IBS and Your Diet


If you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), you know the misery, pain and discomfort that happens when something triggers your symptoms.

Stress can play a big role in this but food will often be a culprit too,

Many people find that certain foods trigger symptoms of IBS but these can vary from person to person.

Some foods have more potential than others on the IBS front, although they won’t necessarily cause problems for you.

Because some foods will be a trigger for some people but not for others, the same advice won’t work for everyone with IBS. You’ll need to find out what your personal situation is and adapt your diet accordingly.

Foods That Can Trigger IBS Symptoms

High-Fat Foods: Foods that are high in fat can stimulate the gut in general so they’re not the best option for IBS sufferers. A lot of processed foods fall into this category such as pizza, French fries and fried chicken.

High FODMAP Foods: Foods that have higher FODMAP content can be an issue for IBS sufferers. The theory is that these foods encourage a greater amount of gas in the intestines, which can lead to abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.

A lot of fruits and vegetables can be problematic if you have IBS due to their FODMAP content but some do have a lower FODMAP. This includes bananas, blueberries, grapes, lemons, limes, honeydew melon, olives, oranges, pineapples, raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, papaya, Bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, green beans, kale, lettuce, potatoes,  parsnips, squash, tomatoes, turnips and zucchini .

Grains with a low FODMAP include quinoa, brown rice, bulgur wheat, oats and spelt .

Legumes: A lot of people with IBS can’t tolerate legumes due to their carb content. This is largely because they’re quite difficult to digest and can lead to a buildup of gas in the intestines. Some of the legumes that can be a problem include baked beans, butter beans, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, soybeans, split peas and black-eyed peas.

Insoluble Fiber: Foods that are high in insoluble fiber can cause abdominal pain and other IBS symptoms, including whole grain breads, high bran cereals and brown rice. You may want to limit your intake of these foods if they prove to be a trigger but it’s best not to cut them out altogether unless you’re advised to by your doctor.

Fructose: The sugars found in fruits can trigger IBS symptoms so you may find it helpful to eat less fruit and use vegetables as the bulk of your 5 a day.

Sorbitol:  This artificial sweetener can encourage diarrhoea if you’re susceptible to this. It can be found in some diet foods, as well as sugar-free chewing gum and mints.

Caffeine: Coffee and other caffeinated drinks (such as fizzy drinks) can trigger IBS symptoms for some people. If this is the case for you, it’s a good idea to limit how much tea, coffee and cola you drink in the average day.

Spicy Foods: Spicy foods can be a big IBS trigger and you’re more likely to have problems if you’re eating foods with chilli in. A study has suggested that some people with IBS have more of a certain nerve fibre that leads to pain if they eat chilli peppers. If this happens to you, now you know why spicy foods cause you so much discomfort!

Finding Your IBS Trigger(s)

Sometimes, it will be obvious which foods  are triggering your IBS symptoms but in a lot of cases, it can be more difficult.

Keeping a food diary is one of the most effective ways to try to pinpoint which foods are causing your IBS symptoms. This can help you to see if your symptoms flare up on days when you have certain foods or drinks and you may be able to spot a pattern over several weeks.

Eliminating Certain Foods

If you suspect that one or more foods are causing your IBS symptoms, an elimination diet is the easiest way to see if this is definitely the case.

If it’s just the one food that seems to be the problem, you can try cutting this out for a while and seeing if it makes any difference to your symptoms.

If more than one food is a possible culprit, it can be more complicated. You could try cutting them out one by one, or the other alternative is to remove them all from your diet and then introduce them back in gradually to see how many of them trigger symptoms.

General Diet Related Advice

  • Smaller meals spread out throughout the day can work better than 3 larger meals. These tend to be easier to digest.
  • Savour your meals and don’t rush through them. “Bolting” your food can trigger IBS symptoms even if none of the foods in it is a trigger.