A bowl of oatmeal on a brown wooden table next to a banana and almonds.
Some people with IBS find oatmeal to be a beneficial food, while others find that it causes flare-ups.

Should People With IBS Eat Oatmeal?

Oatmeal is a popular breakfast with a variety of benefits. It’s cheap, healthy, and requires minimal preparation. But is oatmeal for IBS good and effective? Unfortunately, the answer is not straightforward. Here’s all you need to know.

What is IBS?

IBS is short for irritable bowel syndrome. It’s one of the most common digestive disorders worldwide, affecting as many as 11% of the population to some extent.

Experts classify IBS as a functional disorder, meaning that it affects the way the digestive system works. It appears to be the result of a breakdown in communication between the gut and the brain.

This dysfunction means that food passes through the intestines too quickly or too slowly. It can also increase sensitivity to pain.

Understanding the Symptoms

The symptoms of IBS vary from person to person. Depending on whether a person’s gut is under- or overactive, they may frequently experience constipation (IBS-C) or diarrhea (IBS-D). Other people with IBS have irregular bowel habits with alternating constipation and diarrhea (IBS-M).

Some other common IBS symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain, which is usually relieved by bowel movements
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Mucus in the stools
  • Sensations of incomplete bowel movements

Most people with IBS find that certain foods can trigger these symptoms. Therefore, they have to monitor their diets carefully. So, is oatmeal for IBS good or bad? Let’s take a look.

Is Oatmeal Good for IBS?

Oatmeal is one of the most versatile foods around. As well as being a popular breakfast staple, it can be used as an ingredient in baking, smoothies, and even savory dishes. It’s cheap, readily available, and has numerous benefits for health.

Oats contain calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamin B1 (thiamine). They are also rich in a type of fiber called beta-glucan. Beta-glucan has many benefits. Inside the gut, it attracts water to slow down digestion and increase feelings of fullness. Therefore, oats are a great choice for anyone trying to reduce their appetite or lose weight.

Beta-glucan also has the potential to regulate cholesterol and blood sugar levels, making it a healthy addition to any diet. However, beta-glucan is a type of fiber and this may concern some people with IBS.

Fiber and IBS

The relationship between fiber and IBS is a complex one. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease recommends increasing fiber intake as one of the best ways to manage IBS. But many people find that eating too much triggers their symptoms.

The key thing to understand is that there are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Beta-glucan is a soluble fiber, meaning that it turns into a gel-like substance in the gut. It adds bulk to the stools, making them easier to pass. Therefore, it could be beneficial for some people with IBS.

However, oats also contain insoluble fiber, which can be difficult to digest. Moreover, raw oats contain resistant starch. This substance is digested in the large intestine and can contribute to symptoms, like gas.

Therefore, oatmeal may not be suitable for everyone with IBS. But those who can tolerate it may experience several benefits.

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How Does Oatmeal Benefit People With IBS?

Because beta-glucan is a soluble fiber, it helps to bulk up stools and could help to ease constipation. Therefore, oatmeal could be beneficial for people with IBS-C. It could also help people with IBS-D by absorbing excess water from digested food to make the stools firmer.

Another potential benefit of oatmeal for people with IBS is that oats are a low FODMAP food. The acronym FODMAP stands for fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols. They are a type of carbohydrate that ferments easily in the gut and can contribute to IBS symptoms, like gas and bloating.

Many people with IBS find that eating a low-FODMAP eating plan provides them with some relief. However, these diets are very restrictive and it can be difficult to know what to eat. The good news is that oatmeal is a fantastic option.

However, commercial oatmeal products may contain other ingredients that could aggravate IBS symptoms. Therefore, people with IBS should prepare their oats from scratch to reduce the risk of flare-ups.

Here’s how to prepare oatmeal if you have IBS:

Choose the Right Oatmeal

There are many different types of oatmeal: groats, Scottish oats, rolled oats, and quick or instant oats. Groats are the least processed form of oatmeal, while quick and instant oats are the most processed.

More processed products have smaller pieces and, therefore, they are denser. So, a cup of instant oats will contain more FODMAPs than a cup of rolled oats, and so on.

Furthermore, some commercial oatmeal products contain added sugar or flavorings. Avoid these wherever possible.

Cook Your Oatmeal

Cooking oats reduces their resistant starch content and makes them easier to digest. Therefore, people who cannot tolerate raw oats may be able to eat them as long as they are cooked.

Look for Gluten-Free Oatmeal

Some people with IBS are sensitive to gluten. Although oats are naturally gluten-free, they may be grown in the same fields as wheat, barley or rye. They might also be processed in factories that handle these gluten-containing grains. If you find that gluten triggers your IBS symptoms, look for oats that are certified as gluten-free.

Choose the Right Milk

Dairy products are another potential trigger for IBS symptoms. People who cannot tolerate regular milk should prepare their oatmeal using a lactose-free or plant-based alternative instead. Plain water also works well, although it produces a less creamy texture and taste.

Start Slowly With Oatmeal for IBS

Some people with IBS find oatmeal beneficial, while others find it problematic. Try introducing a small amount of oatmeal into your diet and see how it affects your IBS before increasing your intake slowly.