Between 25 million and 45 million people
in the United States experience irritable bowel syndrome
(IBS), marked by abdominal discomfort or pain as well as
an altered bowel habit, according to the International
Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders.
But new research suggests relief may come from simply
changing the way you eat.
“There’s a lot of research coming out lately about
our human gut microbiome, which is the bacteria that live within
us,” says Alison Tierney, a clinical oncology dietitian at the UW
Cancer Center at ProHealth Care in Waukesha. “What we’re finding is
that the good bacteria in our body help us digest foods better;
better absorb nutrients; synthesize vitamins; fight against
intruders, such as the flu or toxic, cancer-forming carcinogens;
boost our immunity; and regulate our metabolism.
“One of the best things you can do is eat a diet
filled with colorful, plant-based foods, because the gut bacteria
thrive off those foods,” she says, adding that in changing what you
eat you can influence the bacteria within your body within just 24
hours. In addition to helping to maintain a healthy digestion,
plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes
and beans, help combat obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease,
autoimmune diseases and some forms of cancer, she says.
So what specifically should you eat to please your
gut bacteria and generally keep your tummy feeling all right?
Tierney recommends the following 10 foods and drinks:
1 Jerusalem artichokes
They’re high in a type of
fiber called inulin and have strong prebiotic potential, feeding gut
bacteria in a good way, Tierney says. “Probiotics are the good,
healthy bacteria within our gut,” she explains. “Prebiotics are the
food for those probiotics, helping them work more efficiently.”
2 Fermented plant-based foods
Think sauerkraut (fermented
cabbage), kimchi (also fermented cabbage) or tempeh (fermented
soybeans), all of which contain probiotics.
A high-fiber, corn-based complex carbohydrate,
polenta includes insoluble fiber. As it travels through the colon,
it’s fermented by different types of the gut flora, Tierney says.
This group consists of kale, cabbage, cauliflower,
broccoli and bok choy. “These vegetables contain glucosinolates —
they’re phytochemicals, or plant-based nutrients, that have been
shown to reduce the risk of many types of cancer, including colon,
bladder, breast, liver, lung and stomach cancer,” Tierney says. “The
glucosinolates latch onto the carcinogens in our colon and get those
harmful things out of our body through our stools,” she explains,
adding that glucosinolates also aid in reducing inflammation in the
Tierney says to look for ground flaxseeds or flaxseed
meal, because you can’t absorb the nutrients in the full-seed form.
“You can add it to oatmeal, smoothies, cereal or salads,” she says.
“It’s a good way to keep your bowels regular and healthy.”
Flaxseeds, she adds, contain omega-3s, which decrease inflammation.
“If you’re increasing your fiber and don’t have
enough fluids, it can cause constipation,” Tierney warns. “Water’s
super important to flush everything out of our system and keep us
This antioxidant-rich superfood enhances immune function through
Kidney beans, black beans and garbanzo beans can
strengthen intestine cells, improve absorption of micronutrients,
and help with weight loss because they make you feel full, according
This fermented tea includes probiotics and tastes
both sweet and tart.
help restore the health of the bacterial community and reduce
inflammation within our bodies that's very common with different
types of chronic diseases," Tierney says.
Tierney says that some of her patients
with IBS who have switched to a whole-food, plant-based diet have
seen all their IBS symptoms disappear. That said, if you continue to
experience GI symptoms and changing your diet doesn’t help, she
advises that you see your physician and ask for a referral to a