IBS: Foods to Avoid to Control Your Symptoms

Individuals with irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS, can have difficulty controlling their symptoms. The symptoms of IBS range from abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, constipation, and bloating. Episodes of IBS symptoms can come on quickly and leave sufferers in embarrassing situations.

One of the best treatment options is an elimination diet. There are many known trigger foods for IBS, so avoid them to see how your symptoms change. Keep a food diary to record what you eat and what your physical effects are. If you avoid a food and feel better, then you know to avoid it in the future. Here are 20 of the most common trigger foods that you might choose to avoid if you have irritable bowel syndrome…

1. Broccoli

Although, health experts often suggest upping your fiber intake to help soothe the symptoms of IBS. Oftentimes, fibrous foods, especially gas-producing vegetables (i.e., onions, broccoli, garlic,  cauliflower, and beans) can cause painful attacks and uncomfortable gas. The thinking behind increasing fiber is that it reduces IBS-related constipation, by softening and bulking stool to make it easier to pass.

However, trigger foods differ for everyone. Just because you can eat the fiber found in certain vegetables, fruits, beans, bran, bread and cereals, doesn’t mean you can stand cruciferous veggies, like broccoli. If broccoli is a trigger for increased bloating, try cooking it instead of eating it raw. Steaming is a great option.

2. Cauliflower

Like broccoli, cauliflower can be a trigger food as well as a particularly gas-inducing food. So it makes sense that your tummy may start to rumble and you may experience gas inflammation after you nibble crudités (i.e., broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and raw salad).

Cauliflower can be used to replace rice and potatoes, but this is not a good choice for people with IBS. Instead, try brown rice for a healthy option that is bloat-free. Alternately, you can steamed broccoli or cauliflower so you can still get adequate veggie intake without problematic IBS symptoms.

3. Cabbage

Another cruciferous vegetable, cabbage (akin to broccoli and cauliflower) is a really dangerous food for people with irritable bowel syndrome. Not only is cabbage likely to cause gas, which can  lead to painful stomach troubles. Cruciferous vegetables can also cause inflammation and incredible gas pain if they are among your trigger foods.

The best thing you can do to identify a trigger food, is to try eliminating it from your diet. When you do, don’t eliminate any other foods at the same time so you can see if that particular food has an impact on your tummy and digestive troubles. You can also try to steam cabbage, if you really like it, to see if eating it cooked as opposed to raw makes a difference.

4. Brussel’s Sprouts

These holiday favorites can be a major cause of IBS symptoms. They’re a type of cabbage and have the same characteristics. It could be a good choice to avoid the cabbage family altogether. Largely, cruciferous vegetables come from the Brassicaceae (or Cruciferae) family of edible plants.

Cruciferous vegetables are widely cultivated due to the fact that they are extremely high in fiber and can make bowel movements more comfortable for the average, healthy person. However, for those with IBS, veggies like cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts can cause gas pain, inflammation, and gastro-intestinal distress.

5. Green Peppers

According to the Cleveland Clinic, both red and green peppers can be tough to digest for those with IBS. You may experience the same symptoms of excessive gas pain, abdominal cramping and discomfort in the lower abdomen, alternating constipation and diarrhea, and alternating hard and loose (explosive) bowel movements whenever you consume red or green peppers.

To identify if bell peppers are a trigger food for your IBS, record all of the foods you eat in a journal for an entire week. Also indicate when you were feeling IBS symptoms. This will help you identify IBS attacks with common food “triggers”. Indicate when you feel severe bloating, gas pain, and uncomfortable stomach pain and try eliminating trigger foods one at a time to see if it makes a difference.

6. Corn

Corn is high in fiber, but it’s also high in sugar. Try reducing this vegetable in your diet to eliminate painful bloating. If you can’t live without it, try the higher processed corn products, like creamed corn.

Studies from the the American College of Gastroenterology show that certain foods, high in insoluble fiber, such as corn bran, may be beneficial for IBS patients. However, oftentimes, harder to digest vegetables, like corn, will only further aggravate IBS symptoms. This differs from individual to individual, however, fiberous foods like beans, lentils, and apples may also worsen rather than improve symptoms.

7. Beans

Researchers agree that there is no single diet or remedy for treating IBS. This is because individuals all react differently to different foods. You have to pinpoint the dietary strategies that work for your particular IBS case to help you manage IBS symptoms.

However, traditionally, doctors will typically tell you to avoid cruciferous vegetables, like beans, cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli because they are difficult to digest and produce a lot of excess gas when you eat them. Try these foods in different way (for instance, you can eat beans canned, dried, and fresh to see which style works for your IBS. Ridding your diet of beans altogether can limit your diet from valuable protein and fiber sources.

8. Lentils

Lentils are another legume that can be difficult to digest. They are also considered a gas-inducing food. For those with IBS, lentils can cause quite a bit of inflammation, stomach pain, and discomfort. However, this differs from IBS sufferer to sufferer. If lentils give you an issue,  avoid these foods if they cause additional bloating.

According to many who suffer from IBS, lentils are a trigger food, meaning they trigger symptoms of IBS, such as gas, bloating, and stomach pain. This means you may want to avoid or minimize high-gas foods like lentils, beans, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage.

9. Butter

Fatty foods can also cause unpleasant irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. Cooking with lots of butter can cause problems and aggravate the painful symptoms of IBS (including gas, bloating, cramps, and inflammation). If you drown cooked vegetables in butter, it can be a double danger dish.

If you suffer from IBS you may find that foods high in lactose aggravate your symptoms. You may find symptoms act up whenever you eat hard cheese, soft cheese, cream, milk, and ice cream. Luckily, if you suspect you are lactose intolerant, you can find several lactose-free ice dairy products to test if they reduce symptoms.

10. Cheese

Fresh cheeses can cause IBS symptoms. The worst offenders are creamy cheeses, like creamed cheese and mascarpone. hard cheeses will produce bad gas and stomach cramps as well. Try a few different cheeses to test which give you issues and which do not. You can also try hard cheese like Parmesan and Swiss in place of soft cheeses in recipes.

Foods high in lactose, like cheese, will often cause gas pain and inflammation in those with IBS.  Track your foods if you suspect lactose intolerance. And give lactose free hard cheese, soft cheese, and milk a try to see if your symptoms improve. Many lactose free cheeses can be used in recipes without much anyone knowing the difference.

11. Garlic and Onions

These two ingredients are great for boosting flavor in just about any meal, but for some IBS sufferers, they aren’t worth the spice. What’s so bad about garlic and onions (besides the bad breath)? According to Prevention, garlic and onions “are part of a group of hard-to-digest carbohydrates known as FODMAPs (short for fermentable oligosacchrides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols).”

People who have irritable bowel syndrome might find the fructo-oligosaccharides (also known as fructans) in garlic and onions difficult to break down. The same source cites a review of research published in Current Gastroenterology Reports which states if the stomach and small intestine aren’t able to properly digest food, it leads to bacteria fermentation in the large intestine which causes bloating, gas, and stomach pain.

12. Chocolate

This one is truly tragic…people with IBS should avoid chocolate, or snacks that contain chocolate. According to Healthline, “chocolate bars and chocolate candy can trigger IBS because of their concentration of caffeine and their high sugar content.” Some people who suffer from IBS have been known to experience constipation after eating chocolate. Luckily, there are many other options nowadays like vegan chocolate which is a much more tolerable option for those with irritable bowel syndrome.

13. Milk

It’s not uncommon for people to have an intolerance to dairy, especially foods high in dairy like cheese, ice cream, and milk. People who can’t digest milk properly are known as lactose intolerant and will often suffer from gas and bloating after eating dairy. “Milk and dairy products contain a type of sugar called lactose which needs to be broken down by the enzyme lactase before it can be absorbed,” says nutritionist Fiona Hunter to Cosmopolitan. People with IBS aren’t always able to digest or absorb lactose because they do not have the ability to produce lactase.

Since the small intestine isn’t able to absorb the lactose properly, it passes into the colon in an undigested state where it can cause bacteria fermentation and gas.  “70-percent of adults worldwide do not produce large amounts of lactase, an intestinal enzyme that helps break down the sugar in milk,” says Dr. Linda Lee to John Hopkins Medicine.

14. Foods with Fructose

When we think of foods high in fructose we often think of those that are bad for us like sugary drinks and commercial sweets containing high fructose corn syrup. While these are often culprits for bloat and gas, they are not the only source of trouble for people with IBS!

Foods that are high in natural sugars like apples, pears and dried fruits can also trigger the same symptoms that would occur from undigested lactose. Dr. Linda Lee told John Hopkins Medicine that people who suffer from IBS should try to avoid foods with naturally occurring sugar fructose and stick to those that have less like berries, bananas and citrus fruits.

15. Bread and Pasta

It’s always the foods that taste the best that are the worst for us! You’d be hard pressed to find a person who doesn’t love to indulge in bread and/or pasta every now and then, but unfortunately it’s one of those no-no foods for some people with IBS. Some patients with IBS find that their symptoms including, diarrhea, constipation, bloating and other stomach irritations occur after eating gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye) which just means their IBS can be triggered by a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten.

“If your IBS is due to gluten sensitivity, getting enough fiber can be a challenge, so you’ll want to focus on gluten-free grains such as quinoa,” says Karen Ansel, RDN, CDN, author of Healing Superfoods for Anti-Aging: Stay Younger, Live Longer to Prevention. Alternative options to bread and pasta are wild rice, millet, buckwheat, and oats. Although Prevention does note that oats can sometimes be contaminated with wheat, so always check the label.

16. Sugar-Free Chewing Gum

You wouldn’t think that something as mundane as chewing gum could trigger symptoms of IBS, but according to John Hopkins Medicine it can! It’s not so much the chewing gum as it is the artificial sweeteners within sugar-free gum like sorbitol and xylitol which are known to be hard to digest and cause diarrhea.

“It’s generally OK because the bacteria in the yogurt breaks down the lactose, so it’s less likely to cause gassy symptoms,” says Dr. Linda Lee to John Hopkins Medicine.

17. Caffeine

Caffeine has been known to upset the stomachs of those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome because it causes diarrhea which is a common symptoms of IBS. To back this up, a 2016 review of research confirmed that coffee stimulates movement in the colon which is why you might find yourself running to the bathroom after enjoying a morning cup of Joe.

Prevention notes that coffee is one of the most widely reported triggers for people with IBS, but in general, any beverage that is high in caffeine like coffee, tea, soda, chocolate, or even over the counter medication like Excedrin should be avoided, says John Hopkins Medicine.

18. Packaged or Fatty Foods

Packaged and overly fatty foods aren’t good for anyone, but they are even more worrisome for people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. We should all get into the habit of reading nutrition labels to find out what exactly we’re eating, IBS patients especially. A lot of people (myself included) rely on meals that are easy to make or more convenient like cereal, soups, frozen dinners, or any kind of flavoring like salad dressing or spice mix. Unfortunately these are the types of foods that are need to be careful of because a lot of them contain FODMAPs.

“For instance, ‘natural flavoring’ or ‘dehydrated vegetables’ in a spice mix may contain garlic or onion powder, while ‘natural sweeteners’ in a dressing could point to honey or agave,” writes Prevention. Be wary of any products that aren’t entirely clear about what kind of ingredients are in them or if a nutrition label is difficult to understand, or even read. Remember — the best foods contain few or simple ingredients that you can recognize!

When it comes to fatty foods, instead of speeding up the digestion process (which is what spicy food does) they slow down gut motility which makes it hard for the body to get rid of gas. A build up of gas in the digestive tract leads to bloating and pain, says nutritionist Fiona Hunter to Cosmopolitan.

19. Spicy Food

This one shouldn’t be surprising to anyone! Everyone is different when it comes to spicy foods, some people have a high tolerance while others, not so much. A person’s tolerance usually depends on how much spicy food they eat, but for IBS patients it’s not that simple. Long story short, anyone who suffers from irritable bowel syndrome should try to avoid spicy foods altogether. Spicy food can irritate the gut, but also “speeds up gut transit time, increasing the risk of diarrhea and pain,” says Fiona Hunter, a nutritionist working with IBS relief brand Senocalm when talking to Cosmopolitan.

20. Alcohol

We all like to enjoy a drink now and then, and most of us are aware (probably due to experience) of the dangerous of too many drinks. Sadly for people with IBS, they will have a lower tolerance for alcohol when it comes to it’s affects on the digestive system. “Alcohol can irritate the lining of the gut and affect motility (an organism’s ability to move food through its digestive tract) as well as the permeability of the gut lining,” says nutritionist Fiona Hunter. This isn’t to say that people with IBS can never enjoy a glass of wine or two, even though that’s probably the best bet to avoid any kind of upset stomach. To assist with the symptoms of IBS, Hunter advises limiting the amount of drinks to no more than two units a day. Moderation is the key to success!

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