1. Health
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

IBS and Diabetes

What to Eat When You Have Both Disorders

By

Updated May 23, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Some people suffer the misfortune of having to deal with IBS and diabetes at the same time. Little information is available as to how many people struggle with the two health problems together. What seems to be the case, however, is that IBS and diabetes are two distinct disorders, with no physiological overlap -- therefore, it appears to be just plain bad luck to be stuck with the two.

IBS and diabetes do share one thing in common -- a complicated relationship with food. This can make the job of figuring out what to eat quite challenging. If you suffer from both IBS and diabetes, it might be a good idea to work with a nutritionist who is knowledgeable about both disorders in order to come up with a balanced food plan that is optimal for stabilizing blood sugar, while avoiding foods that may trigger IBS symptoms. The following discussion covers some of the factors that you may want to consider as you seek a dietary plan that works for you.

What To Eat for Diabetes

If you have been diagnosed with either type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes, you have hopefully discussed diet with your doctor and perhaps have worked with a nutritionist. Type 1 diabetes requires that special care be taken with meal planning, while type 2 diabetes requires more of a focus on weight loss and control. Information on optimal diets for type 1 and 2 diets can be found here:

What to Eat for IBS

Unlike diabetes, the relationship between food and IBS symptoms is a somewhat controversial subject. For years, the medical establishment downplayed the role of food as a trigger or explanation for IBS distress. This approach was in direct contrast to the perception of many IBS sufferers that food is the absolute culprit in causing acute IBS symptoms. This disparity in perceptions is mellowing somewhat as researchers are beginning to acknowledge that some foods may be more likely to trigger IBS.

Although there is now some acknowledgement that certain foods may be harder on the digestive system, it is also important to understand that multiple factors are at play in the onset and maintenance of IBS. It can be dangerous to over-estimate the role that food is playing in triggering your symptoms, as it can lead to excessive food deprivation, therefore raising the risk of nutritional deficiency. If you do suspect that a certain food is a trigger for you, it is important to use a food diary and to carefully follow an elimination diet before avoiding a food altogether. The following articles can be of use as you figure out what foods you should and should not be eating:

Foods for IBS/Diabetes Overlap

In order to help you to sort out what you should be eating, I will discuss each of the major food groups and the things you should be considering when you are deciding what to eat.

Bread, Cereal, Rice, Pasta

The standard advice given to diabetics is to eat foods with a high fiber content. This would include whole-grain breads, pastas and cereal, as well as brown rice. These high-fiber carbohydrates are thought to help to stabilize blood sugar levels.

This advice may strike fear in the heart of many IBS sufferers who have become fearful of fiber's effects on their symptoms. In actuality, these foods should be helpful in terms of easing IBS symptoms of both constipation and diarrhea, due to fiber's effect of softening and firming the stool. The key is to increase your fiber intake slowly to allow time for your system to adjust. With IBS, it is also important to rule out a wheat sensitivity. Watch out also for an intolerance to bran, which can be irritating to the intestinal system.

Beans and Vegetables

Like other high-fiber carbohydrates, beans and starchy vegetables (e.g. potatoes) are recommended as a foundation of a diabetic diet. Consumption of all other vegetables is encouraged due to their nutritional benefits. If one of your IBS symptoms is excessive gas and bloating, the bean recommendation might not be right for you. Other potential vegetable problems for some IBS patients are raw vegetables and the "head" group, such as cauliflower and broccoli. With those exceptions, both disorders should be helped by eating a wide variety of vegetables.

Fruits

Diabetic dietary advice encourages intake of fruits, while discouraging fruit juice. Due to their nutritional benefits, IBS patients should also be eating a wide variety of fruit, with the major exception of those who have established through the use of a hydrogen breath test that they suffer from fructose intolerance.

Milk and Dairy Products

Nonfat or low-fat dairy products are optimal for both disorders. Minimizing fat consumption is of particular importance for IBS sufferers as fat can strengthen intestinal contractions, contributing to abdominal pain. IBS patients who have a firm diagnosis of lactose intolerance will need to take care with dairy products.

Yogurt can be helpful for IBS sufferers due to the presence of beneficial probiotics. Diabetics should read labels carefully to watch out for excessive added sugar.

Meat and Fish

The protein found in meat and fish is usually well-tolerated by both diabetics and IBS patients. Choose lean varieties to minimize the problematic effect of fat on the digestive system.

Artificial Sweeteners

Many diabetic foods contain artificial sweeteners. This can be a problem for IBS sufferers as some artificial sweeteners can contribute to problems with gas and bloating. Read labels carefully and beware of sweeteners that end in -ol, such as sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol.

Good Eating Habits for Both

Both diabetes and IBS symptoms can be helped through the establishment of healthy eating habits. Both disorders will benefit from eating small meals frequently throughout the day as opposed to large meals. Try to time your meals in a consistent manner from day to day. This will help to stabilize blood sugar levels and to encourage your intestines to establish a more consistent rhythm.

The Silver Lining

Whoever was the first to say "Life is unfair" certainly knew what they were talking about. It can be challenging enough to deal with one health problem; two can seem overwhelming. The silver lining to this particular black cloud, the co-existence of diabetes and IBS, is that it forces you to become more aware of, and choosy about, the foods that you put into your body. As we have seen, both disorders benefit from foods that are healthy, nutritious and minimally processed. Eating these foods on a consistent basis will serve to enhance your overall health as well as help to keep your diabetes and IBS in check.

Sources:

"Diabetes Diet - Type 1" Medline Plus Accessed September 7, 2011.

"Diabetes Diet - Type 2" Medline Plus Accessed September 7, 2011.

Heizer, W., Southern, S. & McGovern, S. "The Role of Diet in Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Adults: A Narrative Review" The Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2009 109:1204-1214.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed physician. It is essential that you discuss with your doctor any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.