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Avoid foods that can trigger IBS symptoms

Copyright 2002 President Fellows Harvard College behalf HMS MediServices Phoby LizGreen HMS MediServices Anthony Leader Komaroff MD Harvard Health Publications

Copyright 2002 President and Fellows of Harvard College on behalf of HMS Media Services, Photo by Liza Green, HMS Media Services, Anthony Leader Komaroff, MD, Harvard Health Publications

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Updated: November 19, 2012 2:04PM

Dear Doctor K: I recently heard about a new diet to manage IBS. Can you tell me about it?

Dear Reader: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder. Symptoms include cramping, diarrhea, gas and bloating.

A common treatment approach is to avoid foods that trigger symptoms. A new diet for IBS targets and eliminates certain types of carbohydrates the small intestine has trouble absorbing. We’ll call it the “IBS diet,” even though its official name is the “low FODMAP diet.”

Research suggests that the carbohydrates excluded from the IBS diet increase the amount of fluid in the bowel and create more gas. This leads to bloating and changes the speed at which food is digested. The result is gas, pain and diarrhea.

To follow the IBS diet, eat less of these foods:

Dairy: cow’s milk, yogurt, pudding, ice cream, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese

Fruits: apples, apricots, blackberries, cherries, nectarines, pears, peaches, cherries, mangoes and watermelon

Vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, beetroot, cauliflower, garlic, mushrooms, onions and snow peas

Grains: wheat and rye

Added fiber

Legumes: chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans and soy products

High-fructose corn syrup

Sweeteners such as honey, agave nectar; sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol and isomalt found in sugar-free gum and mints

Eat more of these foods:

Dairy: lactose-free milk; rice, almond and coconut milk; lactose-free yogurt; hard cheeses

Fruit: bananas, blueberries, cantaloupe, grapefruit, honeydew, kiwi, lemon, lime, oranges and strawberries

Vegetables: bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, bok choy, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, ginger, lettuce, olives, parsnips, potatoes, spring onions and turnips

Protein: beef, pork, chicken, fish, eggs and tofu

Nuts/seeds: almonds, macadamia, peanuts, pine nuts and walnuts

Grains: oat, oat bran, rice bran, gluten-free pasta, white rice, corn flour and quinoa

My advice is to limit only those foods that are problematic for you. You can determine which ones to avoid by eliminating all foods from the “eat less” list from your diet. Then reintroduce one food at a time, noting whether it worsens your symptoms. If not, add it back to your diet.

We have more information on IBS in our Special Health Report, “The Sensitive Gut.” (Learn more about this report at, or call 877-649-9457 toll-free to order it.)

Write to Dr. Komaroff at

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