Understand Your Triggers To Avoid IBS Symptoms

If you know your triggers, you may be able to prevent your symptoms.

You have recently been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and you feel confused and completely lost with the amount of conflicting information available out there; you are not sure whom to trust and what advice to follow. I get it, I was there too.

For many years I have been suffering from IBS with diarrhea. Although, things are better than they were before my diagnosis, I still see my IBS like a monster, always present, lurking in the dark, waiting for me to make a wrong move and bang my symptoms are back. Fortunately, a part from a few relapses here and there, during the course of many years, I have learned how to be symptoms-free most of the time and I try very hard to avoid those triggers that I know will leave me suffering from a few hours to a few days.

My flare-ups are often triggered by what I eat or drink, as well as stress, so I’ll try to eat a diet which is mainly low FODMAP and I also pay attention of not eating a lot fatty and greasy food, as they are gut irritants. My stress needs to be constantly managed by doing meditation, yoga and some form of gentle exercise, that I enjoy.

Even though there are many reasons that can trigger our symptoms, in this article I will focus on things that we eat and drink.

Most common triggers of IBS

There is not a one-size fits all approach with IBS, but studies have identified that certain food, drinks and even some medicines can cause GI symptoms. A specialized healthcare professional, with experience in IBS management, can help us determine our own triggers, and adopt individualized dietary and lifestyle strategies to avoid flare-ups.

Generally, these are some of the things that you may want to watch out for, as they have been blamed for causing IBS symptoms.

High FODMAP food

According to the low FODMAP diet, we should eliminate (for a short period) high FODMAP food. FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates that, when consumed by certain people, are not properly absorbed in the small intestine and when they enter the large intestine, they are fermented by bacteria causing symptoms of IBS.


Due to the lack of high-quality evidence, and contradictory data, the role of fiber in IBS is not completely clear; saying that a recent review has established that soluble fibers, such as psyllium, could have some good effects in people suffering from IBS, whereas insoluble fibers, such as bran, could even worsen symptoms.1,2

Fatty and/or fried food

Food with a high-fat content induces gas retention and bloating. If you have a sensitive digestive system, choose healthy fats like olive oil, but limit that to 50 grams (1.78 oz) per day.3

Spicy food

Studies have reported that consuming chili peppers, which contain a substance called capsaicin, can trigger GI symptoms like abdominal pain and gastroesophageal reflux in IBS sufferers. A 2017 study concluded that consumption of spicy foods is directly associated with IBS, particularly in women.4


Recent studies have shown that coffee, especially caffeinated coffee, can increase gastric acid secretion and stimulates colonic motor activity (usually diarrhea).

In general, consumption of caffeine should be limited to 400 mg of caffeine (around 4 cups of brewed coffee), if it is related to IBS symptoms. In addition to coffee there are other things that contain caffeine, such as tea, energy drinks, soft drinks, dark chocolate and some analgesics.5

Carbonated drinks

Soda main ingredient is carbonated water and the carbonation can cause intestinal gas and bloating. In addition to that, many soda drinks contain high FODMAPs in the form of HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) and/or artificial sweeteners.


It is known that alcohol is a GI irritant and has an effect on the GI tract motility, absorption, and permeability. In addition to that some alcohol, such as rum, sticky wine and low glycaemic index wine have been tested high in FODMAPs (fructose). You may also be careful with alcoholic mixers, as they may also contain high FODMAP ingredients.


It’s definitely not easy to pin point what triggers those horrible symptoms, but if you suspect that any of the above food and/or drinks, are causing your IBS symptoms, you may want to talk to your health professional.

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