Soluble Fiber Foods Are GOOD for IBS
Soluble fiber is the single greatest IBS diet aid for preventing Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms in the first place, as well as relieving them once they occur. Here’s the kicker. Soluble fiber is NOT typically found in foods most people think of as ‘fiber,’ such as bran or raw leafy green vegetables.
Soluble fiber is actually found in foods commonly thought of as “starches”, though soluble fiber itself differs from starch as the chemical bonds that join its individual sugar units cannot be digested by enzymes in the human GI tract. In other words, soluble fiber has no calories because it passes through the body intact.
Soluble Fiber Foods ~ the IBS Good Foods of the IBS Diet
As a general rule, the grain and cereal foods at the top of this list make the safest, easiest, and most versatile soluble fiber foundations for your meals and snacks These are your IBS safe foods, and your IBS good foods.
Pasta and noodles
Fresh white breads such as French or sourdough (NOT whole wheat or whole grain)*
Squash and pumpkins
Avocados (though they do have some fat)
Papayas (also digestive aids that relieve gas and indigestion)
*Please choose a baked-daily, high quality, preservative-free brand. White bread does not mean Wonder.
Why is soluble fiber so special? Because unlike any other food category, it soothes and regulates the digestive tract, stabilizes the intestinal contractions resulting from the gastrocolic reflex, and normalizes bowel function from either extreme. That’s right – soluble fiber prevents and relieves BOTH diarrhea and constipation. Nothing else in the world will do this for you.
How is this possible? The “soluble” in soluble fiber means that it dissolves in water (though it is not digested). This allows it to absorb excess liquid in the colon, preventing diarrhea by forming a thick gel and adding a great deal of bulk as it passes intact through the gut. This gel (as opposed to a watery liquid) also keeps the GI muscles stretched gently around a full colon, giving those muscles something to easily “grip” during peristaltic contractions, thus preventing the rapid transit time and explosive bowel movements of diarrhea as well.
By the same token, the full gel-filled colon (as opposed to a colon tightly clenched around dry, hard, impacted stools) provides the same “grip” during the muscle waves of constipation sufferers, allowing for an easier and faster transit time, and the passage of the thick wet gel also effectively relieves constipation by softening and pushing through impacted fecal matter. If you can mentally picture your colon as a tube that is squeezing through matter via regular waves of contractions, it’s easy to see how a colon filled with soluble fiber gel is beneficial for both sides of the IBS coin.
As a glorious bonus here, normalizing the contractions of the colon (from too fast or too slow speeds) prevents the violent and irregular spasms that result in the lower abdominal cramping pain that cripples so many IBS patients. This single action alone is the reason you shouldn’t eat anything on an empty stomach but soluble fiber. Ever. The only foods I want to trigger my gastrocolic reflex are soluble fiber, as that’s the only way you can keep those contractions (and thus your life) normal.
FOODS THAT ARE BAD FOR IBS
Insoluble Fiber ~ Good or Bad for Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Both! Here’s the type of fiber everyone is familiar with – insoluble fiber is in bran, whole grains, raw fruits and vegetables (note the exceptions under Soluble Fiber), greens, sprouts, legumes, seeds, and nuts. In short, the healthiest foods in the world are high in insoluble fiber, and what everyone should be eating as much of as possible. Right? Well, right, except for one small problem.
Insoluble fiber, like fat, is a very powerful GI tract stimulant, and for those of us with Irritable Bowel Syndrome this can spell big trouble. Unlike fat, however, you cannot simply minimize your insoluble fiber intake, as this will leave you with a seriously unhealthy diet. It’s a Catch-22, but the insoluble fiber conflict can be solved fairly easily.
CAUTION – Insoluble Fiber Foods – Eat with Care for IBS
One glance will tell you these insoluble fiber foods are the best (and tastiest) around, but your colon simply can’t handle it if you eat them with abandon. You absolutely must eat insoluble fiber foods, and as much as safely possible, but within the IBS dietary guidelines. Treat insoluble fiber foods with suitable caution, and you’ll be able to enjoy a wide variety of them, in very healthy quantities, without problem.
In general, if a plant food (no animal products contain fiber) seems rough, stringy, has a tough skin, hull, peel, pod, or seeds, be careful, as it’s likely very high in insoluble fiber. This is not a comprehensive list of insoluble fiber foods by any means but it should give you the general idea.
Whole wheat flour, whole wheat bread, whole wheat cereal
Whole grains, whole grain breads, whole grain cereals
Beans and lentils (mashed or pureed they’re much safer)
Berries (blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, cranberries, etc.)
Grapes and raisins
Peaches, nectarines, apricots, and pears with skins (peeled they’re much safer)
Apples (peeled they’re safe)
Oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes
Dates and prunes
Greens (spinach, lettuce, kale, mesclun, collards, arugala, watercress, etc.)
Whole peas, snow peas, snap peas, pea pods
Bell peppers (roasted and peeled they’re safer)
Eggplant (peeled and seeded it’s much safer)
Onions, shallots, leeks, scallions, garlic
Cabbage, bok choy, Brussels sprouts
Tomatoes (peeled and seeded, especially raw, they’re much safer)
Cucumbers (again, peel and seed them and they’re much safer)
Sprouts (alfalfa, sunflower, radish, etc.)
Never eat insoluble fiber alone or on an empty stomach. Always eat it with a larger quantity of soluble fiber, and you will keep your gastrocolic reflex stable.
What does this mean in practical terms? Cook some diced vegetables into a low-fat sauce for pasta, stir-fry veggies into a fried rice, or blend fresh fruit into a smoothie to drink after a breakfast bowl of oatmeal. For fruits, vegetables, and legumes in general, peeling, chopping, cooking, and pureeing them will significantly minimize the impact of their insoluble fiber.
Make soups, drinks, sauces, breads, and dips from your veggies and fruits instead of eating them whole and raw. For beans and lentils, cook and blend them into sauces, dips, soups, or spreads – their insoluble fiber is found in their outer skins and their insides are actually rich in soluble fiber. For nuts, finely grind and incorporate them into breads or cakes with white flour, which gives a safe soluble fiber base. For bran and other whole grains, eat them in small quantities following soluble fiber foods – have a little whole wheat dinner roll after a big sourdough one, or mix a small amount of fat-free granola into a large bowl of cream of rice or Corn Chex cereal. For raw fruit and green salads, eat them at the end of a soluble fiber meal instead of at the beginning. For all insoluble fiber foods, start with small quantities and gradually increase your intake.
Some fruits and vegetables are particularly troublesome for IBS:
Sulfur-containing foods (garlic, onions, leeks, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts), in addition to their high amounts of insoluble fiber, also produce significant gas in the GI tract and this can trigger attacks. As with all other fruits and veggies, however, these are extremely nutritious foods with significant health benefits, so they need to be treated with caution but definitely not eliminated from your diet.
Acidic foods (citrus fruits, vinegars, and cooked tomatoes) should be treated with extra care as well, as their acidity can cause both upper and lower GI distress. Once again, follow the rules for insoluble fiber and eat these foods in smaller quantities incorporated with soluble fiber – but please do eat them.
Fructose, a fruit sugar, can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea (this is typically not true for sucrose, or plain table sugar). Honey contains fairly high amounts of fructose. Fruit juices, particularly apple and grape juice, are often sky high in fructose and even more problematic than whole fresh fruit. It’s simply much easier and faster to drink a large glass of juice (and ingest a great deal of fructose) than to eat an equivalent amount of whole fruit. So treat juices as you would insoluble fiber and drink them carefully, with soluble fiber foods.