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What Are the Worst Foods for IBS?

By D. Waldman
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Many foods that trigger irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are referred to as trigger foods. These include most red meats, dairy products, and fried foods. Coffee and other caffeinated beverages should also be avoided.

For many people, one of the worst trigger foods for IBS is anything from the red meat family. This includes steaks, ground beef, and pork products. Scientists believe it is the high animal protein content in these foods that tends to cause an IBS flareup. While it may be hard for many people to eliminate red meat from their diets completely, the first step should be to start cutting back on the frequency of red meat consumption while also reducing portion sizes.

The next on the list of worst trigger foods for IBS is dairy products. Products such as milk and cheese may seem healthy enough, but they contain high levels of whey and casein proteins. Dairy products also tend to be very high in fat, another quality to avoid when trying to manage IBS. For many people, eliminating or reducing dairy products has already been done before a diagnosis of IBS is made. People suffering from IBS typically have had a lactose intolerance since much earlier on in life and have already taken the steps to cut as much dairy as possible.

Since IBS is particularly irritated when foods high in fat are consumed, fried foods are also considered some of the worst items for IBS. Regardless of what it is that is being fried, the cooking process itself is what increases the overall fat and calorie content of the food. Fried foods may also be greasy in nature, which can easily trigger an IBS flareup as well. Foods should be baked, or at least pan-fried, whenever possible to not only avoid an onset of IBS symptoms, but also improve the overall levels of fat and calories being consumed as part of a balanced diet.

Aside from the many foods for IBS that should be avoided, there are also beverages to cut out as well. Both coffee and caffeinated beverages can have a serious impact on those suffering from IBS. These types of drinks can cause intestinal contractions, and consumption of them is one of the easiest ways to trigger a bout of IBS. Even decaffeinated coffee contains certain enzymes which may irritate the intestines. Caffeine-free herbal teas, on the other hand, are a safe alternative to both coffees and sodas.

What Foods Are Good for IBS?

While many foods are more of a hindrance than a help to those with IBS, there are a lot of foods that alleviate IBS symptoms. If you have IBS, you should maintain a diet loaded with fiber, fruits and veggies. It should also be low in fat. Some foods that can help IBS include the following:

  • Lean meats: White meats, like chicken and turkey breast, pork or lean cuts of beef are the best options.
  • Low-FODMAP fruits: Due to the amount of sugar in most fruits, you want to make sure you do not consume too much fruit throughout the day.
  • Low-FODMAP vegetables: Veggies promote good gut health, so you should eat more, such as broccoli, carrots, green beans and potatoes.
  • Fish: Find types that are rich sources of fatty acids and omega-3s, like wild-caught salmon, mackerel and herring.
  • Eggs: These are full of protein and easily digestible for those with IBS.
  • Leafy greens: Try baby spinach, lettuce, kale and arugula, which can all be put into smoothies and salads.
  • Nuts: Pecans, almonds, macadamia and other types of nuts are good sources of protein, fiber and omega-3s.
  • Fermented foods and drinks: Plain yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir are full of probiotics, which promote good gut health.

These are just some general foods that can be easier on the gut for those with IBS, but there can be a few exceptions to the rule. For example, though dark meat should be avoided due to its fatty toxins, if you eat grass-fed beef, pasture-raised pork or range-free poultry, the fat may be easier to digest due to being non-genetically modified organisms. Also, though the nutrients in many low-FODMAP fruits and veggies are good for your gut, some with IBS may find that eating raw fruits and vegetables is hard on the stomach, so cooking them is always a good option.

How To Keep a Food Diary for IBS

A food diary is a great way for you to keep track of what and how much you eat during the day. This is especially important for those with IBS to track flare-ups by looking back on what they ate and pinpoint the cause of stomach upset. It can be very helpful to review past meals and see what foods made you feel a certain way, whether better or worse. Here are some things that you can write down in a food diary:

  • Meals: Record the details of everything you've included in your meal, such as salad dressings, condiments, sauces, meats and breads.
  • Drinks: Sugary, caffeinated and alcoholic beverages may negatively affect your stomach, so make sure to keep a list of every drink you consume.
  • Snacks: A lot of processed snacks can irritate the gut, so you should keep track of all snacks you eat, whether salty or sweet.
  • Symptoms: Every time you have a flare-up, make sure to record it. If the flare-ups become more consistent, you can look back at all the meals, drinks and snacks you've had to find a common link to your symptoms.

There are many food diary templates that you can find online and print for daily use. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a free, simplified template. Alternatively, you can find physical food diaries for sale on the internet or in local bookstores.

Is Spicy Food Bad for IBS?

Though spicy food is well-loved by millions of people, there is significant evidence that spicy food can upset the gut and trigger many symptoms in people with IBS. Certain spicy foods, especially those containing chili peppers or chili pepper extract, can trigger abdominal pain. Chili peppers contain a component called capsaicin, which can increase the gut's sensitivity, particularly in people who have sensitive stomachs and are dealing with IBS.

However, doctors say that you can be strategic with how and when you eat spicy food. First, avoid eating it regularly. Second, when you do decide to go for something hot, avoid pairing it with other foods or drinks that are guaranteed to leave your stomach hurting. You can be proactive by taking a probiotic beforehand and planning to drink soothing chamomile tea or aloe vera juice after the meal.

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Discussion Comments

By anon162164 — On Mar 22, 2011

I'm a 45 year old male who has fought IBS for 23 years. One of the worst things i can eat are sesame seeds! since i stopped eating them on anything, my IBS has improved greatly. Not gone, but way better. --NU

By subway11 — On Nov 16, 2010

Mutsy-I think that fast food restaurants should be avoided. Fatty fries and cheeseburgers are foods to avoid for IBS.

In addition, milkshakes are bad foods for IBS and should also be avoided because these dairy products are high in fat and they contribute to this condition and make matters worse.

I know that this is a very uncomfortable condition that leaves you with a stomach bloated with painful cramping and diarrhea.

It is also a good idea to keep track of your flare ups with a journal. If you write down what you ate and when you had these flair ups it will help you modify your diet so that these episodes remain few and far between.

It is also a good idea to keep yourself hydrated by drinking a lot of water. This will also flush out the impurities in your system and make you feel better.

By mutsy — On Nov 16, 2010

IBS causes a bloating stomach but soluble fiber foods for IBS sufferers offer some relief.

According to the Mayo Clinic foods rich in fiber like apples, strawberries, raisins, sweet potatoes, oatmeal and raisin bran are recommended.

Also, lean meats and water packed tuna along with brown rice and whole wheat bread are also suggested foods to eat for IBS sufferers.

Really when you suffer from IBS you really have to avoid fatty foods because these make the symptoms of IBS worse and increase the level of cramping and diarrhea which really add to your discomfort.

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