Soda: An IBS No-No
Last updated: April 2023
Even though I didn't develop full-blown IBS until my late teens when I was already in college, I always suffered on and off as a child from what my grandmother termed, "a sensitive stomach." This usually included queasiness and a propensity toward bouts of diarrhea.
I loved my grandmother and she was usually pretty good at deciding what was best for me to eat and drink when I was sick. But not during this time. When I had diarrhea or felt very nauseated, she often poured a tall glass of soda with a lot of ice, put a straw in it and told me to drink and keep drinking till I felt better. I rarely did but did as I was told anyway.
I noticed that not only did my diarrhea not abate — it often got worse. My grandmother would shrug her shoulders and tell me sometimes things need to get worse before it gets better.
I was one of those rare children who actually HATED most kinds of soda. Other than the occasional root beer, I couldn't stand regular sodas. They just didn't taste good to me. Yet, almost everyone in my family drank gallons of soda every day — I even believe they were somewhat addicted to it — and it was a staple of our household.
Soda can be an IBS trigger
But here's another thing: As I got older and more educated, especially on IBS after my diagnosis, I realized soda is actually terrible for gut issues. Now, I don't blame my grandmother entirely. I remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird in middle school and there being a scene where Scout runs into or is hugging her father Atticus and can hear his stomach rumbling. She asks him if it's upset and one or the other suggests some soda. It seems when my grandmother was growing up, soda was seen as something that could alleviate some mild tummy troubles. And I have to admit, sometimes when I am having upper GI issues like nausea and GERD, a few sips of plain seltzer water can actually help.
But for lower GI issues, most mainstream sodas can be particularly bad. Most sodas contain a triple whammy of IBS threats: they are caffeinated, they are carbonated, and they usually contain high fructose corn syrup. All three — caffeine, carbonation, and fructose — are considered major IBS triggers. They are also just not good for you, period. They have zero nutritional value and can rot your teeth as well as your tummy.
So what can you do if you crave soda but know it will bother your IBS?
Soda alternatives for IBS
As I said, as long as I am not in the midst of an IBS flare or feel one coming on, a very small glass of seltzer or club soda is nice and usually doesn't bother me. I will sometimes buy one with lemon or lime flavor (or I will buy a fresh organic lemon or lime and add a squeeze myself) if I am craving some flavor. Seltzer and club soda usually do not contain caffeine or corn syrup, or anything (though you probably want to check the label to make sure).
It's true that they are carbonated, which can be an IBS trigger. This is why I only have a small helping when I drink it. However, there is also sparkling water instead of seltzer, which still contains some carbonation if you crave it, but at a much lower amount than seltzer, so is probably less likely to trigger an IBS flare if taken in small amounts.
I also only buy a seltzer that comes in glass bottles, not plastic. I do this partially for environmental reasons, so as not to add to plastic pollution. But I also do this for my health, as the chemicals from plastic bottles have been known leach into the drinks they contain. And this is bad for our health — especially mine, as I also have endometriosis and the chemicals in plastic mimic hormones like estrogen, which can make my disease worse. And when my endo gets worse, my IBS gets worse, as the two intersect heavily with each other.
Of course, this is what works for me. You may find even seltzer or club soda or sparkling water aggravate your IBS. In which case, it's best to avoid them as well.
Do you drink soda or did you give it up a long time ago? If you gave it up, did you find a satisfying substitute? Please answer in the comments section below!
Which of the following symptoms of IBS do you experience most frequently?