Article: Can IBS patients still eat foods that are high in fiber?

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Dear Timaree: My friend has some weight to lose and is not able to eat high fiber foods because she has IBS. What can can she do?

Timaree: While Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is the most common reason for a referral to a gastroenterologist, the disorder is still a bit mysterious. IBS can develop in people of any age and the symptoms can vary considerably, even for the same individual. Most commonly, symptoms include abdominal pain, fullness, gas, bloating, and bouts of constipation and/or diarrhea. Although these symptoms may come and go over weeks or months, the structure of the large intestine is normal, unlike with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis.  Some patients with IBS have a significantly reduced appetite level and can struggle with unintentional weight loss, while others are overweight and have difficulty losing weight. Stress has been linked to worsening IBS symptoms and the unpredictable nature of the IBS symptoms can increase anxiety level, worsening the situation.  While there is no single solution for everyone with IBS, the following have been effective strategies for “taming” IBS and achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

Regular intentional exercise and adequate sleep both lend themselves to lower stress levels, fewer IBS symptoms and better weight control. When it comes to food and beverages, everyone will respond differently, so each person needs to experiment to find foods that work best for them.

Fiber, a key component of a healthful weight-friendly eating plan, is a very important type of carbohydrate ONLY found in plants (vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains) that can be either soluble, which forms a gel when combined with liquid, or insoluble, which does not dissolve. Since humans are unable to digest either type of fiber, both continue through the gut to the large intestine, but can impact IBS quite differently.

The benefits of consuming insoluble fiber are many: preventing constipation and hemorrhoids, reducing the time toxic waste is in contact with the walls of the intestine and promoting an optimal pH level consistent with cancer prevention, but some foods high in insoluble fiber (and low in soluble fiber) can aggravate IBS for some people. On the other hand, foods which provide a good dose of soluble fiber can lower cholesterol, slow stomach emptying time, help regulate blood sugar levels and have been shown to significantly improve symptoms for many IBS sufferers.

Enjoying a plant-based diet can help you control your weight, and including the following foods, which provide a good amount of soluble fiber without a large amount of insoluble fiber, may keep IBS symptoms at bay: oranges, grapefruit, plums, peaches, nectarines, watermelon, blackberries, pears, peaches, prunes, apricots, avocados, carrots, winter squash, zucchini, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, mushrooms, artichokes, asparagus, oatmeal, oat bran, quinoa, barley, kidney beans, lima beans and pistachios.

If you have not been eating enough fiber, it is best to increase your intake slowly and be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day, especially an hour before and after meals, since soluble fiber absorbs water. Water is a wonderful beverage to help with weight control since it is calorie free, and choosing more water can also help manage IBS, by providing a smart alternative to soda and energy drinks, both of which can stimulate the intestine and result in a bout of IBS symptoms.

Moderating intake of caffeine containing coffee and tea can also prove helpful in managing IBS.

Seasoning food with cinnamon, ginger, fennel and dill can also relax the intestinal muscles and reduce symptoms.

If your physician has given you specific recommendations about your IBS diet, be sure to consult her/him about making changes.

While there are many soluble fiber supplements on the market, I always recommend focusing on real food. When you choose to eat amazing fiber-rich plant foods, not only do you get to enjoy great tasting meals that are budget smart, but you also benefit from the plethora of naturally occurring phytonutrients which support your immune system and overall health. Why not start this Valentine’s Day with a “kiss”, a bowl of my Pistachio Kissed Blackberry Pear Oatmeal, that is! Also try another recipe, for a delectable Pumpkin Oatmeal, which is also a great source of soluble fiber.

This Pistachio-Kissed Blackberry Pear Oatmeal is absolutely delicious!

This Pistachio-Kissed Blackberry Pear Oatmeal is absolutely delicious!

Pistachio Kissed Blackberry Pear Oatmeal
1/2 cup uncooked old fashioned oats
1 cup water
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 ripe pear, diced (peeled only if you are sensitive to insoluble fiber)
1/2 cup blackberries (fresh or frozen)
2 Tbsp crushed pistachios, divided

Bring water and a dash of salt to a boil, add oats and simmer for 5 minutes. Off the heat, stir in cinnamon and pear. Spoon half of the mixture into a bowl, top with half of the blackberries and a tablespoon of pistachios. Repeat with another layer of oatmeal, the remaining blackberries and sprinkle with pistachios.  Take a second to admire your beautiful creation, then enjoy every, single bite! Eating smart tastes great and feels wonderful!

Timaree Hagenburger, is a registered dietitian and certified exercise physiologist with a master’s degree in public health. She is a nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College, conducts corporate wellness work, professional speaking engagements, and has a regular segment on California Bountiful TV. This delicious recipe, as well as a fun Oatmeal Foodie Bar, is part of her innovative cookbook – The Foodie Bar™ Way: One meal. Lots of options. Everyone’s happy. available at www.FoodieBars.coms

View my article as published in the Lodi News Sentinel.

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