Foods to Avoid With Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS for short) is a common disorder of the gut, thought to be experienced by 1 in 5 people. The disorder is notably more prevalent in women than men. The syndrome first develops commonly during teenage and young adult years (15-40 years of age). Symptoms experienced by sufferers commonly include abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. Further symptoms can include back pain, muscular and joint pain, lethargy, nausea and headaches. The causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome remain unknown. A common observation is that the symptoms often are triggered during periods of personal stress, anxiety or depression. Another theory is that the guts of sufferers may be overactive when contracting during food digestion, leading to diarrhoea, or may be sluggish, causing constipation. However, it is also commonly noted that particular foods can cause the disorder’s symptoms. It is thought that the bowels of sufferers are more sensitive than those without the disorder, which sets off reactions to cause the symptoms. Foods to avoid with Irritable Bowel Syndrome include spicy or rich foods, foods high in far, and too rich in sugar.

It is important to note at this point that food itself does not cause Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Instead, certain foods cause symptom development, and can also contribute to a worsening of symptoms being experienced. For some people the foods prone to setting off symptoms may be known, and as a result can be avoided in the diet. For those who are unsure of foods or drinks triggering their symptoms, it is highly recommended that a food diary is kept. When recording a food diary it is important to record each food item and each drink consumed each day, be that a meal, the ingredients making up this meal, or a snack. It is also valuable to record the Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms, if any, experienced each day. After a period of time keeping this diary (roughly two weeks or a month) it may be possible to identify any patterns in the ingredients consumed and symptoms experienced. It is also recommended that sufferers compile a list of the foods and drinks known to spark off their symptoms, and one by one remove each from their diet for a week at a time, recording the symptoms experienced again. Following this, the foods to avoid with Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be identified and thus avoided.

There are often particular foods to avoid with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Although for each person the affect of these foods can vary hugely from having no affect to a large impact, the following products are all identified as potential problem foods.

Dairy – For those people with both Irritable Bowel Syndrome and a lactose intolerance, certain dairy foods can be particularly difficult to digest. Milk, cream and ice cream all contain natural sugars which, during the digestion process, can cause diarrhoea, cramping and constipation. On the other hand, dairy products such as cheese and yoghurt are not as likely to cause symptoms. If you are, or suspect you are, lactose intolerant, you should reduce the amount of dairy foods in your diet and consult your doctor.

Vegetables – While a balanced and healthy diet is to be encouraged, certain vegetables are known to cause an excess of gas, a common symptom in bouts of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Broccoli, cabbage, onions and beans are all highlighted as problem vegetables, leading to cramping in the abdomen from the gas.

Spicy Food – Curry and other heavily spiced foods raise the activity in the gut to a higher level than normal. This raises the risk of developing symptoms such as diarrhoea and abdominal cramping.

Fat – Foods high in fat can cause the gut to contract more than usual, which in turn can lead to cramping and abdominal pain. Those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome should avoid using or eating saturated fats (animal origin), and instead focus on including monounsaturated (from olive oil) or polyunsaturated (from sunflower oil) products in their diet. Fatty foods to avoid with Irritable Bowel Syndrome include products such as processed meat (burgers, salami, pate, sausages and corn beef), high fat snacks (crisps, cakes, biscuits and nuts), and salad cream or mayonnaise. It is recommended these should be reduced or cut from the diet. Full fat milk and cheese should also be avoided. Instead, sufferers should focus on eating low fat food products and lean meats.

Sugar and Sugar Substitutes – The fructose making up sugar is harder for those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome to digest. Constipation, diarrhoea and excess gas all result from sugar in the diet. Similarly, particular sugar substitutes such as sorbitol and splenda are known to have the same affect. Those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome are advised to use artificial sweetners rather than sugar when preparing food and drinks. Sugary foods to avoid with Irritable Bowel Syndrome include jam, syrup, cakes, sweets and sweetened fruit juice.

Wheat – Bread, cereal, and other wheat products are known to cause Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms. They can also worsen any symptoms already being experienced.

Citrus Fruits – Lemons, oranges and grapefruits, and other fruits high in acidity, are often noted by sufferers as causing or increasing any symptoms experienced.

Alcohol – For some sufferers of Irritable Bowel Syndrome it is impossible to drink alcohol. Alcohol irritates the lining of the gut, leading to symptoms such as abdominal pain. However, for other sufferers an alcoholic drink does not trigger symptoms. If alcohol is a trigger, it is important to cut down the amount of alcohol consumed, either by removing it from the diet altogether, or by only drinking at special occasions. Drinking on an empty stomach should be avoided as this will worsen symptoms. Particular drinks, such as those containing dairy products (crème liqueurs) or are carbonated (beer, champagne) pose a higher risk to the gut than drinks such as wine. It should also be noted that alcohol is dehydrating for the stomach, which in turn will create a higher risk of abdominal pain. Sufferers should balance their alcohol intake with glasses of water to decrease the risk of triggering symptoms.

Coffee – Coffee is often found to pose problems for many people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Coffee beans are found to irritate the gut, causing diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, and a sense of urgency. Coffee is also a stimulant, also found to aggravate the gut. Sufferers are recommended to slowly cut coffee out of their diet.

Large Meals – Larger meals are often harder for the body to digest, and for those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome can result in overloading the system, causing abdominal cramping and diarrhoea. Sufferers are recommended instead to split their meals down into smaller and more frequent meals, maybe 5 or 6 a day.

Once these individual factors have been taken into account, those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome should find that with healthy and well-balanced diet, there is relief from the symptoms they experience.



4 Comments

  1. This advice differs from FODMAP theory. It would help if you explained why you disagree.

  2. Very helpful. They usually compare SBS with IBS saying they have the same effect on the gut. As a suffer with SBS this has helped me to know what foods to eliminate from my diet and also what is causing cramps, bloatedness and lethargy/joint pain. Top marks!

  3. quite informative

  4. I found the article interesting and although I already avoid some of the foods I have not tried all you suggest. I have suffered with my problem now for 5 years, and have had lots of help and advice but nothing seems to work.

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Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki is a full time writer who spends most of his time in the coffee shops of London. Adam has a BSc in psychology and is an amateur bodybuilder with a couple of competition wins to his name. His other interests are self improvement, general health, transhumanism and brain training. As well as writing for websites and magazines, he also runs his own sites and has published several books and apps on these topics.

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