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Is Fibre Good for Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Feature, Gut Health & IBS | January 11, 2021

A young girl feeding her father a nutritious homemade sandwich.
Is Fibre Good for Irritable Bowel Syndrome? Featured Image

By now, most of us are aware that fibre plays a big role in how we poop. This is especially true for managing IBS symptoms. However, this doesn’t always translate to us getting enough fibre! Not getting enough fibre may be contributing to our ability to cope with our IBS symptoms. We are busy people with busy lives, so thinking about fibre for IBS isn’t always at the top of our to-do list. That’s why today, as an IBS dietitian, I want to discuss fibre and how to consume the best types of fibre for IBS. In a practical way! Sure, you’ve likely heard fibre helps you poop. But how? Let’s talk all about what’s important to know about fibre for IBS.

Table of Contents

  1. What role does fibre play in the diet?
  2. How much fibre do I need?
  3. What is soluble fibre?
  4. What is insoluble fibre?
  5. Fibre for IBS
  6. How to get fibre on FODMAP diet?
  7. What fibre supplements should I take for IBS?
A bowl filled with pink coloured yogurt and topped with strawberry slices, banana slices, chia seeds, almonds, and oats. There is a spoon next to the bowl and some fresh raspberries and blueberries on the other side of the bowl. There is a text box in the upper right corner that read "Is fibre good for irritable bowel syndrome?"

What role does fibre play in the diet?

  1. Maintaining gut motility (how quickly things move through our gut)
  2. Maintaining appropriate stool consistency
  3. Feeding your gut bacteria – which helps with consistency, motility (and more!)

How much fibre do I need?

We need quite a bit of fibre each day. Women should aim for 25 grams per day and men 38 grams. Research shows that many North Americans struggle to hit these targets and generally only consume about 15 grams per day! Fibre comes from plant-based foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruit, pulses, nuts, and seeds. These foods consist of two types of fibre, each of which contribute to digestion in a unique way.

What is soluble fibre?

Soluble fibre dissolves in water and forms a gel. This action helps to absorb water in the bowel and subsequently helps to create soft, well-formed stool. Soluble fibre simultaneously helps to soften stool in constipation-dominant IBS (IBS-C) and decreases diarrhea in those with IBS-D. Soluble fibre for IBS is therefore a great option for the different types of IBS.

This type of fibre can also help to lower cholesterol levels and regulate blood sugars. A win for everyone!

What foods have soluble fibre:

  • oats
  • legumes
  • oranges
  • psyllium husk
  • chia seeds
  • flaxseeds
  • avocado

What is insoluble fibre?

Unsurprisingly, insoluble fibre is the opposite of soluble fibre; it does not dissolve in water and therefore does not create a gel that helps bind stool. However, insoluble fibre for IBS is still very useful! It plays an important role in keeping digestion moving by increasing motility in the digestive tract and is therefore great for constipation in IBS management.

What foods have insoluble fibre:

  • skins of fruit and vegetables
  • nuts & seeds
  • beans
  • whole grains
  • wheat bran

Fibre for IBS

Managing irritable bowel syndrome and fibre go hand in hand. IBS symptoms can be both improved or exacerbated by fibre, depending on the specific fibre type and each individual’s tolerance levels.

Certain subtypes of dietary fibre called ‘fermentable fibres’ have been shown to help alter the gastrointestinal microbiota, leading to a potential increase in both quantity and variety of good gut bacteria and beneficial compounds. These dietary fibres are the food that our gut bacteria feed on, making them a crucial part of maintaining overall gut health. These kinds of fibres are referred to as prebiotics.

Promoting a healthy gut microbiota is key in the prevention of diseases, energy and mood regulation, cardiovascular health, and much more.

That being said, some high fibre foods contain more FODMAPs (highly fermentable carbohydrates) than others. Highly fermentable fibres may worsen IBS symptoms in some patients, depending on their tolerance to specific FODMAPs. In fact, many of our prebiotic-rich foods contain FODMAPs in the form of galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) and/or fructans. These types of carbohydrates are shown to contribute to increased gas production, bloating, and GI discomfort in many patients with IBS.

Galacto oligosaccharides are naturally found in:

  • beans
  • cashews, pistachios, almonds
  • soybeans
  • green peas
  • beets

Foods high in fructans:

  • wheat
  • rye
  • barley
  • inulin & chicory root
  • onions
  • garlic

It is important to note that not everyone with an IBS diagnosis will need to avoid foods high in GOS and fructans.

Elimination is dependent on each person’s IBS symptoms, and their unique IBS management plan. If you are just starting out on a low FODMAP diet, you will likely benefit most from avoiding these foods. However, if you have reintroduced FODMAPs and are tolerant to GOS and/or fructans, you can certainly liberalize your diet to include these foods. In fact, adding these foods back, in tolerable amounts, is very important for feeding those good gut bugs!

So, what happens if you are NOT tolerant to GOS and fructans?

Keep including small amounts, especially when your IBS symptoms are under control – for example, when you are less stressed – as stress can be a major trigger for IBS symptoms; it isn’t always food!

How to get fibre on FODMAP diet?

The elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet can certainly limit your access to dietary fibre. Simply because of the narrowed number of foods to choose from. However, there are lots of fantastic low FODMAP foods that pack a BIG punch when it comes to fibre for IBS. Let’s take a look at some of my patients’ favourite sources of FODMAP safe fibres for IBS.

FODMAP safe fibre for IBS:

  • bananas without brown spots
  • chia seeds
  • strawberries & raspberries
  • kiwi
  • peanuts, walnuts, hemp hearts, pumpkin seeds
  • oats
  • quinoa
  • canned lentils and chickpeas

What fibre supplements should I take for IBS?

Although it is possible to get enough fibre for IBS from food alone, it can still be a struggle for some people! A fibre supplement for IBS symptoms is often a great option to help give that final push toward the recommended 25-38 grams.

Fibre supplements on the market are primarily made from soluble fibre; the type that creates a gel and helps to yield soft, bulky stools. However, the source of the fibre varies amongst products, making some more appropriate for IBS symptoms than others.

Psyllium husk fibre for IBS

Studies show this type of fibre provides IBS symptom relief in both constipation and diarrhea predominant subtypes of IBS. It is often very well tolerated in IBS management.

Inulin fibre for IBS

This type of fibre is high in fructans and therefore could potentially lead to more gas, bloating, and abdominal pain in those with irritable bowel syndrome. This is generally not recommended, especially during the elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet.

Partially hydrolyzed guar gum fibre for IBS

This type of fibre supplement is low FODMAP and has shown IBS symptom relief in patients – it is very slowly fermentable and seems to work very well in our IBS-D patients specifically.

Methylcellulose fibre for IBS

This type of fibre is non-fermentable, therefore does not generally have side effects such as gas production, bloating, or pain. It may be especially useful for those with IBS-C as it helps to soften stool with its gel-forming properties.

As you can see, there is lots to consider with dietary fibre for irritable bowel syndrome – type, amount, and tolerance level. It may feel like your head is spinning! If you need help figuring out your fibre needs for IBS and which foods and/or supplements are appropriate for you, see one of our registered dietitians here at Ignite Nutrition – that specializes in IBS management, physician, or pharmacist to learn more!

At the end of the day, fibre for IBS is considered a low-risk IBS management strategy. It is non-systemic and easy to experiment with in a safe way in most cases. It may be just the thing you need to round out your IBS toolkit!

A bowl filled with pink coloured yogurt and topped with strawberry slices, banana slices, chia seeds, almonds, and oats. There is a spoon next to the bowl and some fresh raspberries and blueberries on the other side of the bowl. There is a text box at the bottom that read "Is fibre good for irritable bowel syndrome?"

FAQs about fibre for IBS

What is the best fiber supplement for IBS?

Although it is possible to get enough fibre for IBS from food alone, it can still be a struggle for some people. A fibre supplement such as psyllium husk, partially hydrolyzed guar gum, or methylcellulose is often a great option for IBS symptoms. Learn more about fibre in IBS.

Can fiber irritate IBS?

IBS symptoms can be both improved or exacerbated by fibre, depending on the specific fibre type and each individual’s tolerance levels. However, dietary fibres are the food that our gut bacteria feed on, making them a crucial part of maintaining overall gut health. Learn more about fibre for IBS here.

Which fiber is good for IBS diarrhea?

Soluble fibre simultaneously helps to soften stool in constipation-dominant IBS (IBS-C) and decreases diarrhea in those with IBS-D. Soluble fibre dissolves in water and forms a gel. This action helps to absorb water in the bowel and subsequently helps to create soft, well-formed stool.

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