April 09, 2024

Kic’s Dietitian Explains IBS & Low FODMAP Diet

April is IBS Awareness Month, so we’ve asked Kic’s resident dietitian, Liv Morrison to help us understand what exactly IBS is and how we can manage it.  To help destigmatise and support our Kic community suffering with IBS, we’re breaking down what IBS actually is, our favourite IBS-friendly recipes, and what to do if your body is showing signs that you might be joining the IBS bandwagon.

What is IBS and are there any specific causes?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that affects the digestive system and it causes pretty uncomfortable symptoms. Unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more common in Australia, affecting around 30% of the population, predominantly women.  

As IBS is a relatively new area of research, we know about some causes of IBS like food poisoning or gastroenteritis, but in many cases the cause is still unclear as we’re waiting for research to catch up. The severity of IBS symptoms can range greatly, however key symptoms include: diarrhoea, constipation, abdominal pain, bloating and gas.

An IBS diagnosis is generally a process of elimination after ruling out other potential causes of digestive symptoms as many conditions present similarly so it’s important to seek professional help from either your GP or dietitian if you are concerned and not to self-diagnose.

​​Tell us about the IBS & Low FODMAP recipes in the Kic app, who are these great for and what makes them different?

As someone with IBS, I was so excited about creating these Kic new recipes because I know how difficult it can be to eat within your IBS parameters while also trying to cook something that’s healthy, easy and actually tastes good! Healthy eating shouldn’t be boring or bland and the same goes for people with IBS.

Kic’s IBS recipes are all Low FODMAP as that’s a common IBS diagnosis, however we’ve provided a range that focus on other causes of IBS so there’s something to suit everyone; low fat, low acidity, low fibre, high fibre, reducing gas and bloating, with many being coeliac friendly.

From a nutrition standpoint, these recipes are no different from any other Kic recipe and can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of having IBS or not!

Can stress impact IBS?

Stress has a significant impact on digestion and often worsens symptoms for people with IBS. In many cases, reducing & managing stress can be the treatment for IBS in itself. This is because despite how incredible our brain is, it isn’t good at differentiating different types of stress (i.e., positive stress – going for a run vs negative stress – running away from a tiger). When our brain registers an increase of stress hormones it pushes us into our ‘survival’ nervous system, the sympathetic nervous system, which redirects energy, oxygen and blood flow to our muscles and brain so we can concentrate on escaping the situation to live another day.

Consequently, this nervous system switch shuts down our ‘rest and digest’ (parasympathetic) nervous system which controls things like digestion, gut motility, nutrient absorption & sleep.

The thing is, our modern environment is very different from the hunter and gatherer environment we’re genetically built for so many things we deal with day to day that are now considered ‘normal’ aspects of life (work, media consumption, finances, family, friends, etc) can increase stress hormones cause physical changes resulting in digestive issues. I can’t stress enough how important it is to manage stress for IBS.

Is going low FODMAP the only way to deal with IBS?

Absolutely not! There are numerous causes of IBS, each with different treatment methods. As a dietitian, the low FODMAP diet isn’t something I recommend lightly to my patients and it’s rarely my first treatment option for IBS as it’s quite specific, not easy to follow without professional support and incredibly restrictive, nutritionally and socially.

The low FODMAP diet is only effective for people who have FODMAP intolerances after ruling out other potential diagnosis. It’s supposed to be a short term, strategic elimination diet used for diagnosing intolerances, before reintroducing foods that aren’t causing issues… it’s not healthy to be eating strictly low FODMAP long-term! If you suspect you’re FODMAP intolerant, please reach out to your GP or see a dietitian first to make sure it’s the right option for you!

Bloating can be really severe. If someone has IBS, how do you recommend they eat consistent meals when they feel bloated all the time?

Bloating is normal to some extent; it’d be weird if you always had a completely flat stomach after eating a meal because digesting food produces gas. Bloating in IBS however isn’t regular, healthy bloating. It’s often painful, isn’t solely related to food volume and can stick around for hours to days… it’s not easy to motivate yourself to eat when you’re already feeling uncomfortable so it’s not uncommon to experience changes in appetite and hunger recognition.

Focusing on eating at set times throughout the day is a great way to reduce bloating as it helps your brain learn when to expect food and ‘switch on’ the digestive system (parasympathetic nervous system), improving gut motility, nutrient absorption and hunger-satiety hormone recognition. If you’re struggling at first, start with small portions and build up from there.

Mindful eating techniques are fantastic too! Simple things like sitting down to eat, slowing down how quickly you eat and chewing your food well before swallowing work wonders for bloating!

Are there any specific foods that help with reducing the symptoms of IBS?

Diets high in fat, gas producing foods like legumes and cruciferous vegetables, fiber (e.g., lots of raw plants, quickly increasing fiber intake), spicy foods and caffeine are common causes of IBS. If you’ve been diagnosed with IBS and you’re unsure of what could be causing your digestive issues, it can be useful to keep a food-symptom diary and check in with the above triggers to see if they’re impacting you.

Alternatively, peppermint tea and peppermint oil capsules, probiotics and regular exercise are options that can be really beneficial in managing symptoms of bloating, abdominal pain, constipation and gas in the short term.

What are some good ways to get nutritious foods if you suffer from IBS?

The first step is seeking professional help for a formal diagnosis so you know what’s causing your symptoms and how to manage them. It’s really hard to eat well and feel good when your body’s not absorbing food properly.

Planning ahead is a little more important for people with IBS as our ‘safe’ foods aren’t often convenient options you can grab anywhere. A little meal prep can go a long way so I highly recommend having some prepared meals and convenient snacks available in the cupboard, fridge, freezer, work bag and options to keep at work so you’re not caught out!

Liv Morrison