A bowl of carrot noodles and a bowl of zucchini noodles side by side.
Some of the best foods to eat during an IBS attack are carrots and zucchini.

What to Eat With IBS Attack

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition affecting the large intestine that affects about 10% to 15% of people around the world. Some individuals with IBS have constipation, while other have diarrhea. In some cases, individuals have alternating episodes of IBS with constipation and diarrhea. It’s important to keep in mind that while IBS affects that intestines, it does not lead to bowel tissue damage and does not cause colon caner. However, we know that flare-ups can be painful and uncomfortable, so we go over what to eat with an IBS attack. If you are hungry during a symptom flare-up, you should not have to starve and wait for the symptoms to subside.

What is an IBS Attack?

An IBS attack involves experiencing a sudden increase in IBS symptoms. Common symptoms of an IBS attack include:

  • Stomach/abdominal pain
  • Excessive gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Mucus in the stool
  • A feeling of incomplete emptying after passing stool

Other symptoms may include:

  • Nausea
  • Indigestion
  • Intestinal spasm
  • Regurgitation
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Joint and/or muscle pain
  • Frequent urination
  • Anxiety or depression

The severity of an IBS attack varies widely, and may last for a few hours to several days. In some cases, individuals suffer with symptoms daily for weeks to months at a time.

The cause of IBS remains unknown, but researchers have discovered certain factors that may trigger an IBS attack including weak or strong intestinal muscle contractions that initiate symptoms. Strong intestinal contraction may result in food passing too quickly through the digestive tract, leading to diarrhea. On the other hand, slow intestinal contraction may slow down the passage of stool, making it harder to pass, leading to constipation. Other causes of IBS may include eating trigger foods, psychological conditions, including depression and anxiety, inflammation, overgrowth of bacteria, intestinal bacterial infection, or poor signal communication between the brain and nerves of the intestinal tract.

Foods to Avoid During an IBS Attack

It’s important to avoid food triggers, especially during an IBS attack. Common food triggers include:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Carbonated drinks

Additionally, IBS attacks may occur if you are sensitive to certain carbohydrates known as FODMAPS (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) including lactose, fructose, and fructans. Therefore, the following high FODMAP foods should be avoided during an IBS attack:

  • Garlic
  • Wheat
  • Rye
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Tofu
  • Beans
  • Onions
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Plums
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Apples
  • Mangoes
  • Watermelon
  • Honey
  • Mushrooms
  • Dairy products, including cow’s milk, yogurt, cheese, etc.
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • High-fructose corn syrup
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Best Foods to Eat During an IBS Attack

Certain foods that are low FODMAP are ideal to consume during an IBS attack, including:

  • Carrots
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Zucchini
  • Swiss chard
  • Eggplant
  • Kale
  • Gluten free oats
  • Basmati, white, and brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Maple syrup
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Nuts and seeds, including pecans, almonds, pine nuts, and flaxseed

Your doctor may advise that you try an elimination diet to help determine your food triggers. An elimination diet involves removing certain foods from your diet that may be triggering your IBS symptoms and monitoring your symptoms to determine if there is improvement. After a certain amount of time, you can slowly reintroduce the foods, one at a time. Keeping a food journal that tracks what you eat and drink and listing any IBS symptoms that you develop can help to identify food triggers. Once identified, food triggers should be avoided completely.

Other Coping Mechanisms

There are various additional strategies you can try to help manage IBS attacks, including:

  • Increasing physical activity levels to include exercise at least 30 minutes a day and three times per week to help regulate intestinal contractions.
  • Consuming meals at the same time each day to help regulate your bowels.
  • Reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption.
  • Slowly increasing fiber intake to manage constipation.
  • Consuming probiotics to introduce good bacteria into your digestive track.
  • Taking peppermint supplements or drinking peppermint tea to decrease intestinal spasms.
  • Practicing yoga, meditation, and deep breathing to help minimize stress.
  • Trying heat therapy to promote blood flow, and help to relax muscles and decrease stress.
  • Trying alternative therapies, such as massage and acupuncture.
  • Trying cognitive behavioral therapy to change the way your body responds.
  • Trying directed hypnotherapy.

There are also a variety of medications available to help reduce symptoms, including IBS specific medication, such as Alosetron and Lubiprostone. These medications help by either slowing the movement of food through the bowel to decrease diarrhea, or increasing fluid production in the intestine to relieve constipation. Antispasmodics, including Hyoscine and Dicyclomine, may be used to help relax the muscles in the intestine to decrease spasms and cramping. Antidiarrheals, including Loperamide, may be used to treat diarrhea. Antidepressants, including Imipramine and Citalopram, may help to relieve diarrhea and constipation and may also help to reduce IBS associated pain.

In Conclusion

IBS attacks can severely impact your quality of life. Learning techniques to manage symptoms of an attack, and identifying your triggers can help to minimize the impact IBS has on your life. If you are unable to manage your symptoms with dietary and lifestyle changes, speak with your doctor, as there are a variety of medications available that can help to manage IBS.