Abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, constipation, gas, bloating and indigestion — these are some of the most common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. These muscle spasms in the stomach or intestines are also known as spastic colon, nervous bowel or simply IBS. The exact cause is unknown but stress and depression can aggravate it. It isn't life threatening, but it can affect your quality of life.
Food that heals
Your best defence against the painful cramping and other symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome is a low-fat, high fibre diet but choosing the right foods can be tricky. Within these food groups are some that ease and others that bring on symptoms.
•Find the best fats: Digesting fats can cause bloating and painful colon contractions so go easy on red meats which has a lot of saturated fat. On the other hand, fish like salmon, tuna with omega-3 fatty acids can ease an irritated bowel, Flaxseed oil, another good source of omega-3 fatty acids, also helps.
•Cut back on most dairy: The extra fat found in regular dairy foods can trigger the symptoms of IBS. But after switching to skim milk and low fat cheeses, you may still experience problems with lactose intolerance which means you can't digest the sugar in milk and other dairy products. Eating yoghurt with live cultures, however, may make it easier to digest lactose.
•Choose vegetables and fruits carefully: The fibre in plant foods helps move everything smoothly through your system. Fresh are best as pre-packaged foods tend to be harder to digest. If you haven't been eating a lot of fibre, add it gradually to cut down on gas. You may need to pass on beans, broccoli, and cabbage which are the main gas offenders. Certain other fruits and vegetables, if eaten raw, may cause distress as well.
•Drink plenty of the right liquids: Water helps ease the fibre through your system; peppermint or chamomile tea can help, too by soothing muscle spasms. But carbonated beverages, caffeinated drinks of all kinds and decaffeinated coffee may bring on gas pains.
•Be selective about sweeteners: Sugar free sweeteners can be the unknown culprit for your symptoms. Sucrose, found naturally in fruits and honey, can also be a problem for some but for those who tolerate it, honey may ease constipation and clear up diarrhoea associated with IBS.
•Avoid fluffy foods: A main cause of gas is swallowed air so go easy on milk shakes, whipped cream, etc.
Foods to be avoided
•Milk and milk products (if you feel that you are able to tolerate low fat yoghurt/laban, you can include in small amounts)
• Foods high in insoluble fibre wheat bran, whole grain breads, breakfast cereals
• Sugar - white sugar, chocolates, sweets, honey, fruits high in sugar like grapes, melon, apricots, cherries, etc.
• Beans and lentils, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, peas, garlic, onions.
• Fatty meats, red meat, fried spicy foods
• Aerated drinks, packed juices, sauces and pickled foods.
Monika Seth/Nutritionist and diet consultant specialising in weight loss at Al Raffah Hospital