Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is uncomfortable and painful for those that suffer from it. IBS affects both adults and children, and there is no one clear cause. However, dietary and food changes are typically the first-line treatment when it comes to managing irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. IBS causes problems such as intolerance to food, abdominal pain, gastric upset and bloating, and cramping. Eating cleanly–that is, choosing whole foods over strongly processed foods–can make a big difference in arresting IBS symptoms, and has even been linked to its prevention. Read on to learn what foods to add to your diet and some you should be taking away.

Whole Foods

Whole foods refers to much more than fruits and vegetables. It’s often a good suggestion to shop the perimeter of the supermarket, only visiting the outer aisles, which contain fresh fruits, vegetables, and organic foods. However, a litany of fresh foods only has a short lifespan, and most households want the ability to stock their cupboards with healthy foods as well. Some other suggestions to keep in mind include whole grains such as quinoa, oats, barley, brown rice, whole-wheat pastas, and popcorn.

When it comes to proteins, chicken, ground beef, and seafood (made with single ingredients) top the list. You can also find protein in dried and canned beans, as well as nut butters. For fruits and vegetables, fresh is best, but if you want the ability to stock up, you can also opt for canned and dried fruits and veggies, as long as there is no added sugar or salt. Frozen vegetables and fruits are also a good option.

There are “clean” dairy choices as well, giving you options such as plain yogurt, cheese, or milk. If you’re vegan or are avoiding dairy for other reasons, you can partake in unsweetened non-dairy milk.

What Does Clean Eating Do?

Whether you already have IBS or are at risk for it, clean eating can do a lot for your quality of life. Not only do ultra-processed foods raise your risk for developing IBS, according to a recent study, these foods also placed participants at risk for concomitant functional dyspepsia (FDy), which manifests with symptoms such as diarrhea and constipation. While these may not seem like serious health issues, patients that suffer from daily, consistent bowel trouble report a lower quality of life than their peers who do not suffer from IBS. Gastrointestinal disturbances can be much more than annoyances–for many, they are extremely painful, preventing patients from taking part in daily activities they used to enjoy.

It’s also good to remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. You don’t have to cut out refined sugar entirely or eat only whole foods. However, the more “cleanly” you eat, the better you will feel, while also exponentially decreasing your chances for developing IBS or other bowel problems.

Processed foods essentially include anything pre-packaged, such as macaroni and cheese in a box, many frozen entrees, snack foods, sodas, and anything with a lot of added sugar and salt. These foods also often contain large amounts of preservatives.

Cooking All the Time Is Tough

In the aforementioned study, the participants who ate the highest amount of ultra-processed foods also tended to be younger and living alone, while many had low physical activity levels and a high body mass index (BMI). Indeed, it can be challenging to cut back on processed foods, but it can be done. Some tips include:

  • If you’re in a hurry, opt for fresh fruit already cut up, or a pre-prepared salad with low-sodium dressing. While it’s more economical to dice melon or cantaloupe up yourself, it’s a much better choice than grabbing a candy bar when you’re in a hurry.
  • Add cooked grains to vegetables or garden salads. Quinoa is a terrific source of protein and works well with spices and flavors like garlic, onion, and pepper.
  • Make a quick sauce to add zip to chicken or poultry. Using milk, make a quick cream sauce by tossing in mushrooms, capers, or other fresh items to add a little zest to plain chicken breast.
  • Cut out sugary drinks. For many, sodas, energy drinks, and alcoholic drinks can be a cornerstone of unhealthy eating. Substitute with water, seltzer, or sugar-free drinks to help cut back on refined sugar.

If you need help managing your IBS symptoms or would like more helpful tips on how to eat more cleanly to achieve a healthier lifestyle, schedule an appointment today for a consultation with a specialist at Cary Gastroenterology Associates.