Foods to Avoid for IBS

One of the problems with IBS is working out what foods to avoid for IBS. It can be a real headache.

One of the best ways I found to deal with this was something called the elimination diet. It works by removing small items of food or groups of food and noting down how your body reacts to this. I, for example, have eliminated Dominos Pizza and Chocolate Milk! Both of these cause me pain and bloating like I have never felt before from other foods!

There are a number of foods that are widely credited with being ‘Trigger Foods’ and are best to avoid with IBS.

1. Insoluble fiber

Otherwise known as roughage, insoluble fibre is classed as matter found in whole grains, nuts, and fruits and veggies (specifically in the stalks, skins, and seeds) that doesn’t dissolve in water.

Fiber is really useful and should be added to your diet, but you should focus on soluble fibre instead, which can be achieved by increasing your intake of beans, peas, oats, barley, fruits, and avocados.

Soluble fibre can loosen and make your waste more ‘watery’ so it’s best to ensure you are balancing both your soluble and insoluble to achieve a well-balanced stool!

2. Gluten

Gluten has got a bit of a bad name recently, with lots of people claiming that gluten is the devil and causes them huge issues or that they have celiac disease.

Gluten is a type of protein some people are allergic to. This condition is known as celiac disease and can cause symptoms like those of IBS.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that occurs in some individuals as a reaction to the ingestion of gluten. It can cause changes in the intestinal cells resulting in poor absorption of nutrients. Having celiac disease is quite different from having IBS and can be an absolute havoc on your diet. I strongly recommend speaking to your Dr or Health Professional if you believe you have got celiac disease.

More people these days have started to react to gluten through gluten intolerance without the immune response or changes in the intestinal cells. This is known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity. The side effects and issues can be similar to those with Celiac disease, but this is currently under massive scrutiny and review to better understand this fairly new intolerance.

Gluten-free food is becoming widely available, so look in your local supermarket for gluten free bread etc.

3. Dairy

Again, much like Gluten, dairy has also started getting a bad name for itself. Due to the rise in veganism, and the reduction of dairy consumption, there is a lot of misreporting that our bodies are not designed to digest or take in Dairy. This is very much not true, and our bodies have changed over thousands of years to adapt to the foods that we farmed or processed, including dairy.

Now, dairy can cause some issues, due to the high-fat content, that has been shown to increase diarrhoea, this can be solved by choosing lower fat alternatives, such as 1% milk!

The other problem is lactose, this is the protein found in milk and dairy that your body cannot process. Being lactose intolerant is again, a nightmare and you can get similar side effects as IBS.

If you feel you may be lactose intolerant then you are in luck, because blood tests can help determine this. Also the introduction of the ‘elimination diet’ will help by reducing or removing milk and dairy from your diet and seeing how you react.

You are also in luck because lots of places now do soya or rice based dairy products that do not contain lactose!

4. Fried foods

Fried foods are one of those things that should really only be enjoyed every now and then! The frying process itself can change the chemical makeup of the food and is usually cooked in hot oil. This oil is high in fats, and this can cause all kinds of issues with your stomach.

5. Beans and legumes

This is where fibre becomes a little tricky, beans and legumes do contain high amounts of fibre, and more importantly, the soluble fibre that your body can digest, the issue is that they contain a lot.

Some IBS sufferers have noted that removing beans and legumes from their diets have actually helped them more than keeping it in.

You will need to be your own judge on this one and remove/add as you see fit and as your body responds.

6. Caffeinated drinks

Caffeine drinks such as coffee, red bull, monster or even sports supplements can have a stimulating effect on the intestines. With high doses of caffeine, they can cause diarrhoea and one very upset stomach.

If you are one of the many millions of people around the world that really needs their morning cup of coffee, try to increase your water consumption as well. This can help decrease the side effects of caffeine.

It’s also wise to reduce the numbers, or the size of the drinks if you can.

For those, you who needs a pick me up, look at introducing vitamin B or alternatives into your diet as these can also provide that ‘alertness’ that you desire. Or maybe try sleeping more…

7. Processed foods

Much like fried food, processed foods can contain a lot of salt & a lot of fat, mainly to make them taste nice.

I have found that ready meals such as pasta based dishes or ones that contain a lot of meat (all day breakfasts…) cause me to bloat and become very gassy quite quickly. But those with noodles, vegetables and some meat don’t.

It’s best to try and get as much home cooked food as possible, that you can monitor the ingredients and the nutrients!

8. Sugar-free sweeteners

One of the biggest myths is that having something that is sugar-free instantly means it’s healthy for you. That’s not the case. Sugar-free items usually contain fewer calories, because they contain less protein (and that’s how the calory count in an item is calculated…sneaky).

Also known as sugar alcohols, polyols, artificial sweeteners, and sugar substitutes, these sweeteners are often found in sugarless candy, gum, and even mouthwash. These ingredients are hard for your body to absorb, especially when you have IBS.

I would personally look at avoiding them, mainly because it gives you a false sense of security and makes you think you are being healthy when you eat or drink them!

9. Chocolate

For me personally, dark chocolate actually helps me. But having chocolate sweets (or candy) can cause me issues, usually because the candy comes with a wafer, or a high sugar/fat content.

This is very much a personal one and should be eliminated as you see fit.

10. Alcohol

Alcoholic beverages can be a nightmare for people with IBS because of the way that the body digests it. Beer is a trigger risk, to begin with because it often contains gluten, and wines and mixed drinks usually contain sugar.

I can drink beer on a night out, and not have any issues (go for ones with low carbon amounts i.e you get a lot of froth first and then it calms down! As this will reduce the number of bubbles produced later in the gut). I can also drink the same beer and be in the most agonising pain ever the night day. It can be down to how you have been poured the beer or what type of beer you have gone for.

Other alcoholic beverages such as mixers do contain high amounts of sugar, and this can be troublesome for the body to digest in large doses.

If you do go for spirits, try to keep them neat, maybe with a few ice cubes to dampen the effect! Also, always drink responsibly.

11. Garlic and onions

A new one for me if I am honest. While I was writing this blog and doing some research I kept coming across different sufferers noting that garlic and onions cause them cramping and excess gas!

It has been noted that both of these can be difficult for your body to digest. Maybe opt for the garlic or onion flakes to help season your food!

12. Broccoli and cauliflower

Broccoli and cauliflower are both high in roughage, or insoluble fibre. Breaking these foods down in your intestine also creates a gas and, at times, constipation, even for people without IBS and should be another one of those foods that you should look at eliminating and then understanding how your body reacts to both of these.

If you are like me, you can use it as an excuse to never eat cauliflower…awfull stuff.

What to eat instead?

Well, looking at swapping out some foods for their alternatives, such as lactose-free dairy or gluten free bread/pasta can be a great start, but may not always provide you with the answers you need, and can be really expensive!

From personal experience, swapping out for the alternatives actually did nothing for me, other than burning a large hole in my wallet.

One other option is the low Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols (FODMAP) diet, which is essentially reducing a number of small carbohydrates that your body does not handle very well.

A diet low in FODMAPs is an effective treatment for gut symptoms such as bloating, wind, abdominal pain and an altered bowel habit. The low FODMAP diet was developed by a team at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. It has been successfully adapted to the UK by researchers at King’s College London and implemented at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust in London.

I will go into more depth on the FODMAP diet here!

3 Comments - Leave a Comment
  • Phil -

    Hi there
    Many thanks for posting this interesting and very informative article.I suspect that this post will be looked at a lot going forward, as people who suffer from this condition are always looking for answers to this problem.
    The diet is so important in controlling IBS and if we could contain this by watching what we eat, instead of using harmful medication, people would be far better off, I’m sure.
    Thanks for the great post,
    Best wishes
    Cheers PB

  • freddy -

    Hi, thank you for such an informative article.

    I actually suffer from slight ibs and you are absolutely correct when you say try elimination. I was surprised though about certain food groups.

    I never knew that Sugar-free sweeteners and even onions had a negative effect. I like onions and garlic and sometimes i get flare ups. This may be why. Also non sugar sweeteners came as a surprise. I was mega surprised to see Broccoli and cauliflower, i cant get my head around that one, its meant to be one of the healthiest food type.

    I will start to eliminate a few of these and see if it helps, also have you heard of kefir?

    • Mike -

      Elimination is the way to go! It allows you to slowly remove items that may be causing you issues and then working out if/why they are causing you issues. It also allows you to bring those foods back in if their is no change in your condition. 

      it stops you from eliminating food groups entirely!

      The reason that broccoli or cauliflower may cause issues is the roughage and how your body breaks down the carbohydrates. Everything is healthy/not healthy in moderation. 

      I had not heard of kefir before, I will have to check this out!

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