Gastrointestinal conditions are a growing problem in the U.S. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), around 60 to 70 million Americans are affected by a digestive disease. Most of them can be managed, or at least improved, by making changes to your diet, so it is essential to assess what foods and diets are recommended for the most common conditions.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
If you suffer from IBS, treatment methods can vary from person to person. Your doctor may recommend you make several changes to your diet and monitor how they affect your condition.
The HHS recommends that, on average, adults should be eating between 22 to 34 grams of fiber a day. For an IBS patient, increasing the amount and type of fiber in your diet is an excellent way to improve or manage the condition. In particular, eating foods high in soluble fibers such as fruits, beans, and oat-based products can help relieve many symptoms, such as constipation and diarrhea. It’s best to slowly increase your dietary fiber intake, adding between 2-3 grams per day to avoid causing flatulence and bloating.
The FODMAP diet is a recent addition to the treatment of IBS symptoms. FODMAP stands for Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides, And Polyols, which are carbohydrates that ferment during digestion, making them hard to absorb. FODMAPs are found in many foods, including most fruits and fruit juices and many vegetables, dairy products, wheat and rye products, and foods with certain artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol and xylitol.
The diet involves initially lowering the amount of these foods you eat for several weeks to observe any improvement in your digestive health. If there is, your doctor may slowly add certain FODMAP foods back into your diet to assess which ones trigger symptoms.
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) is a gastrointestinal condition associated with IBS. This condition involves an increased amount of bacteria building up in the small intestine, which has many causes… The disorder was previously thought to be not that common. However, a 2018 study indicated that the odds of a SIBO diagnosis in IBS were increased by nearly five-fold.
The treatment for SIBO usually targets getting your gut bacteria back under control. The recommendation from most gastroenterologists is for patients to remove sugary foods and drinks from their diet. They may also try diet options common with other gastrointestinal conditions, such as avoiding lactose and the FODMAP diet. Additionally, treatment with a course of medications, most often antibiotics, can be given to treat SIBO.
Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)
The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) has traditionally been used to treat gastrointestinal diseases such as celiac disease. In the last few decades, using SCD as a treatment diet for inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) and IBS has become commonplace.
Like the FODMAP diet, the SCD diet looks to remove certain carbohydrates from your diet that are not easily digestible. These include sugar, foods with added sugar (like candy), and products that contain a high amount of natural sugar like fructose. Other foods to avoid include most grains, high lactose milk products, and starchy vegetables like potatoes and turnips.
The most common misconception surrounding lactose intolerance is that it is solved by people removing lactose from their diet. However, while this is undoubtedly an effective method, not all lactose-intolerance patients need to avoid lactose. According to some research, many patients could consume up to 12 grams of lactose without having anything more than mild symptoms.
Your gastroenterologist or dietitian may recommend a diet containing lower lactose foods like yogurts and certain hard cheeses to see how your digestive system reacts. They may also suggest gradually introducing milk products to your diet or drinking milk in moderation with your meal to gauge your tolerance. Lactaid pills can also be used prior to meals with dairy products or items containing lactose, in order to mitigate symptoms.
Milk products are the most common sources of calcium. They typically contain reasonable amounts of vitamin D, which helps your body absorb and use the calcium. Lactose-intolerant patients will therefore need to add calcium and vitamin D to their diet to avoid suffering from deficiencies. Good alternative sources of calcium include leafy green vegetables such as broccoli, canned fish, nuts, and tofu. Many products such as soy or lactose-free milk, cereals, and fruit juices have added calcium and vitamin D.
Gluten is the main trigger for celiac disease, so patients have little option except to eat a gluten-free diet. Your doctor or dietitian will recommend eating certain foods such as meat, fish, vegetables, rice, and plain potatoes to maintain a well-balanced diet.
In the past, celiac disease patients had to limit their diet significantly. However, with the rise of other gluten intolerance-based conditions, many food retailers now offer products featuring gluten-free ingredients.
The overall aim of gastrointestinal diets is to promote a healthier gut and digestive tract. Most diets follow a similar pattern of elimination or restriction of certain foods. This is followed by a trial-and-error process of gradually reintroducing them to test triggers and food intolerances. In specific cases such as lactose intolerance or celiac disease, where the trigger foods are known, removing them from the diet is the only solution.
- Digestive Diseases Statistics for the United States
- 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines
- Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Prevalence and predictors of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth in irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis
- Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Lactose Intolerance