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What *not* to eat, according to a gastroenterologist

Anyone with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) knows the struggle that comes with eating the wrong thing: cramps, bloating, stomach pain, constipation, diarrhoea, and SO many trips to the bathroom. (Fun, right?!)

And often it can be hard to pinpoint the *exact* food or foods you ate that caused you to feel this way, which makes it a challenge to prevent this from happening again and again.

Wouldn’t a cheat sheet that lists all the foods to avoid if you have IBS be helpful? I thought so, and did some digging, speaking to a couple of doctors and nutritionists to find the worst foods for IBS. Sadly, an official list does not exist since everyone’s situation is different—there are several types of IBS after all—and there is no single treatment that works for all.

That said, there are some clear triggers for IBS worth staying away from, says NYC-based gastroenterologist and WH advisor Samantha Nazareth, MD. These ultra-processed foods, artificial sweeteners, and carbonated beverages (check out the full list below) can cause IBS flare-ups and leave you feeling meh.

So it’s worth experimenting with eliminating some from your diet and seeing how you feel. But go slow! Dr. Nazareth recommends, ‘start one change at a time and check in with your symptoms after two to three weeks. Sometimes people make multiple changes at once, get better, and are not sure which change helped!’

Can a low-FODMAP diet help with IBS?

This could be worth trying. FODMAP is an acronym that stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.

Low-FODMAP diets centre on avoiding foods that contain the formerly mentioned, and then slowly reintroducing them into your routine to see which foods are most problematic for you.

‘In the short term it can help symptoms of gas and bloating,’ says Dr. Nazareth. ‘But avoiding all FODMAPs is not a long-term solution. Fibre is beneficial to the gut microbiome and there are many nutritious, fibre food items avoided if adhering to a low-FODMAP diet.’ When in doubt (and for the most personalised advice), check in with your doctor or healthcare provider, who can make recommendations based on your predominant GI symptoms and history.

Are there any foods that can ease IBS symptoms?

Again, it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. However, some of the best foods for IBS include low-FODMAP foods. Cooked veggies tend to be easier to digest than raw ones, suggests Dr. Nazareth. Plus, you can try adding peppermint tea to your routine as a digestive aid. Upping your fibre intake can also be a good idea, though ‘when introducing fibre, you should start with small quantities,’ says Dr. Nazareth. And, it’s smart to increase the amount of water you’re drinking daily.

Basically, there is no foolproof formula of the best and worst foods for IBS to incorporate or eliminate from your diet. Instead, it’s important to take the time getting to know what works (and doesn’t work) for you. Keep track of everything you eat or drink throughout the day, noting how you feel afterward. Talk to a doctor or specialist.

The goal: Find the foods that trigger your IBS symptoms and avoid those as much as you can, while continuing to eat the foods that don’t negatively affect you.

Meet the expert: Samantha Nazareth, MD, FACG is is a gastroenterologist based in NYC. She is double board-certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology. She is also a member of the Women’s Health Advisory Board.

Ultra Processed Foods

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‘If you’re prone to constipation, then processed foods (cookies and chips) and white flour products (pastries, breads) can worsen the constipation,’ says Dr. Nazareth.

Plus, packaged snacks, sweets and other highly processed foods often contain a lot of added sugars, fats, and salt—as well as unrecognisable ingredients that can be messing with your gut. It’s best to avoid altogether, especially if you find these foods trigger your IBS constipation symptoms.

Carbonated beverages

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Dealing with a lot of bloating? It’s best to skip anything with bubbles such as sparkling water and sodas.

‘The fizz from carbonated drinks can make you feel gassy,’ says Dr. Nazareth. Not ideal.


assortment of most common dairy products on white backdrop

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Lactose-containing milk, cheese and ice creams can lead to gas, bloating and diarrhea in anyone who is lactose intoler

ant, obviously—but many people with IBS have identified dairy foods as a source of discomfort and a trigger for their symptoms.

Artificial sweeteners

Commonly found in sugar-free snacks and candies, sugar substitutes can cause havoc on your GI tract, since they’re hard for your stomach to properly digest.

Pay attention and you’ll find them in other foods you probably eat on the reg—salad dressings, condiments and beverages. Peep nutrition labels to check for a few common culprits: aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, and any ingredient ending in ‘-ol’ (i.e. sorbitol and xylitol).

Certain fruits and vegetables

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While you may think there’s no such thing as too much fresh produce (an apple a day, amirite?), that’s not the case for people with IBS. Too much fibre from the fruit or veggie skins can lead to an IBS flare-up, suggests Dr. Nazareth. Plus, plenty of fruits and vegetables contain a ton of FODMAPs.


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‘I’d recommend people with IBS to avoid large amounts of caffeine if possible,’ says Dr. Nazareth. Limiting tea, soda, chocolate and coffee on the regular could potentially help minimise symptoms and better manage diarrhea related to IBS.

Fried and fatty foods

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Because fried foods tend to absorb more of the fat they’re cooked with than baked or grilled versions, they can introduce GI distress.

More helpful IBS resources…

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