7 Common Trigger Foods for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Luckily, you might not have to cut a trigger food completely.

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Living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can involve many lifestyle modifications, but many people with IBS quickly find out that their food choices can have one of the biggest impacts. After all, it is a digestive disorder. Learn more about what IBS is here.

Since there are so many things that can affect IBS—such as levels of stress and physical activity—it can be hard to pin down exactly what your trigger foods are. For example, if you’re feeling high levels of stress, even a simple saltine cracker could trigger IBS symptoms, which include stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, and bloating. 

That said, there are some basic guidelines and common trigger foods to keep in mind. People with IBS are typically advised to avoid large, fatty meals, as they are difficult to digest and can make IBS symptoms worse. Instead, small and frequent meals on a consistent schedule are recommended.

As for common trigger foods, some may be surprising. These foods aren’t necessarily “unhealthy,” but merely more challenging to digest. Here are some foods that may give someone with IBS grief:

  1. High-fat foods, including fried foods, rich desserts, creamy sauces, and fatty meats

  2. Alcohol

  3. Dairy, including milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream

  4. Caffeine, such as coffee, soda, tea, energy drinks, chocolate, and even some medicines (e.g., Midol)

  5. Garlic and onion, including garlic powder and onion powder

  6. Certain types of sugar, such as sorbitol (an artificial sweetener) and fructose (a sugar found in honey and certain fruits)

  7. Foods with insoluble fiber, such as beans, cabbage, cruciferous veggies, and wheat products. On the other hand, foods with *soluble* fiber can actually help prevent IBS flare-ups. Learn more about the types of fiber here.

Luckily, if you love any of the above foods, you might not need to cut a trigger food completely. While some trigger foods may be best kept off your plate, others might be okay in small portions. For example, it’s tough to avoid garlic and onion completely, but if they give you grief, you might still be able to cook with them in smaller amounts (like a quarter of an onion instead of the full thing). 

Over time, you’ll become more familiar with which foods are a “maybe,” and which are a “definite no.” It may be beneficial to talk to a registered dietitian who is experienced with IBS or the low-FODMAP diet, which can be helpful for managing IBS.

Not only can a RD help you pinpoint your trigger foods, but they can also help make sure you’re still eating an optimal diet despite avoiding certain foods (such as wheat products). Find out what to expect at your first appointment with a registered dietitian here.