Common Foods that Trigger Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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Published on April 16, 2021

Common Foods that Trigger Irritable Bowel Syndrome:

Tips to Manage Intestinal Disorder

Photo of a woman sitting and holding her stomach with a glass of milk on a table in front of herIrritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, causes gastrointestinal symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, stomach pain, cramping, bloating, and gas. As many as one in five adults in the United States have symptoms of IBS. Many don't have a formal diagnosis because the exact cause of IBS isn’t known.

There are many possible causes of IBS, and they differ from person to person. IBS symptoms and triggers can vary. Avoiding or limiting certain foods that trigger IBS may help to improve symptoms.

These foods can make IBS-related constipation worse:

  • Processed foods (cookies, chips)
  • Refined grains (white flour) in breads and cereals
  • Dairy products (especially cheese)
  • High-protein diets
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol

These foods can make IBS-related diarrhea worse:

  • Too much insoluble fiber (such as from the skin of fruits and vegetables)
  • Fried foods
  • Dairy foods, especially if you are lactose intolerant
  • Foods with wheat if you are gluten-sensitive
  • Chocolate
  • Large meals
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol

Try these tips to help you avoid and treat IBS-related issues:

  • Limit processed foods, which often contain unsuspecting ingredients that trigger IBS flare-ups.
  • Eat multiple small meals throughout the day instead of three big meals.
  • Don’t eat too quickly.
  • If you're constipated, increase the amount of soluble fiber in your diet. It will help ease constipation without bloating or diarrhea.
  • Try ginger, peppermint, or chamomile – they may improve a variety of digestion issues.
  • Don't smoke – smoking may worsen symptoms.
  • Find ways to manage stress and anxiety, which can trigger flare-ups.
  • If you’re not sure what triggers your IBS symptoms, try the elimination approach. Make a list of foods you suspect may be causing symptoms. Eliminate one food at a time for 12 weeks to see if it makes a difference in how you feel.

Get Help with IBS

To learn more about IBS and other gastrointestinal health conditions visit, PIHHealth.org/DHS.

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The information in Healthy Living Online is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.