An estimated 15 to 20 percent of Americans suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), although exact numbers are unknown because the condition often goes undiagnosed. Its symptoms of gas, bloating, cramps, diarrhea and constipation mimic many other illnesses and conditions. The disease is incurable, and although there are a few drugs to help with symptoms, the best course is to prevent flareups of the disease by eating right.
Avoid most animal products. Red meat, dark poultry meat, most dairy products and egg yolks are all high in fat, which is a major trigger for IBS. Egg whites, skinless white poultry meat and seafood are all generally OK. While some dairy products, such as skim milk and yogurt, are low in fat, they should still be avoided because they contain whey and casein proteins, which are also IBS triggers.
Avoid fried foods. Like animal products, these are loaded with fat--especially foods that are deep-fat fried, such as French fries, doughnuts, onion rings and corn dogs--and are likely to trigger an attack of IBS.
Avoid other foods that are high in fat. These include nuts, coconut and olives.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine is a stimulant and it stimulates your gastrointestinal tract, which is not a good thing in people with IBS. Alcohol can irritate both your stomach and your GI tract, potentially triggering an attack of IBS.
Avoid artificial food additives. This includes artificial fats such as Olestra, artificial sweeteners and MSG. Olestra has been known to cause gas and diarrhea in people without IBS symptoms. Artificial sweeteners, especially those with sorbitol, can trigger cramps, gas, bloating and diarrhea. MSG has been linked to stomach and intestinal upset and discomfort.
Stay away from insoluble fiber as much as possible. Like fat, insoluble fiber--which is found in bran, whole grains and most raw fruit and vegetables--is a strong GI tract stimulant. You can't avoid it altogether because it's needed for a balanced diet, but stay away from tough, stringy things such as celery, popcorn, seeds, green beans and onions. Soluble fiber, found in starches such as sweet potatoes, oatmeal, rice and pasta, is OK.