I know from personal experience that figuring out what foods cause your symptoms is not a simple thing to do. But just because something's not simple doesn't make it impossible and not worth doing, right? Working out your IBS trigger foods and avoiding them at all costs is one of the easiest ways to stop your IBS symptoms dead in their tracks. Plus, it doesn't cost a thing, it works surprisingly quickly and doesn't involve any invasive tests!
To help you get started on pinpointing exactly what is making you feel like utter hell, here are some of the most common IBS trigger foods you should cut out. And because no one should have to feel deprived every day of their lives, I've also thrown in some low FODMAP substitutions and IBS-friendly alternatives that I swear by and hope you'll find super helpful.
Common IBS trigger foods
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IBS trigger foods | Dairy
While not technically lactose-intolerant, a lot of people struggle to digest dairy, a trait which is especially common for anyone with IBS. Even if you've tested negative for lactose intolerance, try cutting out lactose and see how you feel. There are so many lactose-free products (milk, yoghurt, chocolate, cheese, etc) now that you definitely won't have to go without! If you don't notice any changes, cut down on dairy completely and see how things go. Try alternatives like unsweetened almond milk, vegan chocolate and coconut yoghurt.
When I cut out dairy products, I felt so much better literally the very next day. So try it and see how you feel!
IBS trigger foods | Gluten
Just like above, even if you've tested negative for a gluten allergy, your body could still struggle to digest gluten. (An "allergy" and an "intolerance" are two totally different things!) So try avoiding gluten and see how you get on. As well as in all the usual stuff, like bread, pastries, cookies, pasta and such, you find gluten in some pretty bizarre places you'd never think it would be. It sometimes even hides in oats, deli meats and soy sauce! So read the packaging of what you're eating and cooking with, so you can be 100% confident you have actually cut out gluten before throwing in the towel. And again, don't worry about missing out on your favourite foods. If you've been in a supermarket in the past five years, you'll know they're teeming with gluten-free goodies!
IBS trigger foods | Garlic and onions
Please don't cry, but garlic and onions are two of the biggest foods that trigger IBS out there. They're both loaded with high FODMAP fructans that most IBS sufferers can't tolerate. But don't think you've got to live a live of flavourless food by cutting out garlic and onions. Instead, use the green part of scallions and garlic-infused olive oil when you're cooking. Both of these are 100% low FODMAP and will not give you nasty IBS symptoms.
IBS trigger foods | Raw vegetables
When you suffer from IBS, salads are pretty much a no-no, which makes trying to eat healthy even more difficult. Any type of vegetable (even the low FODMAP ones) is harder for anyone to digest when it's uncooked, let alone people with IBS. The easiest way to get around this one is to simply avoid salads. But that doesn't make it okay to binge on burgers and fries! Swap out pain-inducing salads for healthy cooked vegetable dishes like a balsamic grilled veggie salad or oil-free rainbow roasted vegetables.
IBS trigger foods | Beans and lentils
More totally healthy foods that you're better off without if you've got IBS. While the silly children's song "Beans, beans the musical fruit..." might bring out a small smirk in some, it's more likely to bring up nightmarish memories of bloating and stomach cramps to anyone with IBS. If you love beans and lentils as much as I do (I even use them in desserts for crying out loud!) try the canned/tinned variety. Canning something decreases the quantity of FODMAPS, so you might just be able to manage them with minimal symptoms.
IBS trigger foods | Fat
Fat is another thing that's pretty tough to digest, which is why it keeps you full. But no matter whether it's healthy fats from an avocado or unhealthy fats from a deep-fried donut, if you've got IBS, your body will not be kind to you if you consume even a moderate amount of fat in one sitting. The easiest way to get around this one is to cook your own food at home and don't add any oil or butter if you don't have to. If it's absolutely necessary stick to 2 teaspoons of fat per serving and you should just about be alright.
IBS trigger foods | Artificial sweeteners
Another of the foods that cause IBS that seem to want to kill all your weight-loss efforts! Pretty much any artificial sweetener, like malitol, mannitol and sorbitol, isn't properly digested by the body and so causes IBS sufferers intense pain. You'll find artificial sweeteners in stuff like candy, chewing gum and pretty much everything that claims to be low in sugar or sugar free.
When I first discovered artificial sweeteners are IBS trigger foods, I found it crazy tough. I lost 30lb / 14kg over a year without even trying, mostly down to swapping out sugar in tea and coffee for a zero-calorie artificial sweetener. Seriously, that's all I did. So when I found out that the sweetener I was consuming every single day was likely one of the causes behind my bloating, I started to totally panic. I was picturing myself ballooning back up to my previous weight. Something which never happened.
I tried Stevia, which was okay...but definitely has a distinct aftertaste. I tried drinking my tea and coffee unsweetened. But since I was also giving up dairy at the same time, that made tea taste pretty gross. However, I did get into drinking black, unsweetened coffee. Especially Beanies flavoured coffee! Note: this isn't a sponsored post and I haven't gotten any freebies from Beanies. I just think their flavoured coffee is awesome.
The best way you'll get around this one is to:
- Swap out all artificial sweeteners for real sugars (...which is a really bad thing to do if you care about your health).
- Get used to a life totally free from anything sweet (pretty accurate since a lot of natural fruits are IBS trigger foods, too).
- The best option: develop a deep love for maple syrup, since that is totally low FODMAP and IBS-friendly.
How to get results by avoiding IBS trigger foods
I just want to get this out there and say I'm not a doctor or a nutritionist. I'm just a food blogger and IBS sufferer who wants to help other IBS people out there get back on track and live an awesome life. To get results by cutting out IBS trigger foods, I recommend that you avoid the food in question for one week. If you notice an improvement in your IBS symptoms, I'd avoid it for good and never look back. It's as simple as that.