Steamed White Rice

  • Steam a pot of white rice to have on hand as a FODMAP-friendly side dish or ingredient.
  • If you use instant rice products, check the label for high-FODMAP ingredients.

Breakfast

  • Scrambled eggs with green onion and bell pepper
  • Oven-roasted root vegetables (see above instructions)

Lunch

  • Low FODMAP minestrone soup
  • Green salad with tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, and chicken

Dinner

  • Roast chicken, oven-roasted root vegetables, and steamed green beans, OR
  • Chicken fried rice (check online for a recipe)

Dessert

  • Low FODMAP fruit: Blueberries, oranges, bananas
  • Low FODMAP rice pudding (check online for a recipe)

Snack Foods

  • Air-popped popcorn
  • Low FODMAP veggie sticks made from carrots, bell peppers, and cucumber

This simple meal-planning template can be repeated using different make-ahead ingredients. Instead of roast chicken, you can cook roast beef or salmon. Or, try different variations of roasted root vegetables. Stick to the same soup recipe, or try another simple recipe, such as low FODMAP carrot-ginger soup.

Shopping for Low FODMAP Food Products

Low FODMAP food products are becoming more available in grocery stores. Garlic-infused cooking oils and lactose-free ice cream can be a real treat if you are on a restricted diet.

At the same time, be careful not to depend too much on packaged food products. Fresh, whole foods should always make up the bulk of a healthy diet.

Dining Out on an IBS Diet

Dining out can be tricky on an elimination diet. However, there are still good options for a restaurant meal. For low FODMAP choices, try:

  • A steakhouse for grilled meats, potatoes, and veggies. Stay away from sauces and marinades.
  • A Thai, Chinese, or Japanese restaurant for rice-based dishes. Soy sauce does contain a tiny bit of wheat but is not a problem for a low FODMAP diet.
  • Gluten-free options may also be low in FODMAPs.
  • Salads (ask for oil and vinegar dressing).

Most restaurants have online menus, and some even provide detailed ingredient lists. Sticking to a few favorite restaurants with good menu options is a good strategy for dining out without stress.

Keep in mind that it’s not necessary to follow the diet completely, 100% of the time. If low FODMAP menu options are limited, make the best choices possible and don’t sweat every detail of the diet.

Tips for an IBS Diet

woman taking kitchenware and food from the shelves

Since following an IBS diet can feel restrictive, I put together a list of tips to keep in mind as you plan your meals:

1. Be prepared. Pick a simple meal plan based on a small number of ingredients. Make a food list, and stock your pantry with ingredients you will need. It’s a good idea to remove tempting, high FODMAPs foods. Batch cook your staple low FODMAP meals and freeze daily portion sizes.

2. Try the diet for 2-3 weeks. If the low FODMAP approach works for you, you should experience a reduction in symptoms within 2-3 weeks. Stick to the guidelines fairly closely during the trial period, but don’t worry about doing it perfectly. Following any diet too rigorously can lead to stress that may contribute to IBS flare ups.

3. Don’t stay on any diet if it’s not working. If you don’t notice any benefit after a few weeks, FODMAPS may not be a problem for you. Consider a different dietary approach like a Paleo diet.

4. Reintroduce foods slowly and one at a time. Start by reintroducing the food you miss the most. Monitor your symptoms for two days after the reintroduction. If you don’t react, you can follow with another reintroduction. If your symptoms flare up after a food reintroduction, wait until your symptoms are under control before you introduce another food.

5. The purpose of an elimination diet is to reduce your symptoms and identify your trigger foods. Most IBS patients don’t need to restrict all FODMAP foods permanently. As you reintroduce foods, you may find that you tolerate some foods well. The long-term goal is to expand your diet as much as possible while continuing to manage your symptoms.

Other Ways To Help IBS

A low FODMAP diet can help calm a touchy digestive system. Ultimately, a combination of IBS treatments may provide you with the most relief. Take a step-by-step approach when trying out new treatments, and monitor your symptoms. Over time, you can develop an effective, personalized treatment plan for IBS.

Here are some other treatment options you may wish to try.

Probiotics

High-quality research shows that probiotics improve IBS symptoms, including bloating, abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea, and constipation [25 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 26 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 27 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 28 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 29 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Probiotics may also improve non-digestive symptoms that are common for IBS patients, including fatigue [30 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 31 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], joint or body pain [32 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 33 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 34 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], and brain fog [35 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 36 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source].

Stress Reduction

Stress is a common trigger for IBS symptoms, and preliminary research suggests that stress reduction techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy [37 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 38 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], hypnotherapy [39 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 40 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], and meditation [41 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], can be helpful for IBS patients.

Treatment of Gut Dysbiosis

Gut dysbiosis is an imbalance in your normal gut flora. IBS symptoms have been shown to correlate with dysbiosis [42 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source], particularly small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO) [43 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 44 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source, 45 Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source]. In this case, an antimicrobial can be very helpful [46].

Talk with your doctor, or refer to my book Healthy Gut, Healthy You for more specifics about how to use antimicrobial treatment for IBS.

Conclusion

IBS symptoms are unpredictable and negatively impact your quality of life [47]. However, there’s lots you can do to take charge of your gut health and keep IBS symptoms in check.

Changing your diet can have a big health payoff in a very short period of time. A 2-3 week trial of a Paleo or low FODMAP diet is enough time to tell if dietary changes make a difference for your symptoms

Getting started is often the hardest part. Plan ahead for success and keep your diet very simple during the trial period. As I’ve seen many times with patients with symptoms of IBS, feeling good is the best motivation to continue with dietary improvements.

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