IBS Diet

Woman eating a large bowl of saladIs There an Ideal IBS Diet?

Although stress can be a major factor in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), certain diets may relieve or aggravate IBS symptoms. There is, however, no standard IBS diet; healthcare practitioners offer a wide variety of food recommendations, which often leaves patients confused and frustrated. In fact, it is not unusual to hear that a patient visited a GI specialist who recommended a diet high in fiber, then went to another GI specialist who prescribed a diet very low in fiber.

Natural health care practitioners often recommend elimination diets. In reality, such diets are quite difficult for many people to follow. Their strictness can even cause stress for some patients, which in turn can aggravate IBS symptoms. It should be noted that certain segments of the patient population do respond very well to avoiding foods to which they are found to be “allergic.” However , such responders were likely not suffering purely from IBS in the first place; rather, they probably had other GI conditions such as lactose malabsorption[1] or celiac disease[2].

Traditional East Asian Medicine Dietary Approach for IBS

Traditional East Asian medicine practitioners provide general dietary guidelines based on each patient’s constitutional pattern. The main diagnostic criteria for IBS patients include signs of repletion/vacuity, heat/cold, and dampness/dryness. It is considered extremely important that the digestive tract always be kept warm, especially in vacuity- and cold-type individuals.

In my experience as a resident of Canada, I have noticed that many people, especially young females, overeat raw vegetable salads and fruits. Eating a large bowl of vegetable salad may be good for replete body types that tend to accumulate heat (typically, individuals with such  constitutions tend to develop heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke).  On the other hand, for individuals with other constitutional types, such as vacuity with cold (many IBS patients fit into this category), consuming large amounts of raw vegetables and fruits may not be beneficial. I can get a fairly good idea of a patient’s constitution by reviewing the Kampo Constitutional Evaluation Form in conjunction with assessing other physical signs (the pulse, tongue, abdomen, and so on).

You may also experiment for yourself: eat one large bowl of lettuce (preferably without any heavy dressing (you may add a small amount of salt or plain dressing), then see how you feel. If you develop bloating and diarrhea or constipation with small, pellet-like stools like those of rabbits, then you might try eating mainly cooked foods that belong to the neutral, warm, and hot categories in the Kampo food chart.

Updated on February 14, 2011

Tim H. Tanaka, PhD. is a Japanese licensed acupuncturist, certified herbalist, and board-certified biofeedback therapist. He is available for consultation and treatment at his acupuncture and alternative medicine clinic in Toronto.



1.         Farup PG, Monsbakken KW, Vandvik PO. Lactose malabsorption in a population with irritable bowel syndrome: prevalence and symptoms: A case-control study. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology 2004, 39(7): 645-649.

2.         Korkut E, Bektas M, Oztas E, Kurt M, Cetinkaya H, Ozden A. The prevalence of celiac disease in patients fulfilling Rome III criteria for irritable bowel syndrome. European Journal of Internal Medicine, 21(5): 389-392.