What is the best IBS meal plan?

April 15, 2024

Written by Maeve Ginsberg

Medically reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

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Key Points

  • IBS is an umbrella diagnosis categorized by many different symptoms, making its treatment highly individualized. 
  • Some with IBS may find some foods irritating while others can eat them without issue.
  • The low FODMAP diet has the highest success rate of nutritional interventions to treat symptoms of IBS. 

If you're struggling with IBS, you may be searching for the best diet for irritable bowel syndrome. You've come to the right place. Today, we're going to talk through what triggers IBS flare ups, what foods can support a healthy gut, what foods to avoid with IBS, and what role the low FODMAP diet can play.

Irritable bowel syndrome is an umbrella diagnosis and functional GI disorder. It can be categorized by a number of symptoms, including:

  • Gas and bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Changes in digestive and bowel habits

Gastroenterologists are the doctors who diagnose IBS. There are three different types of IBS: IBS-D IBS with diarrhea), IBS-C (IBS with constipation), and IBS-M (IBS with mixed bowel habits). It's important to know which type of IBS you have if you are going to use medication as part of your IBS treatment.

Those with IBS can experience intestinal inflammation, increased intestinal barrier permeability and leaky gut, hypersensitivity, indigestion, and more. Aside from the uncomfortable and sometimes painful symptoms, why is this an issue?

A normal, healthy gut has a strong intestinal barrier which helps prevent toxic elements from entering the blood stream. However, a poor diet, stress, excessive alcohol and/or drug intake, and antibiotics can all compromise this homeostasis and lead to increased intestinal permeability. This can mean harmful agents can enter the gut more easily, then passing into the bloodstream and impacting other systems and organs in the body.

As a result, leaky gut syndrome and other intestinal barrier dysfunction issues are associated with IBS and inflammatory bowel disease, as well as heart disease, obesity, celiac disease, and more.

What triggers IBS flare ups?

Irritable bowel syndrome is always personal to the person being diagnosed. Because it is an umbrella diagnosis, what irritates one person might be fine for another. That said, these are common culprits when it comes to IBS flare-ups:

  • Coffee
  • Milk and ice cream
  • Certain fruits and vegetables
  • Alcohol
  • Spicy foods
  • Soda with artificial sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup
  • Gluten
  • Fatty foods 

One of the most effective ways to identify your IBS symptoms and triggers is to work with a registered dietitian. Your RD will likely run an elimination diet to see what irritates you. This diet involves removing common irritants, like those listed above, and slowly adding them back in one by one to see which cause irritation.

Armed with this information, your RD will then design an IBS diet that suits your needs and your symptoms. That may involve lactose-free foods, a gluten-free diet, or the low FODMAP diet – it is wholly depend on your individual results.

If you're worried that you'll never be able to eat your favorite foods again, don't fret! Just because you need to remove certain foods right now doesn't mean you'll never be able to enjoy them again. You'll need to work on healing your gut first, then, under the guidance of a dietitian, you can consider adding foods back in.

Find a board-certified dietitian specializing in IBS diets here.

What foods are OK to eat with IBS?

You can probably guess by now that there isn't just IBS meal plan to ease symptoms. Instead, you'll need to find foods to eat with IBS that don't irritate you.

Some IBS-friendly foods include:

  • High-fiber foods: Fiber comes in two forms, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance, while insoluble fiber doesn't dissolve and can help material move through your digestive tract. Fiber can act as a prebiotic and influence the composition of intestinal microbiota, which can help rebalance the gut. Psyllium husk, a soluble fiber with a low fermentation rate, may be particularly effective for IBS symptoms. Keep in mind that some people experience more irritation with fiber, so see what works for you.
  • Low fat foods: Eating a low-fat diet isn't a proven method for reducing IBS symptoms, but some people find relief with it. Generally speaking, it's wise to avoid fried and super fatty foods regardless of how you react to them.
  • Eggs: Eggs are easy to digest and high in protein and quality fat.
  • Omega-3: Consuming omega 3s can have a positive influence on your gut microbiota, helping maintain intestinal wall integrity. You can find omega-3s in fish like salmon or trout, fish oil, some seeds and nuts, and edamame.
  • Lean protein: Fatty foods are often attributed to IBS symptoms. As such, it can helpful to focus on lean meats like poultry and seafood, rather than higher-fat proteins like beef or pork. Deli meat is another good option, but they can contain garlic and/or onion, so if you’re avoiding those ingredients, be sure to check the label or ask at the deli counter.
  • Low FODMAP foods: We'll get into the low FODMAP diet in a moment, but foods like zucchini, kiwis, oranges, feta cheese, tofu, plain cooked meat, poultry, seafood, dark chocolate, seeds, peanuts, walnuts, and more can be easier to digest for those with IBS.

Can the low FODMAP diet help with IBS?

The low FODMAP diet has shown promise in recent studies to help with irritable bowel syndrome. FODMAPs stand for short-chain fermentable carbohydrates that exist in many foods: fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. FODMAPs are sugars found in a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes, that are fermented by gut bacteria and can trigger gastrointestinal and IBS symptoms

The low FODMAP menu plan is a type of elimination diet that involves removing all high FODMAP foods and limiting low FODMAP foods. High FODMAP foods include:

  • Fruits and vegetables like onion, garlic, apples, figs, watermelon, mangoes, mushrooms, and cauliflower
  • Dairy products with lactose like milk, soft cheeses, and ice cream
  • Grains and gluten like wheat, rye, and barley
  • Sweeteners and sugar alternatives like high-fructose corn syrup, honey, and sugar alcohols like xylitol or sorbitol
  • Some nuts such as pistachios and cashews
  • Beans and lentils

Low FODMAP foods include strawberries, potatoes, zucchini, avocado, and carrots.

Foods that don't contain any FODMAPs have no restrictions, such as meat, lactose-free milk, eggs, fish, oils, and gluten-free grains. Only foods with carbohydrates have the potential to contain FODMAPs.

Ideas for a low FODMAP meal include:

  • Lactose-free yogurt with a small serving of berries and gluten-free cereal or granola
  • Scrambled eggs with roasted potatoes and a side salad
  • Roasted chicken with a small serving of broccoli and a serving of quinoa

You can find additional low FODMAP recipes from the creators of the low FODMAP diet, Monash University.

While the low FODMAP diet can be an effective IBS treatment, it can be difficult to sustain long term due to how many foods it restricts. A low FODMAP meal plan is easier to follow with the guidance of a registered dietitian, but even with that guidance, it requires diligent tracking. This means this kind of diet for IBS can be difficult for those with a history of disordered eating as well.

If you want to try the low FODMAP diet, it is best administered under the care of a registered dietitian. As you can see, it is a complicated diet, and an RD will be able to equip you with the education necessary to follow the diet successfully, as well as tips and tricks to succeed. They will also likely have a library of low FODMAP recipes for you to try so that you don't run out of meal ideas and become non-compliant before the elimination and re-introductory periods are fully complete.

If you're looking for an RD who specializes in IBS and can help you navigate high FODMAP foods and an IBS diet, try Fay Nutrition. Fay has a database of vetted, board-certified RDs and RDNs that you can sort by specialty to find a provider who focuses on your area of concern and who is covered by your health insurance. Click here to get started.

Finding the right diet for IBS

Resolving IBS can be tricky due to the highly individual nature of symptoms and response to treatment. You may find that an elimination diet like a low FODMAP meal plan suits you best, while others may find relief with a combination of medication and dietary interventions. That's why working with a registered dietitian is so important for those with irritable bowel syndrome.

Fay Nutrition has a host of qualified RDs who specialize in IBS and helping those struggling with bloating, diarrhea, and other symptoms of IBS. They can help identify what might be causing IBS, understand your IBS symptoms, and start designing a custom IBS treatment. Whether you try a low FODMAP diet or another course of treatment, your dietitian will be there to educate and support you every step of the way.

Get started with Fay Nutrition today.

The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.

  • World Journal of Gastroenterology - Diet in irritable bowel syndrome: What to recommend, not what to forbid to patients!
  • Molecules - Leaky Gut and the Ingredients That Help Treat It: A Review
  • International Journal of Molecular Medicine - Dietary fiber in irritable bowel syndrome (Review)
  • Monash University - IBS Diet
  • International Journal of Molecular Sciences - Impact of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on the Gut Microbiota

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Maeve Ginsberg

Written by Maeve Ginsberg

Maeve Ginsberg is a health and wellness writer with a personal passion for fitness. As an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and former powerlifter, she loves combining her interests in health with her writing. Maeve has a Bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University. 

Rita Faycurry, RD

Medically Reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

Rita Faycurry, RD is a board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in clinical nutrition for chronic conditions. Her approach to health is centered around the idea that the mind and body are intimately connected, and that true healing requires an evidence-based and integrative approach that addresses the root cause of disease. In her books and articles, Rita offers practical tips and insights on how to care for your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and wellness.