Food triggers and IBS

Food Triggers and IBS

Last updated: March 2023

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that causes gut symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation. Many people with IBS find that making changes to their diet can help to reduce and control their symptoms.1

What are food triggers?

Food triggers are foods that can cause your IBS symptoms to get worse. People with IBS can have a variety of food triggers, which can change over time and are not necessarily the same as the food triggers for other people with IBS.2

Identifying and avoiding your own personal IBS food triggers is important for managing the condition. However, this can be tricky because it can be hard to tell the difference between a food allergy or intolerance and an actual IBS trigger. This process will often require a great deal of trial and error.1,2

One strategy that can be effective in identifying food triggers is to keep a diary to carefully track your diet, along with which symptoms you have and when you have them, over the course of 2 to 3 weeks. A healthcare provider can review the diary with you and help you to pinpoint potential food triggers. Then, together you can make a dietary plan that avoids those triggers while still providing you with a balanced, nutritious diet.2

What are some examples of IBS food triggers?

General tips for managing IBS symptoms are to avoid eating large meals and to eat smaller meals more frequently. There are also certain foods that are known to trigger IBS symptoms of cramping and diarrhea, and others than tend to trigger gas and bloating.1-3

Some common foods that can trigger IBS symptoms of cramping and diarrhea include:2

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeinated drinks, such as coffee, tea, or soda
  • Sugar-free (artificial) sweeteners, such as sorbitol
  • Foods containing fructose, such as honey and some types of fruits
  • Foods that are high in fat

People with gas that is caused by IBS may find that triggers include foods like:2,4

  • Beans
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Raisins
  • Onions
  • Bagels
  • Dairy

What is a low FODMAP diet?

Doctors may recommend that some people with IBS try out a special diet called a “low FODMAP” or “FODMAP” diet. This diet is designed to reduce foods that can be hard to digest, which may help to control IBS symptoms for some people. It is important to get advice from your doctor before making this type of dietary change, in order to make sure that you are still getting all the nutrients you need in your diet.2,3

As part of this dietary strategy, you may be advised to avoid or eliminate foods that are known as “high FODMAP,” such as:3

  • Dairy products
  • Foods that contain wheat or rye
  • Foods that contain high-fructose corn syrup or honey
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Certain vegetables, including mushrooms, onions, artichokes, beans, cabbage, asparagus, snow peas, cauliflower, garlic, and lentils
  • Certain fruits and fruit juices, including watermelon, pears, apples, plums, apricots, blackberries, mangoes, cherries, and nectarines

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