An Anti-Inflammatory Diet for IBS
10 min. read time
Why use an Anti-inflammatory diet for IBS?
IBS can be a sign of Inflammation
Irritable Bowel Syndrome, IBS, can be an indicator of some kind of inflammation in your body. That inflammation may have been caused by leaky gut (intestinal hyperpermeability), an imbalance in the bacteria and/or yeast in the digestive tract, disordered motility, or a hyper sensitivity to gut stimulation. One of my favorite things to do is to connect the dots in someone’s health history—I mean really dissect every area in order to get a sense for the contributors of that person’s IBS. Sometimes those contributors are avoidable (e.g. eating old sushi) while other times not (e.g. genetics).
We can almost see the inflammation on a daily basis in the form of your symptoms (in order from top, down):
- Hiatal hernias
- Frequent burping
- Stomach/intestinal cramping/pain
- Frequent loose stools
- Infrequent hard stools
- Undigested food in stools
It would be wrong to stop there. In my experience, there are many more symptoms tied to IBS including:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Malaise (feeling lousy)
- Mood swings
- Lack of concentration/brain fog
- Low sex drive
- Increased heart rate variability
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Hyperactive (nervous energy)
- Rashes or hives
- Eczema or psoriasis
- “Rosy” cheeks or flushing
- Itchy skin
- Runny nose
- Stuffy nose
- Red or swollen eyes
- Itchy eyes
- Dark circles or “bags” under the eyes
- Itchy ears
- Joint pains
- Stiff joints
- Muscle aches
- Stiff muscles
- Muscle spasms or cramps
- Fluctuating weight
- Food cravings
- Water retention* ( I see this almost every time)
Because IBS is tied to inflammation, an anti-inflammatory diet can work wonders on your symptoms. Great, right?! Although there are a few caveats… (you saw this coming!)
Standard IBS Diets: The slowest way to alleviate your IBS symptoms
Standard IBS diets are anything but unique. They pinpoint foods which have a commonality and ask you to stop eating them for a few weeks, months, or indefinitely.
- Try a general anti-inflammatory diet: Without naming names…there are a few highly restrictive anti-inflammatory diets out there. But guess what? Some of their “safe” foods can cause inflammation in different people (see below).
- Try a Low FODMAP diet: This is only useful if certain carbohydrates are the problem, and most often times symptoms return upon the reintroduction phase.
Pulling a “Hail Mary”
Maybe you’ve “tried everything” and you’ll take any improvement at this point. You might look to:
- Journal everything you eat, and be your own detective. It’s always a good idea to look closely at what you’re eating and try to compare it to the way you feel, but it’s not always easy. If you’re always feeling so lousy, it can be difficult to pinpoint your symptoms. Think of it like a mosquito bite…if you get one mosquito bite, you can point to exactly where it is. It is itchy, and you are clearly bothered by that one area. But what happens if you have 20 mosquito bites on one leg? Chances are, that entire leg is crazy itchy, red, and swollen. You would probably be scratching it everywhere, and you might not even notice if you get one more bite on that leg. You see, if we can cut out a bunch of your symptoms, it will be that much easier to listen to your body and play detective with the foods you eat.
- Try various supplements: some probiotics or digestive enzymes may provide mild relief, but there will likely still be much more room for improvement
- Eat the same foods everyday: In hopes of not upsetting your system, you might eat the same 5 foods every day. If that’s true, you probably still have symptoms with the “safe” foods, but you at least your symptoms are sort of bearable.
Tailored IBS Diet: The Fastest Way to Alleviate your IBS Symptoms
Anti-Inflammatory Foods for your IBS
A thorough search for the “best” vs “worst” foods for IBS is likely to leave you feeling hopeless. Some of the foods on the “worst” list are fine for some IBS sufferers (IBSers) and some on the “best” list are the worst for other IBSers. It can be infuriating! The cold truth is, there is no one diet to decrease inflammation for your IBS.
Best foods for IBS — insert bland, lean foods here
- Eggs (or egg whites)
- Lean chicken
- Well-cooked vegetables: zucchini, carrots, spinach, string beans
- Peeled fruit without seeds: bananas, cantaloupe, peaches
- Cooked grains: rolled oats, rice
- Low fat yogurt
Worst foods for IBS—insert fatty, high fiber/tough foods here
- Ice cream
- Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel’s sprouts, cabbage
- Onion, garlic
- Fried foods
So-called anti-inflammatory diet foods
- Olive oil
- Wild salmon
- Sweet potatoes
Now let me show you something…
Below are two lists. Lists of the best vs the worst foods for one particular client of mine. Can you guess which list is the “best” list and which is the “worst” list? Why?
Sample food list: Best vs Worst foods for IBS
A.) Sunflower seeds/oil, lettuce, mushroom, zucchini, blueberry, grape, mango, honeydew, egg whites, shrimp, maple syrup, basil
B.) Cashew, almond, apple, avocado, pineapple, potato, pumpkin, carrot, tomato, beef, tuna, cinnamon, honey, quinoa, spelt, cantaloupe
Tricky, right? Is the suspense killing you? Okay, I’ll tell you. List A is the worst foods and list B are the best foods for this one particular person. Surprised?
Trust me, if there were commonalities amongst the plans I create for people with IBS, I would absolutely share them. The truth is, the best vs worst foods for IBS are incredibly unpredictable, even for a specialist like me. Let’s find out some more…
How do certain foods cause inflammation?
So far, we know that many things can cause IBS, but if we take an even deeper look, we will find that many IBS symptoms are caused by immune cells such as mast cells, eosinophils, or substances released by those cells such as cytokines and interleukins in response to eating certain foods. Basically, we can eat foods which trigger our bodies to send out stress signals to various cells across our body. What does that look like? Inflammation!
Let’s use the lists above to understand a bit more what this would look like.
Take the example client above, let’s call her Michelle. If Michelle removed eggs (egg whites were on her personalized “bad” list) from her diet for 1 month, it’s doubtful she would see any major improvements in her symptoms. Partially due to the fact she has so many annoying symptoms (like a lot of mosquito bites), but also because she still has a lot of other foods on her personalized “bad” list that she is still probably eating. If Michelle took these two lists and made her own diet, it would probably avoid her bad foods and use a lot of the good foods along with the other foods in her diet already. She would start to notice some improvements, but would likely hit a plateau, preventing her from getting the results she had dreamed of. That’s because there are thousands of foods in our diet already, and taking out 12 of those foods sometimes is just not enough. This is where my work enters…
When you have a holistic dietitian who can…
- Identify the foods your body is truly* reacting to
- Create a nutritious, balanced diet tailored to you
- Put the pieces of your IBS puzzle together
- Support your body to heal naturally
Take the next step in your journey to alleviate your IBS symptoms.
- Thoroughly review your health history
- Examine things you have tried (or not tried) in the past
- Lay out the best course of action, uniquely tailored to you