A group of friends clink their glasses of soda together over pizza.
A group of friends clink their glasses of soda together over pizza.
A group of friends clink their glasses of soda together over pizza.

5 Foods to Avoid if You Have IBS

Woman clutching her stomach

Discomfort in the lower gastrointestinal (GI) tract can affect a person's well-being, and it is very common: For instance, about 10% to 15% of Americans suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a chronic condition that can cause unpleasant symptoms such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits.

While there is no cure for IBS, there are certain foods and medications that can make symptoms worse. Avoiding the following foods may bring some relief:

  1. Milk

    Milk and other foods that contain lactose, like cheese and ice cream, can cause gas and bloating in people who are lactose intolerant. About 70% of adults worldwide do not produce large amounts of lactase, an intestinal enzyme that helps break down the sugar in milk. Without this enzyme, the small intestine cannot absorb lactose, which passes undigested into the colon, where bacteria ferment and cause gas.

    Even though dairy products are the major culprits of discomfort for some IBS sufferers, yogurt proves to be an exception. The live cultures in the yogurt break down the lactose, so it's less likely to cause gassy symptoms.

  2. Foods High in Fructose

    High fructose corn syrup is a main ingredient in processed foods, commercially prepared sweets, snacks and soft drinks, and these items can aggravate IBS symptoms. But they are not the only source of blame (or bloat).

    It turns out some very healthy foods like apples, pears and dried fruits are naturally high in fructose, which when ingested, can trigger some of the same side effects as undigested lactose. Fruits lower in fructose, such as berries, citrus and bananas, may be a better choice for people with IBS.

  3. Carbonated Beverages

    Because the bubbles in beverages like soda and seltzer can produce a similar fizzy effect in the GI tract, stick with water and lactose-free milk to quench your thirst. And before you think about adding juice to that list — remember that fruit-based drinks are frequently high in fructose!

  4. Caffeine

    Caffeine can increase diarrhea, another major symptom of IBS. High sources of caffeine include coffee, tea, cola drinks, chocolate and some over-the-counter pain relievers designed for headache relief — check labels carefully.

  5. Sugar-free Chewing Gums

    Many sugar-free gums are made with artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol and xylitol, which have been shown to cause diarrhea. In addition, chewing gum leads to more swallowed air and gassiness.

Other Foods that Can Cause IBS Symptoms

Even some healthy foods can generate digestive discomfort, including beans and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts, as well as nutritional and weight-reduction supplements.

Other Ways to Support Gut Health and Ease IBS

Diet is important, but avoiding these foods is not the only way to address the discomforts of IBS. Digestive disease experts advise patients living with IBS to work on reducing stress, getting adequate sleep and minimizing highly refined processed foods in general.

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