What are the right foods to eat for IBS sufferers?

When every bite could potentially lead to painful abdominal cramps, meal time can become a stressful event for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).  Those with IBS can develop symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation, as well as excess gas and bloating after eating certain foods. Symptoms and triggers can be different for each IBS sufferer, so it can be difficult to prescribe one diet to every person with this condition. However, there are certain foods that most IBS sufferers should limit or avoid to keep symptoms to a minimum.

Foods to avoid with IBS

Common culprits of IBS symptoms are the following types of food and drink items.

  • Gluten-containing foods such as breads, pastas, and baked goods made from wheat, barley, or rye. Gluten can also be found in many processed food products like soups, sauces, and other products as a thickener or stabilizer.  Check the ingredient label for allergen information that will let you know if a product contains wheat or not.
  • Dairy products are also common causes of IBS symptoms. More specifically, those dairy products that are high in lactose, or milk sugar, are often not tolerated by those with IBS. Examples of such high-lactose dairy products include animal-based milks, buttermilk, cream, custard, yogurt, cream cheese, ricotta cheese, ice cream, sour cream, and dry milk powder, byproducts, and solids.
  • Beans are common causes of gas, bloating, and related abdominal pain in those with IBS. Examples of beans to avoid are pinto bean, black bean, cannellini beans, refried beans, lentils, soybeans and products such as soymilk made from soybeans, as well as peas and chickpeas.  Green beans are safe to eat for most people with IBS in a Monash-certified serving size of 15 beans, or more, since this is a “green light” food for most IBS sufferers.
  • Carbonated drinks are recommended to be limited for those with IBS since it can cause a buildup of gas and bloating, which in turn can cause abdominal discomfort. This includes colas, seltzer water, and limiting carbonated alcoholic drinks like beer and sparkling wine to 12 ounces and 5 ounces a day, respectively.
  • High fructose foods such as those that contain honey, high fructose corn syrup, and fruits like apples, peaches, pears, mangoes, watermelon, and grapefruit, to name a few.

Safe eating with IBS

Once you stay away from the common culprits, you can start to explore those foods that are safe for those with IBS.  This list can be a bit different for each IBS sufferer, but common safe foods include the following:

  • Vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cucumber, eggplant, pepper, green beans, tomatoes, and leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, and kale, to name a few. Also, starchy veggies like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin are good to go.
  • Fruits such as berries like blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, and raspberries, as well as cantaloupe, honeydew melon, and citrus fruits like oranges, clementines, and pineapples.
  • Lactose-free milk and milk products as well as plant-based milk and milk products like almond, coconut, rice, hemp, and soy milks. The only exception is soy milks that are made from whole soybeans (you can find this info on the ingredient label).
  • Protein-rich foods such as animal products like beef, poultry, seafood, pork, and plant-based proteins like nuts and seeds. Exceptions may include processed meats that may contain wheat flour, garlic, or onion, as well as cashews and pistachios.

Take home message

The above recommendations are based from the low FODMAP diet, which is an eating regimen that has shown to help IBS sufferers reduce symptoms. Visit Casa de Sante  for more information on how to start this type of diet plan.

Although the safe food list is a bit different for each IBS sufferer, there are some common do’s and don’ts. Therefore, if you haven’t done so yet, start keeping a food and symptom diary, so you can discover which foods and drinks cause symptoms and which are safe. Before long, you will know exactly what your body can and can’t handle. For now, next time you go to the store take our free, printable Low FODMAP shopping list to shop with ease!


Written by Staci Gulbin, MS, RD a Board-certified dietitian.

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