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Changes to diet can help relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) with diarrhoea.

It's important to maintain a balanced diet for good health when you have IBS. So never completely avoid certain groups of foods, or you may be deprived of nutrients your body needs.

It may help to eat less insoluble fibre and avoid the skin, pith and pips from fruit and vegetables.

People may need time to experiment to find out what works for them, so if apples cause discomfort, would pears be OK? If grapes are not suitable, is some banana acceptable?

Keep an IBS symptom diary to track which foods and which amounts cause bouts of diarrhoea. It's the best way to work out which foods cause you problems. Remember, different foods have different effects on each person.

Get the right type of fibre for IBS relief

Whether you have IBS or not, there are certain elements in foods that are known to quicken bowel movement. Fibre is one of them, which is why fibre helps relieve constipation. Don't avoid fibre if you have diarrhoea. It helps protect your body against heart disease and possibly cancer, so you need it.

Soluble fibre may be preferable to insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre stays in the gut longer, adding bulk to the colon, which helps the colon work normally.

You find soluble fibre in:

  • Dried or tinned beans
  • Peas
  • Oats
  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • The flesh of fruits such as apples and oranges
  • Dried fruits
  • Vegetables such as carrots

For comparison, insoluble fibre is found in the skins of fruits and root vegetables, in whole-wheat products, wheat and corn bran, and in vegetables such as cauliflower and green beans.

Drink plenty of water for IBS

If you have IBS with diarrhoea, make sure you drink six to eight glasses of plain water each day, but not always with meals.

Be wary of certain foods if you have IBS

Each person with IBS reacts differently to foods. Only you know which foods send you running to the toilet. But while you work out your own triggers, you might want to take special care with foods known to cause symptoms in some people with IBS:

  • Broccoli, onions, and cabbage
  • Fried or fatty foods such as chips
  • Milk products such as cheese or ice cream
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine in coffee, tea, and some fizzy drinks
  • Chocolate

Sorbitol, a sugar substitute found in sugarless gum and mints, and fructose, a simple sugar found in honey and some fruits, also trigger IBS symptoms in some people.

How you eat may also trigger symptoms. Some people with IBS are bothered by foods with extreme temperatures, particularly if consumed together, such as ice-cold water and steaming hot soup. Many people develop symptoms after large meals. Try to eat less at each meal, or have four or five small meals a day.

The NHS says changing diet is a key way to control IBS symptoms, but no 'one size fits all', and it all depends on how people react to different foods.

Understanding IBS

A visual guide to irritable bowel syndrome
View slideshow