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Three cans of soda are upside down, dumping out their liquid contents.

Soda: An IBS No-No

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!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The IrritableBowelSyndrome.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • ldonne
    1 month ago

    Something also that I had to give up last March. Grew up not drinking any soda, maybe once in a while ginger ale or coke. I think once I started college I began drinking soda more, not a lot, I used to buy it by the can when ever I had the craving. Pepsi, c crush , grape crush, pink club soda, root beer, Sprite, 7up were all my choices.

    They came out with mini cans and that’s what I’ve been buying. I’m able to tolerate a bit, drinking two cans does give me diarrhea. It did that one time. I assumed it was from that. No longer drinking it.

    Water has been my main drink. I am able to drink coffee (small). Wine has been another ??? For me but I can tolerate some.

  • cfamilyfix
    1 month ago

    I traded soda for seltzer water about 7 months ago. The seltzer doesn’t bother my ibs and I dropped a few pounds to boot.

  • tmholland moderator
    1 month ago

    @cfamilyfix,

    Seltzer is my ‘party drink’. While everyone else is drinking soda, beer or whatever, I’ve got my seltzer. I couldn’t agree more about it not bothering my IBS and nothing wrong with losing a little weight in the process :-). Hope you are well today. -Todd, IrritableBowelSyndrome.net Team

  • JanetLH
    1 month ago

    I rarely drink pop (glad to know some Canadians also refer to soda as pop!). Sometimes I’ll let a pop go flat to get the carbonation out, and I don’t mind drinking it that way. In Michigan, many people are brand loyal to Vernor’s as a sure cure for stomach upset. I like Vernor’s, but ginger tea works as well with no carbonation. My dad gave us coke syrup for nausea, and I will drink a “Mexican coke” (made with cane sugar) sometimes for upset stomach, especially with a migraine. As a comment to the reference from “To Kill a Mocking Bird:” I suspect the soda referred to was bicarbonate of soda, or baking soda. There are still directions on boxes of soda as to how much to take for an upset stomach. It doesn’t help me, but people have taken it for years for indigestion. It’s probably most effective for acid, but I prefer Tums or the equivalent. Bicarbonate is high in sodium and to me, just tastes gross mixed with water, ick.

  • tmholland moderator
    1 month ago

    Hi @janetlh,

    My aunt from Pittsburgh, PA calls it POP…I always thought that sounded funny ;-). Thank you for your comments. They were interesting and informative. I still like the ginger tea idea the best. I hope you are well today. -Todd, IrritableBowelSyndrome.net Team

  • threemce
    1 month ago

    Growing up in a very poor household, pop was a luxury (Canadian here, so we call it pop, not soda ☺️). We drank water and more water, and pop was for special days like Thanksgiving or Christmas. That said, ginger ale was always thought to be a reliable remedy for the stomach flu, according to my parents. My grandfather, however, always told me that “flat Coke” was really good for an upset stomach, but I don’t recall ever putting that theory to the test.

    When I tried ginger ale to help with IBS issues, I quickly learned that it was NOT going to help me at all. It was definitely the carbonation that made my symptoms worse. Being that I never really developed a taste for pop I don’t often crave it, so that is at least a plus. I do wish that I could have a Diet Pepsi every once and again, as I am shift worker and I liked having the caffeine boost they’d give. The gut pain isn’t worth it at all, though!

  • Kelly Dabel, RD moderator
    1 month ago

    Thanks for commenting threemce. You are not alone here in feeling that pop and carbonation can make symptoms feel worse. We appreciate you sharing. Best, Kelly, Irritablebowelsyndrome.net Team Member

  • CaliCheri
    1 month ago

    My Father (medical degree) always offered “coke syrup” to us kids when our tummy was upset. NOT a carbonated soda drink, but the sweet syrup 🙂 And it was maybe half a shotglass, only to be sipped a tiny bit at a time. This can help with nausea and other tummy upsets. Google it; it’s recommended for helping cancer patients deal with nausea now 🙂 Some folks may also have been told to drink ginger-ale…but actually it’s the ginger ingredient that helps and not the soda so think, ginger tea, ginger extract, boiled ginger root water.. However, from experience, the caffeine in a soda drink can often help when taken with a pain med (ask your Dr. first if the mix is okay with your med). And, some folks may feel temporarily better after a soda drink makes them belch, clearing out a bit of gas but drinking carbonated soda also makes more gas..

  • Kelly Dabel, RD moderator
    1 month ago

    Thanks so much for sharing CaliCheri. We appreciate hearing your experience and tips. Best, Kelly, Irritablebowelsyndrome.net Team Member

  • seebabsrun
    1 month ago

    I have a Sodastream, and carbonate spring water with it. For me, the bubbles, in moderation, help me to burp and get out more air than I’m putting in. At least, that’s how it feels. It’s good plain, or with a squeeze of lime wedge.

  • Kelly Dabel, RD moderator
    1 month ago

    Sounds delicious seebabsrun. Thanks for sharing. Best, Kelly, Irritablebowelsyndrome.net Team Member

  • MaryAnn
    1 month ago

    I drink caffeine-free diet sodas. I have no problem with them. I know that aspartame is supposed to be bad for me, but with everything else I had to give up (I’m on low-FODMAP) I’m not giving up my C/F Coke Zero!

  • Kelly Dabel, RD moderator
    1 month ago

    Thanks for sharing MaryAnn. Glad you found some that you are able to tolerate. Best, Kelly, Irritablebowelsyndrome.net Team Member

  • Holly5757
    1 month ago

    I rarely drink soda because it upsets the belly. Family tease me because I am an unsweet iced tea drinker. I have found that unsweet tea settles my stomach especially during a flare up. So this has been my go to drink for decades. Recently I have started brewing green tea along with regular black tea bags then pouring the mix over ice. (I do not care for the taste of green tea but you cannot taste it mixed with regular tea)

  • seebabsrun
    1 month ago

    Thanks for sharing this. I generally just stick to water, but I would certainly try black and/or green tea for gut calming.

  • tmholland moderator
    1 month ago

    @holly5757,

    Yeah, I can’t do soda either (unfortunately for the makers of Diet Coke). I do agree about the black tea for flare ups. It’s one of my go-tos. Thanks for sharing and I hope you are well today. -Todd, IrritableBowelSyndrome.net Team

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