For many with IBS, the symptoms are debilitating, resulting in a great amount of frustration in their daily lives. And though at the moment the condition lacks a true cure, there are many steps you can take to suppress the symptoms. There are several foods that trigger IBS. However each person is different and what affects you might not affect someone else and visa versa.
There do however appear to be common triggers that kick off or exacerbate IBS symptoms for a lot of people. A key fact to remember is that IBS affects all of its sufferers differently and a trigger food for one person might barely affect another. You yourself know your condition better than anyone so read-on and learn how to take back control over your gut. I help people manage symptoms using hypnotherapy. In this article we will look at foods that trigger IBS and some other valuable lifestyle considerations.
Foods that trigger IBS: Cut down on greasy food
After eating, our muscles in our digestive system get to work in a process known as the gastrocolic reflex. This is about causing food to be churned and shifted along the gut. This effect is especially exacerbated by eating large amounts of greasy, high-fat content foods. Which is a problem, all too prevalent in our modern western society. For people that suffer from IBS, your far heightened gut sensitivity, coupled with all this additional digestive activity, may lead to common IBS symptoms developing. Whilst all people should look to avoid too much greasy food, regardless of health conditions, for those with IBS, this should be an added incentive.
Link your IBS symptoms with other dietary diseases
Lactose intolerance is a condition whereby a person is unable to digest lactose, a prevalent sugar in many dairy products. Interestingly, lactose containing products are often foods that trigger IBS for some people.
Indeed, a study conducted in China showed that nearly three times the number of people had both lactose intolerance and IBS as opposed to just lactose intolerance (45% vs 17%). Whilst this study was only conducted on a small sample of people, it shows a link between the two dietary diseases. As a result, perhaps look to lower your dairy intake, eating with low lactose products such as brie and parmesan or lactose-free milk or even go diary-free.
Another major condition with links with IBS is coeliac disease along with some other wheat dependent diseases. A recent review carried out by an Italian group of scientists identified that peole with a ‘gluten/ wheat sensitivity, “ … represent a subset of … patients with IBS”. The offending protein, gluten, causes your immune system to target the small intestine and leads to a large amount of discomfort for your gut. Thankfully, the gluten-free market has massively improved its product range over the past few years and traditionally gluten rich products such as pasta have ‘free-from’ alternatives.
Identify you foods that trigger IBS
FODMAPS are a type of molecule which can cause a lot of problems for those with IBS. They consist of short-chained molecules which are said to ‘ferment’ in your digestive system. This comes about since IBS sufferers will struggle to completely digest these molecules, leading to the accumulation of water in the small intestine and in turn causing fermentation of bacteria in the large intestine. This process leads to the release of a substantial amount of gas which irritates the highly sensitive gut of those with IBS. A whole plethora of foods contain varying amounts of FODMAPs, and are foods that trigger IBS. Whilst it would be unreasonable to remove every single one from your diet, research conducted by Monash University found the following to be very significant offenders, namely, watermelon, nectarines, and artichokes.
A major category of foods that trigger IBS are spicy foods. Whilst the science struggles to find a sound link between the two, one study suggests those with IBS may have more of a specific type of nerve fibre, which is especially sensitive to a substance in chilli. A second study examined those with a diet consisting in large part of spicy foods. A significant association was demonstrated in women who ate spicy food more than 10 times a week. They were twice as likely to have IBS compared to those who had a much cooler diet. Whilst extreme, this study serves to demonstrate a correlation between IBS and spicy food. So next time you’re out for a curry, perhaps opt to keep your gut happy and avoid a flare-up by choosing a korma.
IBS flare-ups can come from all different angles, with every aspect of your diet potentially contributing to gut irritation and distress. The best way to begin to control the symptoms is identifying which of the discussed potential foods that trigger IBS do indeed trigger your symptoms and take steps to reduce your daily intake of them. Whether it’s cutting down on your intake of greasy foods or going for the gluten-free options, there is plenty to be done to suppress your IBS.
Removing foods that trigger IBS might is only part of the story
Foods that trigger IBS and you kitchen staples
Stock your pantry and fridge with foods that are gentle on your system. You can use these essential foods to create satisfying and healthy meals and snacks without causing stomach upset:
- Poultry and fish: High-fat foods, including red meat, over stimulate the gut. Instead, opt for chicken, turkey or fish.
- Cooked vegetables: Cooked vegetables are easier to digest than raw ones. However, you may still want to avoid cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, which can cause bloating and gas even when cooked.
- Certain grains: Gluten-free oatmeal and brown rice are usually well-received by people with IBS and provide soluble fiber, which helps regulate bowel movements.
- Low-fat yogurt: Some people with IBS have worse symptoms after eating dairy foods. But if you aren’t sensitive to the lactose in dairy, low-fat yogurt is filling and contains probiotics. Preliminary research suggests that these good bacteria may even help reduce IBS symptoms.
- Egg whites: Eggs are an excellent source of protein and don’t typically provoke IBS attacks. If fat is a trigger for you, use just the egg whites.
Common foods that trigger IBS – foods to avoid
These foods commonly spark a cascade of symptoms for many people with irritable bowel syndrome:
- High-fiber products, found in cereals, grains, pastas and processed foods
- Gas-producing foods, like beans, lentils, carbonated beverages and cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower
- Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and many processed foods
- Fried foods, which often cause gas and bloating especially in those who have reflux
- Coffee, which stimulates bowel activity in some who have reflux symptoms
- Spicy foods, which can worsen IBS symptoms for some people who contend with reflux
Of course avoiding trigger foods is essential. However, let’s also look at some other factors that need to be considered as well. Maybe some of these are relevant to you.
1. Not managing stress
What’s going on in your brain affects your gut via the gut-brain axis. This pathway connects the central nervous system, which controls conscious and unconscious functioning (including breathing and thinking), with the enteric system, a network of nerves that regulates gut activity.
Thanks to the connection between your brain and your gut, stress—the excited kind and the nervous kind—can play a role in exacerbating IBS. For example, it’s believed that some of the abdominal pain that affects some people with IBS may be caused by visceral hypersensitivity. Basically, people with IBS appear to feel movements in their guts more sensitively than other people, and they often experience these movements as pain. Since stress activates certain hormones that can affect gut motility, it may lead to increased sensitivity and more pain.
Clearly, telling people “don’t be stressed” is unhelpful. Everyone experiences acute periods of stress sometimes. Many people also experience chronic stress, as well. Since you can’t wave a magic wand and get rid of all stress in your life, the best way to mitigate the effects is to learn how to handle the stress itself as best as you can under the circumstances. This can take the form of self-care. For example, through mindfulness, yoga, meditation, exercise, reading a book, or even , when you need to, bingeing on Netflix.
Some with IBS may also have mental health issues like anxiety and depression. If this applies to you, it could take a more clinical approach to get to the issue at the root of your stress and therefore possibly help relieve your IBS. If you can, reach out to a mental health professional for more guidance.
2. Taking medications that cause constipation or diarrhoea
If you feel like your IBS symptoms are suddenly flaring, as well as looking at foods that trigger IBS, think about any medications you’ve taken recently. Some medicines appear to make IBS symptoms worse in some people.
If you have IBS, it’s a good idea to check any medication before you take it to see whether diarrhoea or constipation (or other common IBS symptoms) are possible side effects. That’s not to say you shouldn’t take a drug if you need it. For example, constipation and diarrhoea are common side effects of chemotherapy drugs. But talk to your doctor to weigh the cost versus the benefit before taking a medication if you’re concerned about your IBS.
3. Eating foods that trigger IBS
We have already talked about trigger foods for IBS and given that IBS affects the gut, it makes sense that eating certain foods can exacerbate symptoms. However, as with most things related to IBS, the ones that aggravate you can be different from the ones that set off another person’s symptoms. As mentioned, many of those classic triggers, he says, fall under the umbrella of fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols (FODMAPs). These are short-chain carbohydrates that are hard to digest and poorly absorbed, leading to excessive gas and fluid, which can cause bloating and pain.
4. Not getting enough quality sleep
Too little sleep and low-quality sleep may be major contributors to IBS. It is recommend to get good rest. A 2017 study in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics with 50 participants (24 with IBS and 26 without) found that those with IBS woke up more frequently throughout the night. That this correlated with worse abdominal pain, gastrointestinal distress, and more days with IBS symptoms.
According to research, some theories revolve around how sleep deprivation can affect the stress response and physiological workings of the gut. So, its good to control sleep to the extent that you can.
5. Consuming too much caffeine and alcohol
Researchers have also pointed to caffeine and alcohol as potentially worsening IBS symptoms, although as with everything else, it varies from person to person. People who experience bloating and gas with IBS may want to cut back on alcohol and caffeine, which can worsen these issues. Interestingly enough, though, some people find that a certain amount of caffeine actually helps their IBS, especially people with the constipation-predominant kind. It will likely take some trial and error to find out how caffeine and alcohol affect your IBS personally.
6. Not tracking your symptoms’ patterns
Since each person’s experience with IBS is so different, it’s useful to keep track of your symptoms and possible triggers. If you’ve made it to this point in our article, you already know these can include certain foods, how fast you eat, your caffeine and alcohol intake, your stress levels, how much sleep you’re getting and the quality of that sleep, and the medications you take. In addition, IBS symptoms can fluctuate depending on menstruation.
If you’ve been living with IBS for a while, you might already have a pretty good idea about what can kick your symptoms into high gear. It is recommends keeping a detailed diary that covers all of these possible factors and your symptoms. Write also about your emotional state and your stress levels, including things that are making you anxious or excited. If you’re someone who has periods, keep track of your menstrual cycle. Travel is also an important detail, since that means a change in routine.
The idea is to look for patterns that can identify triggers. For example, if you notice that your symptoms are often exaggerated on days after you’ve had less than six hours of sleep, you’ll have a hint that sufficient sleep is likely one important factor in your management of your IBS. Even if you think you know all your triggers, this thorough and methodical approach might help you figure out something new. Another reason to track your symptoms closely is so you can notice any changes in them.
7. Cutting out potential triggers without an expert’s help
Figuring out your triggers will probably mean systematically cutting things out, especially foods, with the help of your doctor or gastroenterologist or a registered dietitian. As frustrating as this is, try to stick with it. Importantly, don’t expect overnight results. One reason for this is that you probably have multiple triggers. Even if you’ve found one, there could be other factors affecting your symptoms.
Even if you find a food that makes your symptoms worse, you don’t necessarily have to say goodbye forever. It can be a question of what you can tolerate and what you are willing to put up with in terms of symptoms.