Foods to Avoid with IBS

Foods to Avoid with IBS

Symptoms of IBS are not present all the time but tend to come and go, which is known as a flare-up. Flare-ups are often triggered by something external, usually from stress or diet. Diet and IBS are closely related, with most IBS sufferers finding their symptoms worse after they have eaten. There are certain foods to avoid with IBS that are known to trigger a flare-up; it is this food that will be looked at in detail in this article.

Before looking at foods that can trigger IBS, it is important to make clear that while there is a standard list of food that IBS sufferers are more prone to have trouble with, every individual is different. As everyone is different, it is important to know what a trigger is for you, which can be done with a symptom diary.

In the symptom diary, you should take a note of what food and drinks you consume, as well as the times you felt stressed and what symptoms you experienced as a result. It is recommended that a food diary is kept for at least three weeks as this will give you a better insight.

Dairy Products

Dairy products have been proven to be a trigger for many people dealing with IBS. This is mainly because dairy contains lactose, a type of sugar found in dairy products that scientists have discovered nearly 20 percent of IBS sufferers have an intolerance to. Lactose intolerance is a pretty common digestive condition. It means that your body finds it difficult to digest lactose, leaving it to ferment in the lower gut, leading to symptoms associated with IBS, such as diarrhoea, bloating, gas and abdominal discomfort. An example of some dairy products that you should avoid include:

  • milk
  • buttermilk
  • half-and-half
  • evaporated milk
  • condensed milk
  • milkshakes
  • whey
  • dried milk products
  • cream
  • sour cream
  • custard
  • whipped cream
  • solid milk products 
  • curds 
  • ice cream
  • yogurt
  • cheese
  • butter
  • ghee
  • other lactose products like salad dressing and candy

When looking at this list of foods to avoid with IBS, it may seem difficult to think about cutting out dairy from your diet, but it won’t be forever. Just do it for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference to your symptoms and hey, if it does, then I doubt you’d want to go back to eating it anyway. There are also so many alternatives to these dairy products available, you won’t even know the difference.

Anything High in Resistant Starch

Resistant starch, often referred to as the third type of dietary fibre, is a starch that our body cannot digest and, therefore, goes straight through to the colon (the large intestine), where it will stay until it is expelled. Resistant starch has been getting a lot of praise from health communities because it is said to help with the balance of good bacteria in our gut and even contribute to weight loss. However, for IBS sufferers, resistant starch may be a contributing factor to flare-ups. This is because foods that contain resistant starch are often fermentable, which can potentially cause bloating, diarrhoea and gas. Foods that are high in resistant starch and, therefore, should be avoided, include:

  • oats
  • wheat
  • rye bread
  • rice
  • barley
  • potatoes
  • pasta
  • green banana
  • chickpeas
  • lentils
  • beans


FODMAP (fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and Polyols) are short-chain carbohydrates. Short-chain carbohydrates cannot be fully absorbed by the small intestine, where it stays and is fermented by existing bacteria in the gut. It is the process of fermentation that wreaks havoc on IBS suffers as it creates a lot of pressure and causes a great deal of gas, which may lead to the symptoms you most often associate with IBS. A low FODMAP diet is increasing in popularity as an effective treatment for IBS, with many sufferers finding it a natural way to ease symptoms. A low FODMAP diet should really be followed for at least 5 weeks for you to assess whether there is any change. I recommend looking at this book, The Complete Low-FODMAP Diet: A Revolutionary Plan for Managing IBS and Other Digestive Disorders, as it will give you all the information you need to begin the Low FODMAP diet.

Fatty and Fried Food

You shouldn’t be eating too much of these types of foods anyway as they generally are not good for your health, though moderation is always key, of course. However, if you are suffering from IBS, then it is very likely that fried foods and foods high in fat will cause you some bother. This happens due to a hormone in fat called cholecystokinin, which for some causes colon spasms and potentially diarrhoea and for some constipation.

Fatty foods to avoid include:

  • anything fried and greasy
  • fast food
  • coconut
  • hydrogenated oils, like palm oil
  • red meat
  • dark poultry meat and skin
  • processed meat such as pepperoni, salami, etc.
  • fats from dairy
  • Processed fats, like vegetable oils and spreads
  • margarine
  • vegetable shortening
  • butter
  • mayonnaise
  • tartar
  • many salad dressings
  • baked products, such as pastries, cookies and donuts
  • waffles
  • pancakes
  • and anything commercially processed really

You don’t have to cut fat completely out of your diet as the body actually needs some fat to function, just try to stick to small quantities of good fats, which include:

  • oils: sunflower oil, sesame oil, olive oil, peanut oil and canola oil
  • nuts: almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, cashews and walnuts
  • seeds: pumpkin and sunflower seeds
  • fish: tuna, mackerel, salmon, trout, sardines and herring
  • tofu
  • soya milk


Artificial Sweeteners

Cutting down on sugar often leads us to artificial sweeteners, which make a good replacement for sugar, especially when you are in need of something sweet. You may put an artificial sweetener in your morning coffee, on your cereal or maybe you consume it when you drink a diet soda or eat sugar-free gum. It’s pretty difficult to avoid. There are various types of sweeteners, to name a few:

  • saccharin
  • sucralose
  • aspartame
  • mannitol
  • xylitol
  • sorbitol

The majority of artificial sweeteners have hidden health dangers and reported side effects, including stomachaches, anxiety, diarrhoea, headaches and even breathing problems. The worse sweetener, for IBS sufferers anyway, is sorbitol. Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that can naturally be found in certain fruits, like prunes, pears, apricots, cherries, etc. Sorbitol has hyperosmotic properties, which means that it draws water into the large intestine, where it softens stools, often leading to diarrhoea. Sorbitol also causes the fermentation of bacteria in the small intestine, resulting in bloating, excess wind and abdominal pain. While sorbitol naturally occurs in some fruit, it is found in much larger amounts in processed food products, including sugar-free sweets and gum  


Carbonated drinks

Carbonated drinks should be avoided for a number of reasons. Firstly, the fact that they are full of gas means that gas will be transferred to your intestines, where it will build up and cause bloating and discomfort. Carbonated drinks also contain caffeine, which should really be avoided, especially if you have IBS with diarrhoea. Lastly, carbonated drinks contain sweeteners which, as mentioned in the artificial sweetener section, are full of side effects.

Alcohol Alcohol should always be consumed in moderation anyway, but if you have IBS, you may want to think about really reducing or cutting it out completely. Alcohol, as a toxic substance, tends to irritate the digestive system and may not only trigger symptoms but can also make them worse.  

Final Thoughts…

By now, you are probably thinking, what is there left for me to eat?! I get it. The thing is, not all of these foods may trigger a flare-up for you because every sufferer is different. You may also find that after cutting out these foods for a while, you are able to slowly start introducing them back into your diet. If not, then let’s not forget that nowadays, there are loads of food substitutes that I would like to think taste just as good (nearly as good?) as some of the foods on this list. Finally, as mentioned above, the best way to find out is to keep a food diary so you can learn for yourself which foods to avoid with IBS.

Are there any foods that are not on this list that trigger a flare-up for you?