If you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), you’re far too familiar with the common symptoms:
? Abdominal pain
Maybe you don’t experience all these symptoms, but even one or two can disrupt your life. So you’ve probably done what you can to keep your symptoms at bay. And that includes being aware of your trigger foods. IBS is a digestive condition, so what you digest has a big impact on how and when your symptoms show up.
Each IBS client who comes into my practice has their own unique version of IBS, and their own unique set of trigger foods. So while I can’t give you a full list of your IBS trigger foods in an article, I can tell you some foods that commonly cause problems for IBS patients. I’m not recommending that you give up these foods forever. But making some dietary changes can help calm your symptoms while you and your practitioner work to address the root cause of your IBS.
FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols) are a group of carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed by the small intestine. So they hang out and ferment, triggering common IBS symptoms like gas and belly pain.
FODMAPs are everywhere. You’ll find them in many processed foods including breads, sweets, sauces, gravies, and more. They even show up in healthy foods like garlic, onions, certain grains, apples, pears, and peaches, cauliflower, asparagus, mushrooms, and more.
In my practice, I often use the low FODMAP diet as a therapeutic approach to help my IBS clients manage their symptoms while we work on addressing the source of their IBS. But the low FODMAP diet is a temporary way of eating. You shouldn’t stay on it for more than a few weeks because eating low FODMAP can cause nutritional deficiencies and imbalances.
So yes, eating low FODMAP can absolutely help with your IBS symptoms. However, it’s important to work with a registered dietitian to ensure you are still meeting your nutritional needs and getting the full benefit of this approach.
IBS Problem Food #2: Dairy Products
Many dairy products are high in lactose, a type of sugar that can be difficult to digest for people with IBS. If your body struggles to digest lactose, you may end up with symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Your best bet is to avoid dairy products that are high in lactose. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up all dairy. There are lots of lactose-free alternatives including lactose-free milk, cheese, and yogurt. You can also eat certain aged cheese like parmesan, Swiss, and cheddar.
IBS Problem Food #3: Gluten
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Some people with IBS may also have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which can cause bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea when you eat gluten. Fortunately, eliminating gluten from your diet has gotten easier as more people have opted to go gluten-free. The market has responded by making more gluten-free products available. Pro tip: even though oats are not a gluten-containing grain, many are grown with wheat. So if you eat oatmeal, make sure you buy a variety that says “gluten free” on the label.
IBS Problem Food #4: Fatty Foods
Foods high in fat can trigger IBS symptoms because they slow down digestion — which can lead to constipation and bloating. So be careful when it comes to fried foods, especially the junky variety. I’m not saying you should avoid fats altogether. But stick to the healthy varieties like olive oil and have just a little bit at a time.
IBS Problem Food #5: Caffeine
I know. Don’t come for me on this one. I’m just relaying the facts. But caffeine is a stimulant that can increase bowel movements and cause diarrhea. So it can trigger symptoms for those with IBS-D (diarrhea predominant). If you are sensitive to caffeine, remember that coffee isn’t the only source. Caffeine is also present in many teas, soda, and chocolate.
IBS Problem Food #6: Carbonated Beverages
The bubbles can get you. Carbonated beverages — drinks like soda and sparkling water — can increase gas in the digestive tract, which can lead to bloating and discomfort. If you’re prone to bloating, you may want to go without carbonated beverages for a while to see if it helps.
IBS Problem Food #7: Spicy Foods
Spicy foods can irritate the digestive tract, leading to IBS-related symptoms. I’m not saying you should give up flavor. “Spicy” in this context doesn’t include spices like basil, oregano, or thyme. But if you find that eating hot and spicy foods triggers your IBS symptoms, you may want to consider cutting down on chili powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper.
Beans, beans make good soup… Have you heard that one? If not, you can google it. There are a number of versions of that little rhyme out there. But the point is that beans affect your digestion.
Beans, along with lentils and peas, contain oligosaccharides (which are FODMAPs). And while they are a good source of protein and fiber, they can cause IBS symptoms including gas, bloating, and cramps. If you want to continue eating beans, consider starting with dry beans and soaking them overnight. Soaking beans removes up to 90% of the indigestible sugars, making them a little more IBS-friendly. Boil dried beans for 2-3 minutes, then cover and let soak overnight. Rinse them with clean water before cooking. They’ll cook faster this way too!
I’m not a fan of sugar-free products. Don’t get me wrong. That doesn’t mean I want you to go out and eat a bunch of products with sugar either. But artificial sweeteners like sorbitol, xylitol, and aspartame are just that — artificial. And even though they reduce calories and potentially have a lower impact on blood sugar, I don’t think they’re worth it. In fact just this week a new study came out linking xylitol to cardiac events.
These types of sweeteners can be difficult to digest and may cause diarrhea and bloating. Whether you have IBS or not, I recommend avoiding artificial sweeteners and opting for natural options like honey or maple syrup.
Research is inconclusive on this one. But anecdotally, many IBS patients have trouble with alcohol. It can irritate the digestive tract and lead to bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. And if you have IBS-D, the last thing you want is more diarrhea.
Alcohol decreases absorption and movement of FODMAPs as well, which can increase the side effects that can come with consuming them. If you do choose to drink alcohol, it’s best to do so in moderation. If you want a beer, consider a gluten-free variety.
Avoiding the foods I mentioned above can 100% make a difference in how you feel. But it won’t solve your problem. If you’ve developed IBS there is a reason — an IBS root cause. And until you address that issue (or those issues), you won’t find a permanent solution.
You can certainly eliminate problematic foods from your diet, but there’s a downside. When you give up healthy foods (like many of those that contain FODMAPs), you’re preventing your body from getting the nutrients these foods contain. So giving up lots of foods long-term can cause nutrition deficiencies.
It is important to work with a registered dietitian not only to determine which foods may be triggering your symptoms, but to figure out the underlying causes. A knowledgeable dietitian can work with you to develop a personalized plan to manage your IBS.
If you’re ready to stop trying to outrun your IBS and deal with the root cause, then click the button below. I’m here to help.