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IBS Awareness Month – What to know if your bowel gets irritated!

If you have IBS, talk about it with your health care professional and don’t be shy! There are several treatment options to discuss to help manage your symptoms. Here are some general healthy eating tips that people with IBS may find useful.

By: Kelly Atyeo, B.A.Sc., M.H.Sc., P.H.Ec.

Bowel movements – they’re a topic that many people don’t feel comfortable talking about, while others like to laugh about them! Whether or not you participate in bathroom humour, it’s time to take this topic serious during Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Awareness Month this April.

What is IBS?

IBS is a broad term for a gastrointestinal condition affecting up to 6.7 million Canadians.1 IBS results in the body having painful or uncomfortable bowel movements without a specific disease or injury.1,2,3 

Some of the symptoms include: cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea.2,3

There are several factors that can result in these symptoms, including stress, anxiety, diet and medications.4

How do you know if you have IBS?

Since there is no determined “cause” of IBS, figuring out whether you have it can be quite difficult. If you are noticing changes in your bowel health (i.e. unexplained diarrhea or cramps) you should speak with your doctor about them. Typically, your doctor will discuss your symptoms and conduct medical tests to make sure there is no other disease causing them.3

Nutrition & IBS

Because IBS affects the gastrointestinal tract – people who have symptoms often associate them with specific foods in their diet. Linking specific foods to symptoms can be extremely difficult. Also, the symptoms of IBS are individual. Therefore it is important to seek advice from your doctor or Registered Dietitian before making any drastic changes in your diet.4,5 

Food Diary

Keeping a record of the foods you eat, symptoms you experienced, stress level and your environment can really help health care practitioners develop an individualized treatment plan to manage your symptoms.4,5  Pay special attention to the following foods/ingredients:

Fatty foods

Dietary fat affects how quickly food moves through the digestive tract.  This can result in symptoms such as gas/bloating or diarrhea. 2,5

Gassy Foods

Foods like cabbage, beans, onions, celery, raisins may cause excess gas.4


This stimulates the digestive tract and can result in diarrhea for people with IBS. 2,5


This is a sugar that is naturally occurring in milk and dairy products. Some people with IBS can’t digest lactose resulting in worsening symptoms of diarrhea, cramps, etc. 5

Artificial Sweeteners

Pay attention to how your body reacts to artificial sweeteners that contain sugar alcohols like mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol, as these can lead to diarrhea and excess gas.4 

Balance your diet

In general, having a balanced diet in line with Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide is recommended. 3,4

Below are some general healthy eating tips that people with IBS may find useful. It’s important to note that people with IBS all have individual sensitivities to food, so these tips may not work for everyone. Consult a Registered Dietitian to find the best nutrition options that work for you. 

Portion Control

Eat smaller meals to avoid cramping/diarrhea.  It’s better to have a mid-day snack than to overtax your digestive system with a large meal at one sitting. 3

Go Lean

Choose low-fat options, especially when selecting meat and dairy products. Get inspired with these healthy chicken breast recipes that are low in fat, yet still provide a very high source of protein:


Try to include fibre in your diet from vegetables, fruits and whole grains.  This may help improve regularity and stools firmness. However, be aware that sometimes, too much fibre can increase symptoms. 3,6

Drink up

Choose the right beverages to drink. The key is to drink plenty of water, especially when you’re increasing your fibre intake. 3,4 Try to avoid drinking caffeine, alcohol or drinks with artificial sweeteners, as these may worsen symptoms. 3,4

Bring Awareness to IBS

If you have IBS, talk about it with your health care professional and don’t be shy! There are several treatment options to discuss to help manage your symptoms. Take control of your IBS so you can enjoy living life to its fullest! 


  1. Health Care Transformation. (2013). Irritable Bowel Syndrome Affects up to 6.7 million Canadians. Retrieved Saturday, April 5, 2014, from http://healthcaretransformation.ca/irritable-bowel-syndrome-affects-up-to-6-7-million-canadians/

  2. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearing House. (2013). Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Retrieved April 5, 2014, from http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/ibs/#what

  3. Womenshealth.gov. (2012). Publications: Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) - Factsheet. http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/irritable-bowel-syndrome.html#a

  4. Eat Right Ontario. (2014). Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Retrieved April 6, 2014, from http://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Digestion-Digestive-health/Irritable-Bowel-Syndrome.aspx#.U0LxWSixr-B

  5. Bischoff, B. (n.d.) Nutrition Intervention for IBS. Retrieved April 6, 2014, from http://www.med.unc.edu/ibs/files/educational-gi-handouts/Nutritional%20Intervention.pdf

  6. WebMd. (2014). Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Triggers and Prevention. Retrieved April 6, 2014, from http://www.webmd.com/ibs/guide/ibs-triggers-prevention-strategies

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