IBS Elimination Diet Types
Foods such as milk, cream, cheese, yogurt and ice cream must be avoided on this diet. Look out for dairy products in desserts, sauces and spreads as well. Alternative foods include soy, rice or almond milk and vegan cheese substitutes – and remember that eggs are not a dairy food!
Excluding all dairy foods for any length of time may leave you at risk of developing a calcium deficiency so talk to a healthcare professional about calcium supplements if you need to follow this diet.
Gluten-Free or Wheat-Free
A gluten-free diet is not the same as a wheat-free diet. Gluten refers to the proteins that are found in wheat, oats, barley, and rye, but wheat is only found in, well, wheat! Be aware that both wheat and gluten can hide in all kinds of foods under names like modified starch, and bran.
A gluten-free diet has recently become very fashionable, which is both a blessing and a curse – it means that there are now lots more gluten-free foods available, but it also means people may think you’re just blindly following a trend rather than trying to treat your illness.
It has to be said that although gluten-free foods have come a long way in recent years, there are still some that are crumbly, dry and not very palatable, so shop around. You can also buy gluten-free flour to bake with at home and look for corn crispbreads, rice cakes and fruit and nut bars for snacks.
FODMAP stands for the rather less pronounceable “fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols.”
These are carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed and can irritate the intestines. The low FODMAP diet is relatively new but has been researched in clinical trials and shown to benefit many IBS sufferers.
High FODMAP foods include those that contain fructose (some fruits, honey), lactose (dairy), fructans and galactan (wheat, beans onions) and polyols (fruits with pits or seeds).
WebMD suggests trying this diet for up to four weeks to see the effects. You’ll need a comprehensive list of low FODMAP foods (see the resources section at the end of this article) as unfortunately there’s no easy way to identify high FODMAP foods – apples and grapefruit are off limits, but bananas and blueberries are fine, for example.
After the initial four-week period you should try to introduce some of the high FODMAP foods to find out which you can tolerate as this diet is quite restrictive.
Tips From My Own Experience
When my IBS symptoms were at their absolute worst, I used an IBS elimination diet to identify that I felt much better when I avoided gluten.
I have to admit it was not the easiest thing I’ve ever done because eating habits can be tough to break, but it was worth it in the end.
Here are a few tips for you based on my search for some IBS-friendly foods.
Keep Meals Simple and to a Schedule
Many processed foods have a huge long list of ingredients these days, and they can be difficult to interpret – is “emulsifier” safe to eat? What about “protein concentrate, enzymes, and calcium phosphate?” (All those ingredients are from one slice of Kraft cheese, by the way!)
It’s far easier to cook basic meals with a minimum of a fuss than wade through 20 ingredients.
This also means you’ll be avoiding those dubious E numbers, additives and sweeteners. I would also advise drawing up a meal plan for at least the first week or two to prevent last minute panics when you can’t eat anything in the house.
I spent my early years as an IBS sufferer desperately hiding my illness, which meant I would end up eating alone or trying to turn down food and drink without seeming impolite.
It’s much, much easier to just say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t eat that, I’m testing a new IBS elimination diet for symptoms.” Then if you have to change your whole diet again in a few weeks’ time people will understand that too.
Having said that, if you find that family and friends say, “Just a little won’t hurt you” or try to tell you what you can and can’t eat as an IBSer, keep your explanations a bit more vague: “It’s a medical issue” is all they need to know.
Don’t Forget the Treats
I think any diet is doomed to failure if it’s too strict and an exclusion diet is no exception, especially if the new regime doesn’t seem to be helping or perhaps even makes symptoms worse, to begin with.
Don’t suddenly throw all your treats in the trash or you’ll be tempted to break the diet – find a few tasty treats you’re allowed and keep them in stock.
The Next Step
Once you’ve completed the IBS elimination diet you need to sit down with your food diary and analyze the foods that seem to affect you the most.
At first glance, it may look like all gluten makes you ill, for example, but you might find that you can tolerate white bread but not whole grain, oats but not wheat, or maybe it’s the overall level of fiber you eat per day that is key.
If the low FODMAP diet has helped, you might find that you only need to avoid high fructose (monosaccharides) foods, but you’re fine with oligo-saccharides like wheat. Take some time to refine your diet and test out a few theories.
It’s strongly recommended that you try reintroducing foods after a period of time, to check whether they do disagree with you and make sure you don’t spend the next 20 years on a needlessly strict eating plan.
With a bit of luck, you’ll end up with a personalized diet plan that lets you eat a healthy, tasty food while keeping your wayward bowel in check.