For many abdominal pain and IBS sufferers, one of the first things they look at when trying to manage their symptoms is their diet. Advice on the food types to avoid is readily available, but it can be quite confusing as trigger foods may differ from person to person

It can be hard to work out which foods affect your symptoms and which don't. The best way to identify your trigger foods is to keep a food diary.

If you have IBS, depending on how severe your symptoms are your doctor might also prescribe a diagnostic test known as a multiple exclusion diet: this is where all potential triggers are completely cut out of your diet, and then re-introduced one by one. Only do this under the guidance of your doctor.

What can I eat?

If you have IBS, depending on your symptoms, there are a few simple tweaks you can make to your diet that can help reduce and manage your symptoms. Once you know what to avoid and what you can eat, it will make managing your symptoms a lot easier.

Some abdominal pain and IBS sufferers find that if they avoid their trigger foods most of the time, they can occasionally eat them without any problems.

Here is some dietary advice:

  • It’s good to eat regular meals and take time to eat. Try to avoid skipping meals or leaving long gaps between meals.
  • It may be helpful to limit your intake of insoluble high-fibre foods such as wholegrain breads, cereals high in bran and whole grains such as brown rice. We know the general healthy eating advice says you should eat more of them, but if you suffer from abdominal pain or IBS they can upset your digestive system. Why don’t you try oats instead?
  • If you suffer with wind and bloating you may find it helpful to eat oats (such as porridge or oat-based cereal) and linseeds (up to one tablespoon of seeds a day).
  • It’s best to avoid too much ‘resistant starch’ (starch that resists digestion in the small intestine and reaches the colon intact) found in processed food or ready meals.
  • Try not to eat more than 3 pieces of fresh fruit a day as fructose (fruit sugar) can sometimes trigger abdominal pain or IBS symptoms. Have more vegetables instead to keep to your 5 a day.
  • Avoid foods that contain the artificial sweetener Sorbitol, found in sugar free mints or gum and some slimming foods, especially if you suffer from diarrhoea.
  • Some abdominal pain or IBS sufferers find that they have an intolerance to wheat (gluten) or dairy (lactose) but this is best confirmed by your doctor. We wouldn’t recommend cutting out whole food groups without talking to your doctor or healthcare professional first.
  • Keep it low fat. Fatty foods can aggravate sensitive stomachs, so try to stay away from high fat foods like burgers, chips, take away or cakes.
  • Avoid fizzy drinks or fruit juice when possible and drink plenty of water or herbal tea to avoid aggravating your symptoms further, and replace lost fluids.
  • Cut down on alcohol which can be a trigger for some people. Try not to have more than two units per day, and build in alcohol-free days too if you can.
  • Keep your tea, coffee and cola down to three cups a day in total.
  • Try probiotics – they could help too.

Remember that not all of these tips will apply to you!

The number one rule is to do what makes you feel better, and use our tips to find out what works for you. For more great advice, try our Top Tips section, or swap delicious recipes with others.

Eating out?

Sometimes eating out can feel like a bit of a minefield, but don’t let that put you off from socialising and celebrating. If you’re having a meal out it’s usually possible to find something on the menu that won’t aggravate your symptoms. Why not check out menus online and plan what lovely things you will be able to eat! The key here is identifying your trigger foods.

Indian and Chinese restaurants: Opt for steamed or boiled rice to go with your dishes, and avoid the fatty options like sweet and sour balls or creamy curries. Try stir-fried dishes with vegetables and tandoori dishes cooked on the bone.

Italian: Vegetable-based sauces, low fat chicken, fish or seafood dishes should be fine, whereas fatty carbonara, garlic bread or too much tiramisu might be delicious but you could pay for it afterwards!

Dinner Parties: Nobody wants to be the person at a dinner party who can’t eat anything, but there are things you can do that can help.

  • Don’t starve yourself all day in anticipation – eating regularly can help manage your symptoms.
  • Eat slowly as eating too fast can actually trigger abdominal pain or IBS symptoms.
  • Ease off on the wine with the meal! Try not to have more than a couple of glasses.
  • Avoid your trigger foods where you can but if that’s not possible then make sure you have effective treatments to hand, in case you have a flare up. Find out what works for you Treatments that help with IBS.

Discover more ideas for how to manage your symptoms – Top Tips

What works for you? Check out our Recipes and swap ideas with other people who’ve learned to live with their abdominal pain or IBS.

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