Caption: In Singapore, almost one in 10 suffers from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Doctors, from the Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at
Singapore General Hospital (SGH), list foods that may trigger symptoms and recommends alternatives that are gentler on the tummy. (iStock photo)
If your abdomen hurts or bloats when you eat a particular food, you may have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
IBS is a disorder that affects the intestines, causing symptoms such as abdominal discomfort, bloating, diarrhoea or constipation, or a sensation of incomplete bowel clearance. Symptoms vary from one person to the next; some people experience only mild symptoms, whilst for others, it can disrupt everyday life.
The exact causes of IBS are unknown. "Individuals may have overly sensitive nerves in the bowels; this causes muscles to contract too much after eating and abdominal cramps occur," say doctors from the
Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology,
Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the
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IBS typically develops in early adulthood
Other possible causes could be food intolerances, yeast overgrowth or unfriendly bacteria in the gut. In other cases, food is either forced through the bowel quickly, causing diarrhoea; or passes too slowly resulting in constipation. Stress could also be a contributing factor.
Irritable bowel syndrome cannot be diagnosed by standard tests. Diagnosis is usually based on the patient's symptom history.
While IBS can affect people of any age, the condition develops commonly in individuals aged between 20-30. In Singapore, almost one in 10 people suffers from IBS.
While IBS isn't curable, it can be managed. Eating smaller meals and exercising aid the digestive system, and can ease symptoms. More effectively, the answer can be as simple as adjusting one's diet.
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How to identify foods that trigger symptoms
The fundamental idea behind an IBS-friendly diet is that you should avoid foods that aggravate your intestines. While sounding simple, it can take a while to figure it all out. But once you do, you'll find eating a lot less of a task.
The following steps will help you discover what foods you should and should not eat if you have irritable bowel syndrome.
The elimination process
First, eliminate from your diet the foods that you suspect trigger symptoms. This can be done sequentially. The list of foods to avoid includes:
- Foods high in saturated fat
- Alcohol or caffeine
- Dairy products
- Certain sugars such as fructose-rich fruit juices, table sugar and corn syrup (found even in so-called healthy cereals); artificial sweeteners like sorbitol and maltitol used in sugar-free foods.
- Gas-producing vegetables and legumes, such as cabbage and green beans
Adding back foods
After the elimination phase, you can re-introduce one-by-one the foods you cut out. You will know what works for you when what you eat does not set off symptoms.
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