Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) causes abdominal symptoms, including diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and cramps. Avoiding certain foods may significantly improve symptoms.
For this reason, no single diet will suit everyone with IBS, but some foods are commonly linked with a worsening of symptoms.
This article looks at some foods that may worsen symptoms and other tips for managing IBS.
Learn more about the signs and symptoms of IBS here.
- Eat more soluble fiber: Soluble fiber makes stool easier to pass.
- Eliminate gluten, lactose, or both: Doing so could help ease symptoms.
- Limit hard-to-digest carbohydrates: Some foods contain high levels of these carbs, which doctors call FODMAPS (fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols). Instead, a person can follow a low FODMAP diet.
Research indicates that consuming high-FODMAP foods may worsen symptoms of IBS, such as:
However, some people with IBS can tolerate certain quantities of FODMAP-containing foods.
The MONASH University FODMAP app is a helpful database of foods that lists their FODMAP level based on serving sizes. For example, it considers a 2.8-ounce (oz) serving of avocado as high in FODMAPs and a 1-oz serving as low in FODMAPs.
This is because foods can be high or low in FODMAPs based on serving sizes.
A doctor or dietitian can help a person make dietary changes aimed at resolving IBS symptoms.
To identify triggers, they may recommend eliminating certain foods, then reintroducing them one by one to determine which ones cause symptoms. They may also ask a person to keep a food journal to note down when symptoms occur.
Although most people with IBS have different food triggers, some food groups or products are more likely to cause IBS symptoms than others.
The following can
Fruits, such as whole apples, rhubarb, and kiwis,
The following fruits contain FODMAPs, and may worsen symptoms:
- custard apple (cherimoya)
Fruits in the following forms may be high in FODMAPs:
- whole fruits
- fruit juices
- canned fruit in natural fruit juice
- dried fruits
As with fruits, vegetables add fiber to the diet, and
Vegetables that are high in FODMAPs include:
- onions and shallots
- bitter gourd (bitter melon)
- peas, including snow peas, green peas, and snap peas
3. Legumes and pulses
Pulses contain fiber and are high FODMAP foods.
Pulses are a crucial source of protein for many people, and avoiding them may be difficult. Some
For example, when cooking pulses, discarding the water before serving helps reduce the galactooligosaccharide (GOS) content.
4. Dairy products
The lactose in dairy products can make them high in FODMAPs.
People with IBS
5. Whole wheat and rye products
Some breads have high FODMAP content because of the grains they use. They may not be helpful for people with IBS.
Foods containing the following grains may not be helpful for people with IBS:
Rye and whole-wheat bread have high levels of fructans. This makes them high-FODMAP foods. Similar flours are also used in some sauces.
Small amounts of bread made with refined wheat flour are considered low FODMAP. However, if a person eats more than one slice, it will be high FODMAP.
Sugars and sweeteners
- high fructose corn syrup, present in many processed foods
- artificial sweeteners, such as sorbitol, maltitol, or xylitol
- anything containing a sweetener that ends in “-ol”
7. Ultra-processed foods
Highly processed foods often contain high levels of sugar, fat, and other substances that may trigger IBS in some people. Some
Some of ultra-processed foods are:
- many breakfast cereals
- commercially produced savory snacks, such as chips
- reconstituted meat products, such as spam
- Frankfurter sausages
- soft drinks and sodas
- distilled alcoholic beverages
flavored rice cakes
- energy drinks
- cocoa and chocolate
10. Fried foods
In one older study from 2013,
11. Spicy foods
Hot or spicy foods
Some flavorings — such as miso, soy sauce, and saki —
More research is needed to confirm a link between IBS and spicy foods.
13. High sugar foods
Added and refined sugar may
Added sugar is present in many products, for instance:
- ice cream
- sweetened drinks
However, foods and drinks that trigger IBS symptoms vary between individuals. A person with IBS will need to identify their individual triggers.
The following foods and food types may be suitable for people with IBS. However, it depends on the portion size.
- low FODMAP fruits, such as cantaloupe, coconut, rambutan, lychee, oranges, and guava
- low FODMAP vegetables, such as green beans, cabbage, cucumber, cassava, and seaweed
- dairy alternatives, such as almond milk
- yogurt (Some research indicates that probiotics found in yogurt may improve IBS symptoms.)
- soluble fiber, present in oats, psyllium, and some fruits and vegetables
- proteins, such as meat, chicken, eggs, fish, and tofu
While it may not be possible to eliminate all the IBS triggers in a recipe, reducing their quantities can help.
Tips for eating out
When going to a restaurant, the following strategies can help.
First, be sure to read the menu carefully. Check for ingredients that may cause symptoms and ask:
- What exactly does the dish contain?
- How much of a triggering ingredient is in the dish?
- Is it possible to prepare the dish without the ingredient?
Some people prefer to check the menu online and inquire ahead of time.
Here are some other tips
- Ask for a gluten-free or lactose-free menu.
- Check the base of soups, as some contain flour or dairy products.
- Find out which vegetables are in a veggie-based dish, such as stir-fry.
- Ask about added ingredients, such as breadcrumbs or onions.
- Opt for grilled foods rather than fried.
- Bring a dressing from home, as commercial dressings may contain additives.
Many people with IBS find that cooking food at home with fresh ingredients is a good way to avoid symptoms.
Other tips that may help include:
- eating regularly and avoiding delaying or missing meals
- eating smaller meals
- taking time when eating
- eating no more than 3 servings of fresh fruit a day
- limiting the intake of tea and coffee to 3 cups per day
- drinking plenty of water
- regular exercise
IBS affects people differently, but a nutritious eating plan tailored to an individual’s specific needs can help.
Here are some questions people often ask about foods to eat and avoid with IBS.
Which foods can trigger IBS?
This depends on the individual, but some people find that ultra-processed foods, fried foods, pulses, hot and spicy dishes, dairy products, sweeteners ending in “-ol”, and certain fruits and vegetables can trigger symptoms. It is best to work with a doctor or dietitian to identify triggers and make a plan around the results.
What foods should I eat during an IBS flare?
Opt for foods that are easy to digest, such as low FODMAP fruits and vegetables. Cantaloupe and cucumber are low FODMAP options. Try eating porridge oats regularly. One source recommends consuming up to 1 tablespoon of linseeds (flaxseed) per day. Linseed and porridge contain soluble fiber. Drink plenty of water to help prevent both constipation and dehydration in the case of diarrhea.
What can calm an IBS flare?
Opt for foods that do not worsen symptoms, and ask a doctor about medication to manage symptoms. Over-the-counter drugs, such as loperamide (Imodium), can reduce diarrhea. Stool softeners, such as Normacol, can help with constipation.
IBS is a common gastrointestinal disorder that can cause significant discomfort. A person’s diet can trigger or worsen symptoms.
Identifying and avoiding triggering foods and drinks can help people with IBS enjoy their meals at home or eating out.