If you are one of the more than 35 million Asians affected by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), then you would probably know all about gut feeling (pun intended). IBS, or also known as spastic colon, is a disorder of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract characterised by abdominal pain and altered bowel habits, including constipation, gas and diarrhoea. Additional symptoms can include groin pain, light-headedness after eating or heartburn. Unfortunately, IBS is turning into somewhat of a common health problem, accounting for nearly 12% of all doctor visits and has increased tenfold in the last 20 years.
While the exact cause of IBS is not known and there is currently no cure available for IBS, you do not have to live with the constant discomfort. Proper diet and supplementation, along with some lifestyle changes, can make IBS tolerable and may eliminate most symptoms.
Fibre can help reduce IBS symptoms, but the type of fibre is critical. What is the difference, some of you may ask? Soluble fibre, which is found in soy, pasta, squash, quinoa, potatoes, bananas and other foods, dissolves in water and helps prevent diarrhoea by absorbing excess liquid in the intestines.it also adds bulk to ward off constipation. Since soluble fibre helps regulate intestinal contractions, it prevents cramping and pain. Insoluble fibre, found in nuts, wheat bran, salad greens, legumes and many fruits and vegetables, can cause severe attacks of diarrhoea, bloating and pain. It can also trigger spasms of the colon that can make constipation worse.
Doctors have routinely advised IBS patients to eat a high-fibre diet without bothering to distinguish between soluble and insoluble fibre. It is important to note that while soluble fibre helps IBS symptoms, insoluble fibre worsens them.
On an IBS diet, it is imperative to initially avoid insoluble fibre, focusing instead on white rice, flour and bread. But a diet lacking in insoluble fibre is not healthy long-term, so once symptoms have eased, you should gradually incorporate insoluble fibre back into your meals. Start with oatmeal, cornmeal and brown rice. Peel and seed fruits and vegetables. Chop, puree and cook foods to break down potentially irritating insoluble fibres and never eat insoluble fibre by itself or on an empty stomach.
A quick note: Some people with IBS are also allergic to gluten in wheat, so even white bread will cause a reaction. Keep a diet diary for a few days and notice if you are having attacks after eating refined flours or grains. If so, you may have gluten intolerance as well.
Get The Skinny On Fats
Similar to insoluble fibre, fats can cause the intestines to contract, leading to constipation, diarrhoea, cramping and other IBS symptoms. Fat is a problem for several reasons. Firstly, fat itself causes irritation. Secondly, when you consume the fat, the body produces bile acids that can further irritate the sensitive lining of the intestines.
While a low-fat diet is essential to reduce IBS symptoms, a fat-free diet is not a healthy long-term solution. To prevent pain, keep total fat intake to 25% of daily calories or less. And more importantly, make your fats count. Choose for yourself healthy varieties, such as avocado, canola and flaxseed oils, olive, finely ground nuts and salmon. You can also opt for lean cuts of meat and trim visible fats before cooking. Additionally, add fresh herbs and pungent spices, such as chilli, garlic and cumin, among others, to your dishes instead of fats. Other tips include roasting and grilling vegetables instead of sautéing them or substituting eggs white for eggs in an omelette and most baking.
Avoid Brewing Up Trouble
Caffeine can cause the bowel to spasm, exacerbating symptoms of IBS. Even one small cup of coffee can completely disrupt normal intestinal contractions in people with IBS. Decaf coffee is definitely not a solution; coffee itself is highly acidic and it contains volatile oils that irritate the colon and trigger spasms. In addition, since caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant, it can increase stress, which in turn, further exacerbates IBS symptoms.
If you have a caffeine monkey on your back, you can shake it without feeling headachy or irritable. Gradually reduce the amount of caffeine you consume and drink plenty of purified water to ward off caffeine-detox symptoms. If fruity herbal teas are not for you, you can try one of the following alternatives:
1. Brewed Beverages
Brewed beverages made from grains roasted carob, nuts and dried fruits that can be prepared exactly like coffee.
2. Powdered Beverages
Powdered beverages from malted barley and other grains make a rich, instant morning brew any time of the week.
3. Decaf Chai Tea
Decaf chai tea contains herbs that not only help improve digestion, but also improve your complexion at the same time. You can serve it with honey and soy milk.
4. White Tea
White tea has a fraction of the caffeine of coffee and may be tolerated by people with IBS. If this is your first time trying, have it in small quantities first.