It’s estimated that between 25 and 45 million people are affected by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in the United States alone, with women more likely to suffer from IBS than men. While IBS is not a serious disorder, it can affect a patient’s quality of life. Managing IBS has a lot to do with dietary and lifestyle changes. Eating the right foods and figuring out food triggers for a patient with IBS can be life-changing. Read on to learn more about IBS and some of the worst foods for IBS (and the best!).
What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder that affects the large intestine. It is a chronic condition for which there is no definitive cure, but many people with IBS find that a change in lifestyle and diet works to help keep symptoms at bay without using medication.
Irritable bowel syndrome is not a serious condition, but it can be an uncomfortable one and can affect patients’ quality of life when there is a flare-up. IBS is known as a functional GI disorder. These disorders, also known as disorders of the gut-brain interaction, are concerned with how your gut and brain interact together. The long-term outlook for IBS is good, provided the patient is compliant with diet and lifestyle changes.
Because the gut and brain are not working properly together, this can cause sensitivity in the digestive tract, which can lead to uncomfortable symptoms such as diarrhea. Common symptoms of IBS include:
- Gas and bloating
- Abdominal pain
- Changes in bowel habits
There are also several types of IBS, depending on the symptoms you describe to your team of healthcare professionals. These include:
- IBS-D (IBS with diarrhea): Most of your bowel movements are watery and loose.
- IBS-C (IBS with constipation): Most of your bowel movements are hard and difficult to pass
- IBS-M (IBS with mixed bowel habits): Bowel movements vary between constipation and diarrhea, often on the same day
If your gastroenterologist gives you an IBS diagnosis, it’s important to know what type. If it’s decided that medication is appropriate, only certain medicines will work with certain types of IBS.
IBS most commonly appears between the late teens and early 40s and is more common in women. Other risk factors include a family history of IBS, food intolerances, stress and anxiety, or a history of sexual or physical abuse.
Triggers for IBS are different for every individual. Those who eat the worst foods for IBS, such as high-FODMAP food, will likely have more flare-ups than those who are paying more attention to their triggers. Eating the right foods for IBS is imperative to help manage symptoms and prevent flare-ups. Elimination diets can help identify triggers. Patients may also want to adopt a gluten-free diet or lactose-free diet to monitor changes.
Diagnosis for IBS may require several different things. First, your physician will give you a physical exam and ask about your medical history. Then, you will discuss your symptoms with your physician. Because IBS symptoms and symptoms of more serious gastrointestinal disorders or similar, your doctor may want to order other tests to rule out other conditions. These may include X-rays, blood tests, and stool samples.
Depending on your symptoms, your gastroenterologist may order a colonoscopy. This diagnostic test can help diagnose colorectal cancer as well as many other diseases of the large intestine. While you do have to prep for the test by emptying your bowels, the test itself is a short, outpatient procedure, where you’ll receive anesthesia so you won’t be uncomfortable. The physician uses the colonoscope to look for diseases, if polyps are found, they can be removed during the procedure. The doctor will also likely take biopsies and tissue samples to be sent to the lab.
The Best Foods for IBS
The best foods for IBS will be ones that are low in FODMAPs, which you will learn about below. People look at foods such as fruits, vegetables, and certain grains, thinking they’re eating healthy—however, in an IBS patient, some of these foods can trigger symptoms. Some of the best foods for IBS include:
- Eggs. Eggs are easy to digest and don’t upset the colon. Also, they are a great source of protein as part of a weekly diet. However, not everyone digests eggs the same. If you’re cutting out the worst foods for IBS and are still having GI upset, an elimination diet can help figure out food triggers.
- Lean meats. Lean meats are another great source of protein and give you a lot of food options for meal planning. Lean meats include lean cuts of beef (e.g., sirloin, top/bottom round steaks), pork, white meat chicken, and white meat turkey. Some physicians also advise free-range or grass-fed meats, as the high content may benefit gut bacteria.
- Salmon and other fish high in omega-3s. This also includes herring, black cod, anchovies, whitefish, sardines, rainbow trout, and mackerel.
- Low-FODMAP foods. Below is a list of many low-FODMAP fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds:
- Bell peppers
- Green beans
- Potato and sweet potato
- Collard greens
- Swiss chard
- Baby spinach
- Macadamia nuts
- Brazil nuts
Now, this is quite a long list, and it may take a while to remember which foods are low in FODMAPs. If you’ve been diagnosed with IBS, a good rule of thumb is to try several foods on this list at a time and slowly work your way up to all of the recommended foods. Just because it’s low in FODMAPs doesn’t necessarily mean it will agree with you.
Those with IBS can also consume bone north and fermented foods, which are loaded with probiotics.
Some other tips to manage IBS include:
- Drink plenty of water.
- Avoid caffeine (tea, coffee, soda, chocolate)
- Increase fiber intake
- Take a fiber supplement in addition to eating fiber-rich foods
When it comes to activity changes, it’s wise to exercise regularly, eat smaller meals at a sitting, try meditation or relaxation techniques, and quit smoking. Increased activity and exercise are also associated with fewer IBS flare-ups.
The Worst Foods for IBS
Consuming the worst foods for IBS can trigger flare-ups. Your doctor will likely suggest a low-FODMAP diet, but in general, these are the worst foods for IBS:
- Lactose. Lactose is found in milk and other dairy products, and while those with IBS may not be fully lactose intolerant, it’s best to avoid dairy as much as possible. A good alternative is lactose-free milk.
- Certain fruits and vegetables. Fruits with high levels of fructose, such as apples, pears, and watermelon, can trigger IBS symptoms. Instead, eat fruits with lower levels of fructose, such as grapes, berries, citrus fruits, and bananas. Cruciferous vegetables can also contribute to IBS flare-ups. These include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, onions, shallots, and asparagus.
- Beans and legumes. Beans are associated with causing gas and bloating in those without IBS. Those with irritable bowel syndromeshould avoid beans and legumes as much as possible.
- Sugar alcohols and substitutes. These can be found in chewing gum and other candies and include sorbitol, mannitol, isomalt, maltitol, and xylitol.
The FODMAP Diet
FODMAP stands for “fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols,” which is quite a lot to remember. More generally, it refers to short-chain carbohydrates that are harder to digest. In those with IBS, eating a high-FODMAP diet can cause symptoms, such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. If you receive an IBS diagnosis, your gastroenterologist will likely recommend the low-FODMAP diet.
Many of the low-FODMAP foods were already listed in the “best foods for IBS above,” but here’s another snapshot of what a FODMAP diet may look like:
- Dairy: Almond milk, soy milk, lactose-free milk
- Grains: Quinoa, white rice, corn flour, oats, gluten-free pasta
- Protein: Lean meat and tofu, including beef, pork, chicken, fish, and eggs
- Fruits: Strawberries, bananas, citrus fruits, blueberries
- Vegetables: Carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, olives, potatoes, and turnips
Make sure that you talk with your gastroenterologist or a registered dietitian before beginning any new type of diet.
Other IBS Causes
While food is a known trigger of IBS, no one knows exactly what causes it. Researchers believe it is attributed to a number of factors. One of the most common schools of thought is gut-brain dysfunction, but there may be other causes. A patient may have dysmotility, which means that there are problems with GI muscles, or visceral hypersensitivity, which means the nerves in the GI tract are oversensitive.
Contact a Gastroenterologist Today
If you are experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms that persist and are uncomfortable, such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation, you should consult a gastroenterologist for a definitive diagnosis. Those symptoms are all associated with irritable bowel syndrome but could be indicative of other GI distress as well, so it’s important to talk to a professional. Schedule an appointment today, and our team of physicians and healthcare professionals will work together to help manage your symptoms, diagnose, and offer you quality and comprehensive treatment for all types of gastrointestinal disorders.
Grains: Quinoa, white rice, corn flour, oats, gluten-free pasta. Protein: Lean meat and tofu, including beef, pork, chicken, fish, and eggs. Fruits: Strawberries, bananas, citrus fruits, blueberries. Vegetables: Carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, olives, potatoes, and turnips.What foods irritate IBS the most? ›
- Fried foods.
- Fatty foods.
- Dairy (especially if you are lactose intolerant)
- Foods containing wheat (if you are gluten-sensitive)
- Too much fiber (especially from fruit/vegetable skin)
- Carbonated drinks.
- Milk. Milk and other foods that contain lactose, like cheese and ice cream, can cause gas and bloating in people who are lactose intolerant. ...
- Foods High in Fructose. ...
- Carbonated Beverages. ...
- Caffeine. ...
- Sugar-free Chewing Gums.
- Breakfast A bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon without sugar or artificial sweetener.
- Lunch Grilled or baked fish or chicken and a baked sweet potato without butter.
- Dinner A spinach salad with lean protein such as grilled chicken (made without oil)
- Snack Protein shake or protein bar.
Lettuce is a low FODMAP vegetable that's also very low in fiber. As such, it's unlikely to trigger or worsen your IBS symptoms. In fact, it may even ease your symptoms due to its low FODMAP content.Is peanut butter good for IBS? ›
Peanut Butter is a Low FODMAP Food
If you have IBS and love peanut butter, good news! Peanut butter is a low FODMAP food. In its simplest form, it is just made of dry roasted peanuts, salt and oil, all of which are allowed on a low FODMAP diet.
An IBS flare-up can be frustrating and may cause a range of digestive symptoms. If you're experiencing a flare, there are several at-home remedies you can try, such as gut-directed hypnotherapy, removing high-FODMAP foods from your diet, heat therapy, avoiding caffeine, exercising, and reducing stress.What vegetables should I avoid with IBS? ›
Certain vegetables cause gas and abnormal bowel habits. Avoid cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, coleslaw and sauerkraut. Also, limit artichoke, brussels sprouts, onions, shallots, leeks and asparagus.Are potatoes good for IBS? ›
You can also feel good knowing potatoes are safe to put on your IBS diet plan. Potatoes have always been a stomach soother for me when I'm having an “off” day.What are good vegetables for IBS? ›
Vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower are high in sulfur and can cause bloating and gas. Try some of these vegetables to see if they are easier to digest: carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, zucchini, green beans, celery and squash.
Rice Chex, Corn Chex and various flavors of Cheerios are all low FODMAP in moderate amounts. These breakfast cereals are also widely available both domestically and internationally. There are also some other low FODMAP cold breakfast cereals sold by smaller brands.What fruits are best for IBS? ›
- 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.)
Foods to Eat When You Have Diarrhea From IBS. The BRAT diet is often recommended to help bind loose or watery stools. 3 BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.Is oatmeal good with IBS? ›
Certain grains: Gluten-free oatmeal and brown rice are usually well-received by people with IBS and provide soluble fiber, which helps regulate bowel movements. Low-fat yogurt: Some people with IBS have worse symptoms after eating dairy foods.Is bacon and eggs good for IBS? ›
In comparison, fatty and processed meats can cause inflammation and worsen your IBS symptoms. Avoid sausage, bacon, pepperoni, salami, and marbled cuts of meat. Examples of lean meats you should add to your diet if you have IBS include white-meat chicken, white-meat turkey, and cuts of beef like sirloin and top round.Should you take a probiotic if you have IBS? ›
Probiotics have also proven beneficial in IBS patients by slowing down the transit time of the colon, reducing the average number of bowel movements per day, improving stool consistency, overall symptoms, and above all, the quality of life in these patients.What salad dressing can you eat with IBS? ›
- Lemon Vinaigrette.
- Balsamic Vinaigrette.
- Italian Dressing.
- Ranch Dressing.
- Creamy Chive Dressing.
- Maple Dijon Vinaigrette.
- Thousand Island Salad Dressing.
- Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing.
Plain white rice is great on flare-up days
It doesn't cause any bloating. It helps regulate any diarrhea I might have (especially when overcooked). And most of all, I know that it will not trigger any additional IBS symptoms.
Many people with IBS can enjoy popcorn, as it's a low FODMAP food and a great source of fiber. However, if you have symptoms triggered by eating insoluble fiber, such as gas and bloating, you may want to limit or avoid popcorn.Is cheese good for IBS? ›
While everyone's tolerance is different, most individuals with IBS are able to handle small amounts of low-lactose dairy products. This means that the best cheese for IBS is low lactose cheese.
You can also feel good knowing potatoes are safe to put on your IBS diet plan. Potatoes have always been a stomach soother for me when I'm having an “off” day.How can I calm my IBS gut? ›
- Experiment with fiber. Fiber helps reduce constipation but also can worsen gas and cramping. ...
- Avoid problem foods. Eliminate foods that trigger your symptoms.
- Eat at regular times. Don't skip meals, and try to eat at about the same time each day to help regulate bowel function. ...
- Exercise regularly.
Eat fermented foods.
Include plenty of probiotic-rich foods like kimchi, kombucha, miso, or sauerkraut. Sometimes, you can also eat yogurt if you are not allergic to dairy. Try unsweetened sheep or goat yogurt. These are all foods that help your gut flora get and stay healthy.
- Experiment with fiber. When you have irritable bowel syndrome, fiber can be a mixed blessing. ...
- Avoid problem foods. ...
- Eat at regular times. ...
- Take care with dairy products. ...
- Drink plenty of liquids. ...
- Exercise regularly. ...
- Use anti-diarrheal medications and laxatives with caution.
Large meals. Fried and fatty foods. Dairy products, especially in people who can't digest the milk sugar lactose, called lactose intolerance. Foods with wheat for people who are allergic to or have a bad reaction to gluten.Are sweet potatoes good for IBS? ›
The bottom line. FODMAPs are short-chain carbs that may cause severe symptoms of bloating, gassiness, and constipation in people with IBS. Sweet potato contains fructose, a type of FODMAP, but in small amounts. It's considered a low FODMAP food, but you should consider keeping your intake to 1/2 cup (75 grams) cooked.What makes IBS worse? ›
But many people have worse IBS symptoms when they eat or drink certain foods or beverages. These include wheat, dairy products, citrus fruits, beans, cabbage, milk and carbonated drinks. Stress. Most people with IBS experience worse or more-frequent symptoms during periods of increased stress.Is chocolate OK with IBS? ›
Chocolate bars and chocolate candy can trigger IBS because they're typically high in fat and sugar, and commonly contain lactose and caffeine. Some people experience constipation after eating chocolate. Some vegan options for chocolate lovers may be more tolerable for people with IBS.
The soluble fiber in applesauce, in the form of pectin, can be helpful in treating digestive issues, such as diarrhea and constipation. It can help to neutralize the effects of irritable bowel syndrome. Pectin also acts as a prebiotic, which feeds good gut bacteria and promotes good digestive health.
Grapes are a great source of insoluble fiber, which can help regulate your bowel movements. And since grapes are much higher in fructose levels than many other fruits though they are still a good choice for those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Fresh fish (Cod, Haddock and/or Plaice; Salmon, Trout and/or Tuna) is without doubt among the foods good for IBS in most cases, as is canned tuna. So-called 'safe' herbs to flavour your dishes with include: Basil, Chili and Coriander. Ginger, Lemongrass and Marjoram.What vegetables are easiest on the stomach? ›
- yellow squash without seeds.
- green beans.
Cheerios are a type of cereal that is made from oats. Oats are a low FODMAP food, which means that they are safe for people with IBS to eat at lunch, dinner or breakfast.What crackers are low FODMAP? ›
- Lundberg Organic Whole Grain Rice Cakes, Brown Rice, Lightly Salted.
- Back to Nature Gluten Free Crackers.
- Mary's Gone Crackers Original.
- Laiki Rice Crackers Red.
- Laiki Rice Crackers Black.
- Orgran Buckwheat Wafer Crackers.
- San-J Tamari Black Sesame, Brown Rice Crackers.
Bran has a lot of insoluble fiber, which can make IBS symptoms worse.What juice is good for IBS? ›
Fruit Juices It's perfectly appropriate to drink juices made from cranberries, bananas, grapefruits, lemons, grapes, and pineapples as long as they don't contain corn syrup. It's best when the juice is made fresh from organic fruits without added sugar, Solomon says.Is water good for IBS? ›
Water intake might be associated with improvement of IBS through affecting GI function. Water intake might improve constipation among IBS-C patients. In addition, drinking water is a common suggestion for IBS-D patients to prevent diarrhea-induced dehydration.Is butter OK with IBS? ›
For anyone who is lactose intolerant, butter can be off limits. For an IBS sufferer who isn't technically lactose intolerant, but lactose sensitive, butter could be the culprit of a flare.Can I have pancakes if I have IBS? ›
Yes, pancakes. Not just a breakfast food, pancakes can be taken with you as a snack too! This recipe for Low FODMAP Pancakes is tasty enough to eat on its own without any toppings. When pouring them into the pan, just make them a little smaller than you normally would (about palm sized or smaller).Is Metamucil good for IBS? ›
For individuals with constipation-predominant IBS, a soluble fiber supplement (Metamucil or others containing psyllium) can be helpful.
Eggs. Eggs digest easily and are a safe choice for people with IBS. Eggs can be enjoyed hard-boiled, soft-boiled, scrambled, or poached. Omelets and frittatas can be your meal of choice for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and make a great option when eating out in a restaurant.Are eggs and toast good for IBS? ›
Dr. Lee emphasizes that eggs can be an ally for most people with IBS, so try to incorporate them into your diet as tolerated. “Eggs are a powerful, low-carb, protein-packed and nutritious food with good fats that your body needs.Is peanut butter toast low FODMAP? ›
Peanut Butter is Low in FODMAPS
Nuts are packed with healthy fats, dietary fiber, and antioxidants which makes them a healthy addition to any diet.
Probiotics have also proven beneficial in IBS patients by slowing down the transit time of the colon, reducing the average number of bowel movements per day, improving stool consistency, overall symptoms, and above all, the quality of life in these patients.What vegetables are OK with IBS? ›
What to eat instead: Vegetables that are good to eat include eggplant, green beans, celery, carrots, spinach, sweet potato, yam, zucchini and squash. You can enhance flavors of these veggies with herbs.How do you treat an IBS flare up? ›
An IBS flare-up can be frustrating and may cause a range of digestive symptoms. If you're experiencing a flare, there are several at-home remedies you can try, such as gut-directed hypnotherapy, removing high-FODMAP foods from your diet, heat therapy, avoiding caffeine, exercising, and reducing stress.Can you have pasta with IBS? ›
Foods To Avoid With Irritable Bowel Syndrome
High-fiber products, found in cereals, grains, pastas and processed foods. Gas-producing foods, like beans, lentils, carbonated beverages and cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower.
Fresh fish (Cod, Haddock and/or Plaice; Salmon, Trout and/or Tuna) is without doubt among the foods good for IBS in most cases, as is canned tuna. So-called 'safe' herbs to flavour your dishes with include: Basil, Chili and Coriander. Ginger, Lemongrass and Marjoram.What kind of yogurt is best for IBS? ›
Plain, low-fat yogurt is a better option since it doesn't contain too much sugar or fat. There are also other ways to get probiotics, including non-dairy cultured yogurt, kefir, supplements, and fortified foods.How can I control my IBS without medication? ›
- Avoid foods that trigger your symptoms.
- Eat high-fiber foods.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Exercise regularly.
- Get enough sleep.
Yes, IBS sufferers should take probiotics in most cases. The exception is if they also suffer from SIBO, a common IBS trigger. Probiotics can worsen bacterial overgrowth in SIBO patients. Otherwise, probiotics are a beneficial option for IBS sufferers.What is the best prebiotic for IBS? ›
Prebiotics made from galacto-oligosaccharides, partially hydrolysed guar gum or pectin are more likely to be tolerated if you have IBS. Any prebiotic is likely to be better tolerated at doses of less than 6 grams per day.What fruit should you avoid with IBS? ›
The following fruits contain FODMAPs, and may worsen symptoms:
- custard apple (cherimoya)
- Baby spinach.
- Bok choy.
- Collard greens.
- Common cabbage.
Some OTC treatments may help to improve both diarrhea and constipation from IBS. Peppermint oil, probiotics, vitamin D, and beta-glucan fiber are among the popular choices. However, peppermint oil and probiotics are the only OTC products recommended by the American College of Gastroenterology for IBS.Which probiotics help IBS? ›
Most probiotics used in IBS treatment fall under two main groups: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. These probiotics are thought to assist the digestive system. Among other functions, they may strengthen the intestinal barrier, assist the immune system in removing harmful bacteria, and break down nutrients.