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What Foods Should Be Avoided with Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Ask a Doctor

I’ve just been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. I’ve been researching the best ways to change my diet and there is so much conflicting advice on the internet that I’m overwhelmed. What foods should be avoided with irritable bowel syndrome? Is yogurt good for irritable bowel syndrome? What should you eat if you have IBS? Is oatmeal good for IBS? Is ice cream bad for IBS?

Doctor’s Response

No one diet is good for everyone with irritable bowel syndrome. It’s a good idea to talk directly with your doctor about a diet that’s right for you.

  • Many people suffering from IBS are aware of very specific foods that trigger and worsen their symptoms. The person usually learns what trigger foods to avoid.
  • Food diaries can be helpful in pinpointing the products causing symptoms to worsen.
  • People with IBS usually suffer from both diarrhea and constipation, and different foods are often implicated as triggers.
  • Treatment of IBS symptoms often is specific to the individual. There usually is no easy answer to relieve IBS symptoms, but rather a process that involves the patient and doctor working closely together.

IBS Diet Triggers and Diarrhea

  • Gluten free diets have been linked in some research to improved diarrhea symptoms; however, this has not been clearly established.
  • A subgroup of poorly absorbed carbohydrates referred to as FODMAPs (which stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols) causes symptoms in some people with IBS. FODMAPs are found in many products such as some grains (what, rye), fruits (found in pears, honey, and apples), vegetables (artichokes, onions, garlic), artificial sweeteners, and dairy products (lactose intolerance). Some individuals tend to be sensitive to only some FODMAPs. For some individuals, a diet high in FODMAPs may result in bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
  • Foods high in fat can worsen diarrhea symptoms

IBS Diet Triggers and Constipation

  • In general foods that dehydrate can worsen the constipation symptoms of IBS.
  • As with all food intake, some foods might be tolerated in moderation but cause symptoms if ingested in excess.
  • One suggested approach is to remove a food or food category, watch and note symptoms, and slowly reintroduce the food back into the diet and track your symptoms (elimination diet).
  • Fiber products can help (in case of constipation) or worsen IBS (diarrhea).
  • Exercise helps prevent constipation and lack of exercise can worsen it.

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Johannesson, E., et.al. "Physical activity improves symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome: a randomized controlled trial." American Journal of Gastroenterology 2011 106:915-922.

Magge, S. et al. "Low-FODMAP Diet for Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome." Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). Nov 2012; 8(11): 739–745.

Muir, J. et al. "The Low FODMAP Diet for Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Other Gastrointestinal Disorders." Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). Jul 2013; 9(7): 450–452.

Wald, A. MD. "Patient education: Irritable bowel syndrome (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate. Updated: Aug 12, 2015.