An important factor in gaining control over irritable bowel syndrome is to realize that everything you place in your mouth is going to affect the way you feel. Simply put, the food you eat and beverages you drink will either make your irritable bowel symptoms better or worse. In order to better understand how foods are connected to irritable bowel syndrome, let’s first take a look at the digestive process.
Normally, when food enters the stomach a series of physiological reflexes are set in motion. The act of chewing ignites production of saliva. Saliva contains enzymes which soften food into a bolus (semi-solid lump) that can be swallowed. Swallowing food triggers the gastrocolic reflex, which instructs the colon to start contracting. These contractions send signals to the esophagus, instructing it to propel food through the digestive tract, where it will eventually be expelled through the colon. It’s quite an intricate system, wouldn’t you agree?
Research has shown that people with irritable bowel syndrome do not have a normal gastrocolic reflex response. It’s similar to plumbing in your home — when the system is faulty, things can get ugly. Just as there are certain things you wouldn’t flush down your toilet or pour down your sink; there are certain foods that can wreak havoc on your personal plumbing.
Gastrointestinal stimulants and gastrointestinal irritants can wreak havoc on the personal plumbing of individuals with irritable bowel syndrome. Stimulants include caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. Irritants include foods that are high in fat, eggs, dairy products, spicy foods, insoluble fiber, artificial sweeteners, and monosodium glutamate (MSG).
These foods are known to place an additional strain on the digestive system of individuals with irritable bowel syndrome. They are also known to be powerful irritable bowel syndrome triggers. Therefore, you will want to strictly limit or eliminate these foods from your diet.
Fat stimulates the digestive tract more than any other food. Generally, foods containing high amounts of fat only provide a small amount of nutrients, but a lot of calories. Foods that are high in fats include:
* Meat fat from red meat, poultry skin, sausages and bacon
* Dairy fat from cheese, milk, cream, ice cream, yogurt
* Eggs, margarine, and commercial baked goods; i.e.; biscuits, cakes and pastries
Meat fats are particularly troublesome for individuals with irritable bowel syndrome. Prepared meats oftentimes use preservatives known as nitrates. Others contain high levels of sodium and monosodium glutamate (MSG); a known trigger of IBS. Red meat is known to promote cytokine production; which, in turn triggers inflammation throughout the body.
Dairy products contain casein, a milk protein. Casein is known to aggravate asthma and promote cytokine production. When the protein of another animal is introduced into the human body, the immune system responds with an allergic reaction. Additionally, many people are lactose intolerant and unable to digest lactose — the sugar found in milk and foods made with milk. If lactose is not digested, it can cause gas and stomach cramps.
Both dairy products and egg yolks are high in arachidonic acid. This is the same substance that makes meats so inflammatory. If you are going to eat eggs, you should only eat the whites. On a food label, eggs can be listed as albumin, globulin, ovamucin, or vitellin.
Some people with irritable bowel syndrome have trouble tolerating certain spices and spicy condiments. These include hot sauces, spicy BBQ sauces, chili peppers and powders, garlic, curry and ginger. Many commercial condiments, marinades and salad dressing contain hydrogenated fat and monosodium glutamate. Some holistic practitioners recommend using fresh garlic and ginger to treat irritable bowel syndrome, but recommend avoiding the powdered versions. You may need to experiment to determine if spices affect your IBS symptoms.
While most irritable bowel syndrome diets recommend increasing fiber intake, it’s important to realize there are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is “rough” and does not dissolve in water. Insoluble fiber is “smooth” and soothing to the digestive tract.
Soluble fiber foods can be very soothing for IBS symptoms. Foods that are naturally high in soluble fiber include: oatmeal, oat bran, rice, potatoes, pasta, nuts, beans, barley and soy.
Insoluble fiber may trigger severe attacks of pain and diarrhea in individuals with irritable bowel syndrome. Therefore, it should be introduced slowly and closely monitored. Sources of insoluble fiber include whole-grain breads and cereals, wheat bran, and the skins of fruits and vegetables.
In the United States, five artificially derived sugar substitutes have been approved for use. They are: aspartame, Sucralose (also known as Splenda), Acesulfame K, neotame and saccharin. Artificial sweeteners can trigger pain, cramps, gas, bloating, and diarrhea in individuals with irritable bowel syndrome. If you have IBS, you should avoid all artificial sweeteners.
Monosodium glutamate or MSG is an additive used to enhance the flavor of foods. MSG has no flavor or nutritional value. It neurologically causes people to think food containing MSG is more flavorful than it actually is. Additionally, there is much evidence connecting MSG to all sorts of digestive problems.
For most, it is nearly impossible to alter their entire diet. Experts recommend keeping a food journal to help you identify triggers of irritable bowel symptoms. Take baby steps and eliminate the worst offenders first. As you track the information, you will be better able to determine the best irritable bowel syndrome diet for you.