When you are struggling with IBS, otherwise known as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, certain foods trigger your symptoms and often cause you to feel worse than others.
This varies from one person to the next, though taking the time to identify these triggers (such as by using an elimination diet) on can prevent your IBS symptoms from worsening over time. There are several food categories acting as a trigger for most people with IBS due to the compositional makeup of these items and how specific ingredients affect your gut health. Avoiding these potential triggers reduces the amount of discomfort and pain you experience and promotes a healthier lifestyle.
Certain items such as caffeine, artificial sweeteners and soft drinks are triggers for those suffering from IBS due to the ingredients used to comprise them. Other triggers for IBS include greasy foods, spicy foods and select varieties of fruits and vegetables categorized as FODMAPs. FODMAP is an acronym for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols which are molecules in food that are not properly absorbed by IBS sufferers.
Greasy and Spicy Foods
People with IBS often feel an influx of discomfort when consuming either greasy or spicy foods, or a combination of the two. Foods with a high-fat content, such as pizza and French fries, increase the strength of the intestinal contractions you experience when you are digesting food. When this happens, your body’s gastrointestinal reflex is activated which may lead to digestive discomfort. If you experience symptoms such as nausea, bloating or stomach cramps after ingesting food with a high-fat content, it is advisable to remove these foods from your everyday diet.
Foods such as steaks and hamburgers may trigger your IBS symptoms as well, as many patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome often attribute their worst symptoms to the consumption of red meat. Instead of eating food with a high-fat content, choose items with a healthy source of fat such as nuts and fish. This allows you to gain the fat needed for a balanced diet without setting off your IBS in the process.
Spicy foods contribute to the abdominal pain experienced by those with IBS as the nerve fibers in your body react to the substance commonly found within chili peppers. The reaction in your nerve fibers mimics the sensation of experiencing pain, which means your stomach reacts in accordance with this sensation. Avoiding spicy foods or food items containing chili peppers eliminates this adverse reaction.
Wheat products and other items containing gluten may trigger your IBS if you are gluten-sensitive or if you have recently developed celiac disease. When someone who is gluten-sensitive ingests wheat, their body’s immune system begins attacking the small intestine which causes feelings of pain, discomfort and indigestion. If you frequently experience pain or discomfort after eating wheat products, seek alternatives to these items to avoid triggering your IBS. There are gluten-free options available for breads, pasta, pizza and baked goods so you do not need to cut these items out of your diet entirely to avoid the pain induced when consuming gluten.
Whole grains containing gluten additionally possess fructan, a type of FODMAP, which is often more difficult for people to digest when they are suffering from IBS. Fructans are considered non-digestible and must be slowly broken down by the bacteria found in your gut. As this fermentation process happens, you are prone to flares in your IBS symptoms as there is a general discomfort attributed to this break down.
Certain dairy items, such as milk, cheese and ice cream, lead to IBS related discomfort particularly if you are prone to dairy sensitivity. If you develop bloating, cramping or diarrhea after consuming dairy, it is best to seek alternatives to these foods to decrease your risk of irritating your IBS symptoms further. Lactose-free milk is sold by numerous vendors and there are low-lactose cheeses available in most major grocery stores. These cheeses include:
Not everyone with IBS is triggered by dairy products, but if you are seeing flareups in your IBS symptoms and are unsure of what the cause may be, try cutting out dairy for a few days to see if your condition improves.
Select Fruits and Vegetables
Any food containing a concentration of FODMAPs is going to lead to more severe IBS symptoms upon consumption. It is best to avoid fruits and vegetables with high levels of FODMAPs as the fructans and fructose contained in these foods are like those found in wheat-based items and are difficult to break down. Fruits with a high concentration of FODMAPs include:
In some cases, you may be able to eat these fruits once they have been cooked, as you are more likely to experience irritation when consuming raw fruits high in FODMAPs. Similarly, vegetables high in FODMAPs are easier to consume when they have been cooked or if they have been juiced as this helps your body to process the fructans more effectively. Vegetables containing a high level of FODMAPs include artichokes, avocados, beets and asparagus. The following vegetables contain a higher concentration of FODMAPs as well:
- Brussel sprouts.
- Snow peas.
- Sugar snap peas.
Consuming vegetables is essential for a balanced diet, so you may need to seek alternative sources for these nutrients if you are unable to eat these vegetables once they have been cooked.
Legumes and Beans
People suffering from IBS may experience increased discomfort when consuming certain varieties of beans and legumes, such as chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans. This is because both legumes and beans contain carbohydrates which are difficult for the body to break down in someone who has been diagnosed with IBS. The bacteria in your gut must work to ferment and break down the carbohydrates found in these food groups which leads to an increase in intestinal gas. Using canned lentils or chickpeas that have been washed thoroughly may alleviate some of the discomfort, though it is generally advisable to avoid beans and legumes entirely to ensure you are not triggering your IBS symptoms.
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