Bread, pasta, and cereal
People with IBS may experience diarrhoea, constipation, bloating and other stomach problems after eating gluten - a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye - even if they don’t have coeliac disease. This includes foods like cereal, grains, pasta, bread, baked goods, crackers and muesli. If that’s the case, your IBS may be triggered by a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten.
“If your IBS is due to gluten sensitivity, getting enough fibre can be a challenge, so you’ll want to focus on gluten-free grains such as quinoa,” Ansel says. Wild rice, millet, buckwheat and oats are good options, too. Just be sure to double check your label with oats, since they are often contaminated with wheat.
Onions and garlic
Say it ain’t so! While onions and garlic add a burst of flavour to just about every meal, they can seriously mess with your stomach. Why? They’re part of a group of hard-to-digest carbohydrates known as FODMAPs (short for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols).
Your body may have a hard time breaking down the fructo-oligosaccharides in garlic and onions, also knowns as fructans. In turn, these carbohydrates end up hanging out in your large intestine, where naturally occurring bacteria ferment them. The result? Bloating, gas and stomach pain, according to a review of research.
Beans and legumes
Beans, lentils and chickpeas may be heart-healthy and good sources of plant-based protein, but they contain galacto-oligosaccharides. Just like fructans, these carbs may have a hard time making their way through your digestive system, so they set up shop and end up fermenting in your gut instead.
Milk, cheese and ice cream
Milk, soft cheeses, some yoghurts, and ice cream can be a problem if you have IBS, thanks to their abundance of disaccharides (a type of sugar), often in the form of lactose. Because lactose intolerance and IBS have similar symptoms, make sure you talk to your doc to figure out which one you’re dealing with.
True lactose intolerance occurs when your body doesn’t produce enough of an enzyme called lactase, which you need to break down lactose efficiently. Those with IBS, on the other hand, may find that they are simply sensitive to dairy products. The good news is, more and more lactose-free milks and yoghurts are hitting the market. You might have better luck with hard cheeses like Parmesan and cheddar, too, since they contain less lactose.
If dairy is the source of your discomfort, getting enough vitamin D and calcium can be tricky, so you’ll want to load up on fortified foods, a supplement, or both, Ansel says.
Certain fruits and vegetables
It’s hard to believe that fresh produce may be the source of your digestive woes, especially because they’re so rich in disease-fighting nutrients. Unfortunately, some fruits and vegetables are high in oligosaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols that don’t play nice with your stomach. Here are the common offenders watch out for:
- Brussels sprouts
- Snap Peas
Sweeteners and sugar substitutes
IBS doesn’t discriminate when it comes to the sweet stuff: honey, agave nectar, high fructose corn syrup, and sugar substitutes like sorbitol and xylitol (found in sugar-free gum and mints) can spell disaster. All of them are packed with hard-to-digest carbs, so they’re also easily fermented by the bacteria in your gut, giving rise to IBS symptoms.
Coffee and alcohol
Why must the finer things in life come with such a price? Food and drinks that contain caffeine stimulate movement within your colon, which is why you’re always running to the bathroom after your morning coffee, according to a 2016 review of research. Coffee is one of the most frequently reported trigger foods in patients with IBS. Watch out for soft drink, dark chocolate, cocoa powder, and some over-the-counter pain relievers, as they all contain caffeine, too.
Cocktails won’t do you any favours, either. A study found that women with IBS experienced more GI symptoms - like nausea, stomach pain, and diarrhoea - after binge drinking (defined as four or more drinks in one sitting) than women who didn’t suffer from the condition. Drinking too much booze may also damage the lining of your GI tract, which can interfere with your bowel movements.
If you want to get to the bottom of your tummy troubles, you need to read nutrition labels very carefully. Some of your go-to convenience meals and flavourings - like cereal, soups, spice mix, salad dressings or frozen dinners - may contain FODMAPs in disguise.
For instance, “natural flavouring” or “dehydrated vegetables” in a spice mix may contain garlic or onion powder. While “natural sweeteners” in a dressing could point to honey or agave. If it's not totally clear what's in something, try to find an alternative product that's more transparent about its ingredients.