Diet may help IBS sufferers, but it's tough to follow

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Most people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome will tell you they have to be careful at the grocery store, steering clear of certain foods that can cause a painful flare-up in their symptoms.

IBS is a spectrum of gut disorders, but common symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, bloating, cramping and gas.

Dr. Mark Stern of DeKalb Gastroenterology Associates says a type of harder-to-digest carbohydrates, known as FODMAPs can be especially problematic for people with IBS.

That's why some IBS patients are following The Low FODMAP Diet, which involves limiting fructose, dairy, wheat, beans and sweeteners like sorbitol and xylitol.

"It's a hard diet to follow,” Dr. Stern says. “What you usually have is a motivated patient who has been suffering for a period of time.  And they are open to trying something like this.  What really remains to be seen is how long can they stick with the diet."

The Low FODMAP Diet is challenging because it’s restrictive; there are so many foods you need to limit.

"So that can include cabbage, milk products, hard cheeses, onions, chicken, and alcohol,” says Stern.  “So it's a whole gamut of different types of foods. Some vegetables are good for you and some vegetables aren't."

Vegetables to limit include artichokes, cauliflower, mushrooms and sugar snap peas.

Most fruits are fine.  But there are more than a dozen high-FODMAP fruits that should be limited including

apples, apricots, peaches and pears and watermelon.

"One of the reasons why this diet is hard to follow is because a lot of healthy foods have these FODMAPs in them,” says Dr. Stern. “And so it's not necessarily foods that are bad for you. But there are foods that are good for you in other contexts. But in this particular situation, they're foods you want to avoid."

The big plus of following the plan?  It works, according to a University of Michigan research study.

"At the end of the study, over 50% of the patients who used the Low FODMAP Diet had an improvement in their healthcare quality of life,” says Dr. Stern. “It made a difference."

Dr. Stern says many IBS patients follow a gluten-free diet, not because they're allergic to gluten, but because they're sensitive to it.

"And, although both diets are not easy, the gluten-free diet is a little bit easier to follow because there is so much out there,” says Dr. Stern.  “So, some patients will go back and forth."

Experts recommend trying The Low FODMAP Diet for 6 weeks to see if it helps.  Once the trial period is over, try reintroducing the foods one at a time to see if they trigger your symptoms.