If you experience IBS, steering clear of these trigger foods may make it easier to manage your symptoms.
Food is one common trigger for digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
And while we all understand the importance of eating a healthy, balanced diet, when you’re trying to avoid causing an IBS flare-up, managing to eat a diet full of essential nutrients can be a struggle.
Also, avoiding high FODMAP foods is the cornerstone of some of the most common IBS diets.
But is it really worth cutting out those fermentable carbohydrates and following a low-FODMAP diet?
To help, we’ve put together the following list of IBS-triggering foods that don’t belong on your plate – plus over 200 foods that do.
In this article, you’ll also find out about
- What IBS is and how to know if you have it
- Symptoms and types of IBS
- Which foods trigger IBS
- All about FODMAPs
- 113 foods to avoid for IBS
- 277 foods that are good for IBS
- How to start a low FODMAP diet
- How to start a food diary for IBS
- Probiotics and IBS
What is IBS?
IBS is a common health condition that affects the large intestine.
Also known as the colon, this is the section of the gastrointestinal tract where three important parts of the digestion process happen.1
The three main functions of the large intestine:
- Absorb water and electrolytes
- Produce and absorb vitamins
- Form faeces from waste and move them to the rectum where they’re passed as stools
A variety of reactions in the large intestine can trigger IBS symptoms. There’s not a single cause. It could be because food passes through your gut too quickly. Or too slowly.
Perhaps the nerves in your gut are oversensitive? Maybe stress is upsetting the balance? Or is it something genetic that you’ve inherited?
And not only is there a wide range of causes, but the symptoms can also be equally inconsistent.
How do I know if I have IBS?
Although there’s plentiful evidence online to allow you to educate yourself on IBS symptoms, always seek a professional, medical diagnosis. This can often take time.
The condition is typically only formally diagnosed at the point when all other possibilities are ruled out.
Symptoms of IBS
- Stomach pain
However, in addition to these main IBS symptoms, there are other complaints that are also associated with IBS.
For example, flatulence, nausea, back ache, incontinence, problems urinating and tiredness.2
Types of IBS
There are three varieties of IBS:
- IBS-C – Constipation dominant
- IBS-D – Diarrhoea dominant (IBS-D)
- IBS-M – Mixed bowel habits (constipation and diarrhoea)3
Your IBS symptoms depend on the type you suffer with.
Which foods trigger IBS attacks?
In many cases, high FODMAP foods are to blame for IBS symptoms. So, it makes sense to cut them out, right?
But whilst there’s growing evidence to show restricting these foods can drastically improve IBS symptoms, it takes serious commitment.
What are FODMAPS?
FODMAPs are a collection of carbohydrates that contribute to IBS symptoms like gas, bloating and stomach pains.
To spell this out:
- FODMAP is an anagram for carbohydrates that could cause/worsen IBS symptoms
Why choose a FODMAP diet for IBS?
Some (but not all) carbohydrates are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. As a result, they move further through the gut and ferment in the large intestine.
In people with IBS, this can trigger symptoms such as bloating, constipation, wind, diarrhoea, stomach pain and flatulence.5
The guiding theory of a low FODMAP IBS diet is to replace high FODMAP foods that are poorly digested with low FODMAP foods that easily break down in the stomach.
This decreases the fermentation of sugars in the large intestine. Consequently, this can reduce bloating, constipation and other IBS symptoms.
However, IBS sufferers aren’t all sensitive to the same high FODMAP foods. To help reduce IBS symptoms, a dietitian may recommend you eliminate high FODMAP foods for a short period.
They are then gradually reintroduced in phases to identify which exact foods you are most sensitive to. It can also show which are better tolerated.
- It has been proven that some carbohydrates (FODMAPs) can trigger IBS
- The FODMAP diet can help you distinguish which cause your symptoms and which are ‘safe’
113 foods to avoid with IBS
Here is a comprehensive list of high FODMAP foods which you should avoid/reduce if you want to follow this diet (especially in the first reduction stage).6
Excess gas-causing vegetables and legumes such as onions, broccoli, beans and lentils should be avoided.
Also, it’s worth being aware that spicy food packed with chilli pepper might also trigger symptoms. Find more high-FODMAP veggies below.
- Garlic (including garlic salt, garlic powder) – should be avoided entirely if possible
- Onions (including onion powder) – should be avoided entirely possible
- Baked beans
- Broad beans
- Butter beans
- Pickled / fermented vegetables, e.g. sauerkraut
- Kidney beans
- Mung beans
- Kidney beans
- Spring onions
Although a lot of fruit is full of fibre, certain types have been known to trigger IBS symptoms.
- Bananas (ripe)
- Goji berries
- Grapefruit (over 80g)
- Guava (unripe)
- Raisins (over 1 tbsp)
- Tined fruit in pear / apple juice
Red meat like beef, lamb and pork may upset IBS symptoms.
High-FODMAP cereals, grains and nuts
- Wheat (and products containing it, e.g. biscuits, bread, noodles)
- Almond flour/meal
- Amaranth flour
- Carob flour/powder
- Chestnut flour
- Einkorn flour
- Spelt flour
High-FODMAP sweeteners, condiments, spreads, etc.
Polyols like sorbitol, mannitol or xylitol can cause diarrhoea.7
They are often found in low calorie, artificially sweetened products like chewing gum, sugar free mints and flavoured water.
- Agave nectar
- Gravy (if it contains onion)
- High fructose corn syrup
- Stock cubes
- Vegetable pickle
- Most sugar-free sweets
- Sweeteners (inulin, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol)
- Tzatziki dip
Alcohol can cause stomach irritation which can lead to diarrhoea.8
Limit yourself to drinking less than two units a day, no more than 5 days a week.
Caffeinated drinks such as tea, coffee and energy drinks.9
This is because caffeine can trigger colonic spasms, constipation or diarrhoea. Also, fizzy drinks cause bloating and wind.10
- Beer (more than one bottle)
- Apple and raspberry cordial (50-100% real juice)
- Orange cordial (20-50% red juice)
- Fruit / herbal tea with apple
- Apple, pear or mango fruit juice
- Orange juice (if over 100ml)
- Fruit juices (any in high quantities)
- Meal replacement shakes containing milk
- Fizzy drinks with high fructose corn syrup
- Soy milk
- Sports drinks
- Tea (if strong or with added soy milk)
- Wine (more than 1 glass)
- Whey protein (unless lactose free)
High-FODMAP dairy foods
Dairy products containing lactose often cause bloating, diarrhoea and discomfort.
- Ricotta cheese
- Ice cream
- Cow’s milk
- Goat’s milk
- Evaporated milk
- Sheep’s milk
- Sour cream
- As you can see, there are a lot of foods to be aware of if you want to go low-FODMAP
277 best foods for IBS
It’s not all doom and gloom though, there are also lots of foods that are perfectly fine to eat while following a low-FODMAP diet.11
Low FODMAP foods
Here are some of the most common ‘safe’ foods and the quantities you should limit certain foods too.
- Bamboo shoots
- Black beans (45g)
- Bok choy / pak choi
- Broccoli (35g)
- Brussels sprouts (2 sprouts)
- Butternut squash (35g)
- Cabbage (70g)
- Celery (less than 5cm of stalk)
- Chicory leaves
- Chickpeas (42g)
- Chili – if tolerable
- Collard greens
- Corn (1/2 cob)
- Courgette (65g)
- Aubergine (80g)
- Green beans
- Green pepper (75g)
- Lentils (in small amounts)
- Snow peas (5 pods)
- Pickled gherkins
- Large pickled onions
- Red peppers
- Spring onions (the green part)
- Baby spinach
- Sun-dried tomatoes (4 pieces)
- Swiss chard
- Sweet potato (65g)
- Tomato (1 small / 1/4 a can)
- Turnip (1/2 a turnip)
- Water chestnuts
- Unripe bananas (1 medium)
- Blueberries (45g)
- Cantaloupe melon (120g)
- Cranberry (1tbsp)
- Coconut cream (75g)
- Coconut flesh (50g)
- Dragon fruit
- Honeydew / Galia melons (80g)
- Kiwifruit (2 small)
- Lemon (including juice)
- Lime (including juice
- Passion fruit
- Prickly pear
- Raspberry (30 berries)
Low-FODMAP meat/meat substitutes
- Foie gras
- Cold cuts, e.g. ham, turkey breast
- Processed meat (check ingredients)
- Canned tuna
- Fresh cod
- Fresh haddock
- Fresh plaice
- Fresh Salmon
- Fresh Trout
- Fresh Tuna
- Plain crab
- Plain lobster
- Plain mussels
- Plain oysters
- Plain prawns
- Plain shrimp
Low-FODMAP cereals, grains and nuts
- Wheat free bread
- Gluten-free bread
- Corn bread
- Rice bread
- Spelt sourdough bread
- Potato flour bread
- Wheat- / Gluten-free pasta
- Wheat bread (1 slice)
- Almonds (10 almonds)
- Cream crackers (4 crackers)
- Oatcakes (4 cakes)
- Shortbread biscuit (1 biscuit)
- Brazil nuts
- Bulgur (44g cooked serving)
- Brown / wholegrain rice
- Plain potato crisps
- Cornflour / maize
- Cornflakes (14g)
- Gluten-free cornflakes
- Corn tortillas (3 tortillas)
- Flaxseed / linseed (1tbsp)
- Hazelnuts (10 hazelnuts)
- Macadamia nuts
- Mixed nuts
- Pecans (10 halves)
- Pine nuts
- Porridge / oat-based cereals
- Potato flour
- Pasta (100g cooked)
- Rice cakes
- Rice flour
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Poppy seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Tortilla chips
Low-FODMAP sweeteners, condiments, spreads, etc.
- Acesulfame K
- Almond butter
- Barbeque sauce
- Capers in vinegar
- Dark chocolate (5 squares)
- Milk chocolate (4 squares)
- White chocolate (3 squares)
- Chutney (1tbsp)
- Dijon mustard
- Fish sauce
- Golden syrup (1 tsp)
- Strawberry jam
- Raspberry jam (2 tbsp)
- Maple syrup
- Mayonnaise (no garlic / onion ingredients)
- Miso paste
- Oyster sauce
- Pesto sauce (less than 1 tbsp)
- Peanut butter
- Rice malt syrup
- Shrimp paste
- Soy sauce
- Sriracha hot chili sauce (1 tsp)
- Sweet and sour sauce
- Tahini pate
- Tomato sauce / ketchup (2 sachets)
- Apple cider vinegar (2 tbsp)
- Balsamic vinegar (2 tbsp)
- Rice wine vinegar
- Worcestershire sauce (the onion and garlic content is acceptably low, making it low-FODMAP)
- Beer (1 drink)
- Vodka (limited intake advised)
- Gin (limited intake advised)
- Whiskey (limited intake advised)
- Wine (1 drink)
- Coffee (without milk or up to 250ml lactose free milk)
- Coconut milk (125ml)
- Coconut water (100ml)
- Drinking chocolate powder
- Fruit juice (low-FOSMAP fruits only, 125ml)
- Lemonade (low quantities)
- Egg protein powder
- Rice protein powder
- Whey protein isolate powder
- Soya milk made with soy protein
- Sugar free soft drinks (low quantities)
- Black tea
- Chia tea
- Fruit and herbal tea (no apple added)
- Green tea
- Peppermint tea
- White tea
Low-FODMAP dairy foods, eggs and alternatives
- Cottage cheese (2 tbsp)
- Cream cheese (2 tbsp)
- Halloumi (40g)
- Monterey Jack
- Paneer (2 tbsp)
- Ricotta (2 tbsp)
- Swiss cheese
- Almond milk
- Hemp milks (125ml)
- Lactose-free milk)
- Macadamia milk
- Oar milk (30ml)
- Rice milk
- Soy protein (avoid soy beans)
- Tofu (drained and firm varieties)
- Whipped cream
- Coconut yoghurt
- Greek yoghurt (23g)
- Lactose-free yoghurt
- Goat’s yoghurt
Low-FODMAP herbs, spices and cooking ingredients
- Most herbs and spices (avoid chili, garlic, onion)
- Avocado oil
- Canola oil
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Peanut oil
- Rice bran oil
- Sesame oil
- Soybean oil
- Sunflower oil
- Vegetable oil
- Acai powder
- Baking powder
- Baking soda
- Cacao powder
- Cocoa powder
- Ghee (1tbsp)
- Icing sugar
- Mango powder (1tsp)
- Nutritional yeast
- Soybean oil
- Thankfully, there are a lot of ‘safe’ low-FODMAP foods around, which may be worth implementing into your diet to see if you experience a difference
How to start a low-FODMAP diet
A low-FODMAP diet is not quite as simple as cutting out all high-FODMAP foods and focusing on low-FODMAP foods.
It usually involves the following three stages:
This stage usually lasts a few weeks and requires strict avoidance of high-FODMAP foods.
Once you find adequate relief of IBS symptoms then you can move onto the next stage.
This next step requires reintroducing high-FODMAP foods to see which type and amount of high-FODMAP foods are affecting you the most.
It is recommended that you reintroduce foods one at a time – and it is recommended that you use a dietician to help guide you through this process.
Making it work for you
This stage allows you to know which FODMAP foods you need to restrict, and which ones are actually fine to consume.
For example, you may be fine eating a piece of wheat bread every day but may want to avoid cauliflower all the time.
As you can see, a low FODMAP diet is a significant dietary intervention. And unless you have diagnosed IBS and have exhausted all other IBS diet options, it can do more harm than good.
If you don’t want to be so strict…
The lists of high- and low-FODMAP foods below show how complex and restricted a low FODMAP diet can be.
Just to reiterate, a low FODMAP diet isn’t for everyone. But that’s not to say you can’t take inspiration from some of the theory.
For example, keeping a food diary to track the severity of your symptoms against what you’ve consumed.
Most of us can’t remember exactly what we eat on a day-to-day basis. This is why it can be helpful to write it down.
This visibility allows you to recognise patterns between your diet and IBS symptoms.
With this knowledge, you could then reduce or eliminate a food for a short period to see if it has an impact on symptoms.
This is a simple but effective way to, see how an individual food may be causing your digestive problems.
How to start a food diary for IBS
Write down everything you eat daily, the time you ate it, and the severity and time of your IBS symptoms on the same day.
If you recognise a pattern where eating a certain food seems to regularly coincide with a rise in your digestion problems, consider eliminating this from your diet for a few weeks.
During this elimination period, continue to keep a food diary and track your symptoms.
After this period, gradually reintroduce the food and record any changes in your symptoms.
Repeat with other foods if necessary.
It’s always recommended that any changes to diet are done in consultation with your GP or a dietitian.
- There are several stages to a formal FODMAP diet, all of which help you to determine which foods are a problem for you
- It is recommended that you consult a trained dietician for help with this
- Keeping a food diary can also help you find out which foods you may need to avoid
Before you consider a low FODMAP IBS diet
Following a low FODMAP IBS diet is not a decision to take lightly.
Only attempt it if:
- Your IBS is formally diagnosed by your GP
- You’ve tried other less restrictive diet strategies already (e.g. increasing your fibre intake and probiotics)
- You’re recommended this diet by a FODMAP trained dietitian. Don’t attempt it alone – you need ongoing professional nutrition advice and support to implement this diet plan effectively
This final point is particularly important.
If this is a diet change you would like to initiate, careful implementation is crucial.
A FODMAP trained dietitian can assess if it’s appropriate for your IBS symptoms and also ensure what you’re eating continues to be nutritionally sufficient.
This is not an allergy diet
Eliminating high FODMAP foods isn’t a long-term solution.
This is where IBS diets can differ from allergy diets.
It’s important to recognise, IBS is not caused by a food allergy. It has nothing to do with your immune system.
Whereas diets for food allergies and intolerances often involve permanent exclusion of an allergen, this is not usually required in IBS diets.
For example, after the initial elimination period in a FODMAP diet, most IBS sufferers can start to tolerate small to moderate quantities of high FODMAP foods.
Consider that food may not be causing your IBS
Remember, diet is only one cause of IBS. If lifestyle factors, such as stress, are the trigger of your IBS symptoms, making behavioural changes could be more valuable.
In addition, if you suffer from food anxiety of any form, or have other underlying health conditions, it’s particularly important to seek medical guidance before pursuing an IBS diet.
- A low-FODMAP diet is a big commitment and shouldn’t be taken lightly
- Increasing your fibre and probiotics could help your IBS before going for a FODMAP diet
- Eliminating FODMAP foods isn’t a long-term solution, as different people can tolerate different types/amounts of FODMAP foods
- Keep in mind that food may not be causing your IBS, as it can also be linked to stress, food anxiety and other underlying health conditions
Can probiotics help IBS?
The gut contains trillions of bacteria. This diverse collection of microbes forms your gut microbiome, which helps to break down food and regulates bowel function.
The large intestine is home to 95% of the gut microbiome.
In people with IBS, symptoms may trigger when there is some kind of imbalance between helpful, good bacteria and the other not so friendly species.
This could manifest itself in the symptoms above.12
So, regaining balance is key to a healthy digestive system and for relieving IBS symptoms.
Probiotics help by topping up the level of good bacteria in the gut, which muffles the impact of the more hostile varieties.
How can I get good bacteria?
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that can contribute to a healthy gut microbiome. You’ll find them in certain types of food and in supplements.
Foods containing friendly bacteria in food
You can find probiotics naturally in a number of foods.
For example, eating cultured dairy products and fermented foods can help to ensure your friendly bacteria levels remain topped up.
Look out for yoghurts, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, tempeh, natto, miso, and kombucha.
But there is one thing you need to be sure of – the probiotic bacteria must be alive when you eat it. Some food processes, such as pasteurisation kill live bacteria.
So, it’s important that yoghurts are ‘live’ or contain ‘active’ ingredients. Choose unpasteurised sauerkraut and select fermented pickles rather than ones soaked in vinegar.
Friendly bacteria supplements are a useful alternative if eating fermented foods doesn’t appeal.
There are a huge range of probiotic products available and the impact they have on IBS symptoms varies considerably. Here are two things to look out for:
- What bacteria does the product contain? Two commonly studied friendly bacteria strains that may help with the reduction of IBS symptoms are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium13,14,15
- Will the bacteria reach your gut? To get to the large intestine, a probiotic must survive the acidic environment of the stomach. Buying from a reputable source is strongly advised16
The final say
- FODMAPS are different groups of carbohydrates which may affect/worsen IBS symptoms
- A low-FODMAP diet is sometimes recommended to help determine which FODMAP foods affect you
- FODMAP diets can be very restrictive and should not be viewed as a long-term solution
- If you have been diagnosed with IBS and want to try a FODMAP diet, it is recommended that you consult a registered dietician to help
- Research suggests increasing the consumption of good bacteria can help to bring balance to the variety of microbes in the gut. This can aid the function of the large intestine and reduce IBS symptoms. As a result, if consumed in the right quality and dosage, probiotics can reduce bloating, cramping and constipation for those with diagnosed IBS.
- When changing your diet, take gradual steps with small changes at a time so you’ll be able to identify exactly what’s aggravating your symptoms.
The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.
Last updated: 8 February 2022