Irritable Bowel Syndrome doesn’t just affect adults. Learn more about kids and IBS: how to spot it, what to do, and why going gluten-free isn’t necessarily the answer!
Thank you to Rachel Pauls Food for sponsoring this post!
I’ve always had a sensitive stomach, even as a kid. I remember my mom taking me to the pediatrician, who wasn’t sure how to explain my recurring tummy pain. In college and my early 20s, stress and worry (and a not-so-nutritious diet) added fuel to the fire. A doctor eventually told me I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). And though I was happy to finally have a name for it, I didn’t yet know how to feel better.
IBS may be thought of as a grown-up condition, but it actually affects up to 20 percent of kids too. It’s marked by symptoms like gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation that really impact quality of life. Nobody’s sure what exactly causes IBS, but stress seems to aggravate it. Genetics and the balance between good and bad bacteria in the gut may play a role too.
What Are FODMAPs?
What helps a lot of people with IBS is a low-FODMAPs diet, which limits certain kinds of carbohydrates—namely ones that tend to be poorly digested by some people such as those found in wheat, beans, dairy, certain fruits and vegetables, and some sugar substitutes. (“FODMAP” stands for Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, the classes of these carbohydrates.) For people with IBS, one or more of these classes worsen symptoms like gas and bloating.
Examples of high-FODMAPs foods are watermelon, onions, chicory root, chickpeas, ice cream, honey, and apple juice. To figure out which FODMAPs are provoking symptoms, you eliminate all high-FODMAPs foods for a few weeks, then slowly reintroduce them, one class at a time. (Get a free FODMAP Guide and a FODMAPs food list.)
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Trouble is, some parents may confuse their child’s IBS symptoms with celiac disease (which is much less common, affecting only one percent of the population) and cut out gluten. While cutting out wheat may be helpful for some kids with IBS, many gluten-free foods and drinks are actually high in the other FODMAPs.
In a study published in The Journal of Pediatrics, researchers analyzed kid-friendly foods and drinks that were assumed to be low in FODMAPs including breads, snacks, cereal, and dairy alternatives. They found that many were actually high in FODMAPs, including gluten-free bread, muffins, and cereal. For instance, the gluten-free bread and cereal they tested were both high in fructose (a monosaccharide and the “M” in FODMAPs).
What To Do
The best way to figure out if your child is suffering from IBS (or celiac disease) is to see your pediatrician, who can refer you to a specialist if needed. IBS may be diagnosed if a child has abdominal pain and discomfort once per week for at least two months, without another disease or injury that could explain the pain. Kids may have constipation or diarrhea, and symptoms often improve after having a bowel movement. You can read more about IBS and kids, including how it’s diagnosed and what tests may be given, here.
If you or your child has IBS and you’re interested in trying the low-FODMAP diet, grab the free FODMAP Guide and a FODMAPs food list at Rachel Pauls Food, where you can also find low-FODMAPs recipes and check out her low-FODMAPs bars and jerky.