You’ve got SIBO questions? I’ve got answers. In fact, we’re spending the entire month of May answering all the questions patients ask me about SIBO.
But before we get to this week’s questions, a quick recap:
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth — or SIBO — happens when bacteria show up uninvited to the small intestine, then decide to take up residence and reproduce. And since the small intestine isn’t equipped to house bacteria the same way the large intestine does, these uninvited guests cause uncomfortable symptoms including:
💩Unintentional weight loss
But there is good news. SIBO is diagnosable — and treatable.
This week we’re going to cover your burning questions about what you should (and shouldn’t) eat while you’re working to overcome SIBO.
Can diet help with SIBO?
Yes. Like all complex conditions, there are lots of reasons you might develop SIBO. But because this is a digestive issue, diet can make a huge difference in improving your symptoms.
Some of the foods you eat go on to feed the bacteria in your body. This can be a good thing. The beneficial bacteria in your colon needs nutrients (known as prebiotics). But, when you have an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, you don’t want to feed them. So what you eat 100% matters.
What are the best foods to eat on a SIBO diet?
I recommend you stick with as many unprocessed, whole foods as possible. Focus on foods that are protein-rich, high in fiber, and low in sugar.
Here’s a list of a few of the safest foods when you’re dealing with SIBO:
🍽 Protein foods like meat, fish, and eggs
🍽 Grains, including oatmeal, quinoa, and rice
🍽 Veggies like squash, carrots, potatoes, and leafy greens
🍽 Foods rich in healthy fats like olives, peanuts, and seeds
Can I still eat fruits and vegetables on a SIBO diet?
Yes! But not all of them. Some fruits and vegetables contain FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols). FODMAPs are specific carbohydrates that have the potential to make it to the small intestine without being completely broken down, providing food for the bacteria. So if you’re working on your SIBO, you’ll want to avoid fruits and vegetables that are high in FODMAPs.
Here are a few high FODMAP fruits and veggies you’ll probably want to avoid temporarily:
🍎 Garlic and onion
🍎 Green peas and sugar snap peas
🍎 Apples and apple juice
🍎 Dried fruit
🍎 Nectarines, plums, and peaches
There is a therapeutic diet called the low FODMAP diet that can be a useful tool for SIBO. More about that below.
Should I avoid gluten and dairy on a SIBO diet?
Generally, yes. Let’s talk about gluten first. Gluten is a protein, which means it isn’t a FODMAP. But most of the foods that contain gluten — like wheat, barley, and rye — are high in FODMAPs. So even though gluten isn’t problematic for SIBO, it generally shows up in foods that are. So I tend to recommend that my SIBO patients avoid gluten.
Dairy contains a FODMAP called lactose, a naturally occurring sugar in dairy products. But if you’re a cheese fan, don’t despair.
There are dairy products that are not high in FODMAPs:
😁 Brie and camembert cheese
😁 Feta cheese
😁 Hard cheeses
😁 Dairy products marked “lactose-free”
What is the low FODMAP diet, and how does it help with SIBO?
The low FODMAP diet is a therapeutic diet that’s proven to be effective for people with IBS and SIBO.
If you go on the low FODMAP diet, you’ll go through three stages:
Elimination — where you’ll cut out high FODMAP foods
Reintroduction — where high FODMAP foods are brought back into your diet in a systematic way to check for negative reactions
Personalization — when your practitioner will give you a customized FODMAP plan you can stick to long-term.
The low FODMAP diet can be very effective for both IBS and SIBO. But it’s not without its downsides.
- It’s complicated. FODMAPs are everywhere — and they aren’t listed on food labels. So avoiding or limiting them takes a lot of work. And when you’re on the diet, you don’t eliminate all FODMAPs completely. That’s why it’s called the low FODMAP diet and not the no FODMAP diet. You have to figure out which FODMAPs to eat, which to avoid, and which to limit — and by how much. It’s a lot.
- It can cause nutritional deficiencies if not done correctly. High FODMAP foods are not unhealthy. They are loaded with nutrients your body needs. So giving up too many high FODMAP foods, or sticking to the low FODMAP diet for too long can prevent you from getting vital nutrients.
And because of these challenges, I recommend you never go it alone on the low FODMAP diet. This is one therapeutic eating plan you need a practitioner to navigate properly.
Are there other SIBO diets that are easier than the low FODMAP diet?
Yes! Going on a strict plan like the low FODMAP diet isn’t always necessary for SIBO. There are easier dietary approaches for SIBO. Sometimes just cutting out sugar and processed sweets does the trick.
Or your practitioner may recommend that you try the SIBO Specific Diet, the SIBO Bi-Phasic diet, or the low histamine diet.
How do I figure out which SIBO diet is right for me?
If you have SIBO — or Dr. Google suggests you might — your best bet is to connect with a practitioner who specializes in digestive issues (like me). They can evaluate your symptoms, order any necessary testing, then work with you to develop a treatment plan that addresses the root cause of your symptoms. If you’ve got SIBO, there’s a reason it developed in the first place. And unless you deal with those root cause issues, it’ll likely just keep coming back.
If you’re ready for a personalized plan to deal with your troublesome digestive symptoms, you can schedule a consultation here.
In the meantime, there are things you can do to get on the road to feeling better. I’ve created a guide just for you. Click the link below to get your free copy of the IBS Resource Guide. This guide will point you in the direction of resources that can help with both IBS and SIBO.