5 Surprising Foods That Can Trigger IBS Symptoms

Medically Reviewed by Onikepe Adegbola, MD PhD

IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, is a common digestive disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. While the exact cause of IBS is unknown, it is thought to be related to a combination of factors, including stress, genetics, and diet. One of the most effective ways to manage IBS symptoms is to pay attention to the foods that you eat and avoid those that seem to trigger your symptoms.


The low FODMAP diet is a dietary approach that is used to help manage the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and other digestive disorders. FODMAP stands for "Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols," which are types of carbohydrates that can be difficult for some people to digest.


The low FODMAP diet involves eliminating high FODMAP foods from the diet for a period of time and then gradually reintroducing them to determine which ones trigger symptoms. The goal of the diet is to reduce the intake of FODMAPs in order to alleviate digestive symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.


Some examples of high FODMAP foods include:


Fruits: apples, mangoes, pears, watermelon

Vegetables: asparagus, garlic, onions, mushrooms

Grains: wheat, rye, barley

Dairy products: milk, yogurt, soft cheeses

Legumes: beans, lentils, chickpeas

Sweeteners: honey, high fructose corn syrup


It is important to note that the low FODMAP diet should be followed under the guidance of a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian, as it can be restrictive and may not provide all the nutrients that the body needs. It is also not a long-term solution, as the goal is to eventually be able to tolerate a wide variety of foods in the diet.


In this article, we will explore 5 surprising foods that can trigger IBS symptoms. While this list is not exhaustive, it should give you an idea of some of the unexpected foods that may be contributing to your IBS.


Cruciferous vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, are rich in nutrients and are generally considered to be very healthy. However, they can also be difficult for some people with IBS to digest. This is because they contain a type of FODMAP carbohydrate called fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which can cause gas and bloating in some people. 


Legumes

Legumes, such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas, are another group of foods that can be difficult for some people with IBS to digest. Like cruciferous vegetables, legumes contain FOS, which can cause gas and bloating. In addition, legumes are also high in fiber, which can be difficult for some people with IBS to tolerate. If you find that legumes trigger your IBS symptoms, try gradually introducing them into your diet and see how your body reacts. 


Dairy products

Dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt, are a common trigger for IBS symptoms. This is because they contain the FODMAP lactose, a type of sugar that can be difficult for some people with IBS to digest. If you find that dairy products trigger your IBS symptoms, you may want to try using a lactose-free version or taking a lactase supplement to help digest the lactose. You could also try using almond milk or soy milk as an alternative to cow's milk.


Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners, such as mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, maltitol, and isomalt are all high FODMAP sugar alcohols  (polyols) which are found in many diet and low-calorie products, such as diet sodas, sugar-free gum, and low-calorie dessert products. While they are generally considered to be safe for most people, they can be a trigger for IBS symptoms in some individuals. If you find that artificial sweeteners seem to trigger your IBS symptoms, try avoiding them or using a low FODMAP alternative, such as aspartame, sucralose or stevia, instead.


Alcohol

Alcohol is a common trigger for IBS symptoms, especially in large quantities or when consumed on an empty stomach. Alcohol can irritate the lining of the intestine and stimulate the production of stomach acid, which can lead to symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and bloating. If you find that alcohol seems to trigger your IBS symptoms, you may want to try limiting your intake or avoiding it altogether.


It is important to note that everyone's body is different and what triggers IBS symptoms in one person may not have the same effect on another. It is also important to work with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to develop a personalized diet plan for your IBS.

Onikepe Adegbola MD PhD is a board-certified physician who founded casadesante.com, a digital gut health platform for gastrointestinal conditions such as IBS, IBD, SIBO and celiac disease.

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