Foods to Avoid with IBS

Written by Kristeen Moore and Rena Goldman | Published on March 16, 2015
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on March 16, 2015

Learn which foods can irritate your digestion with IBS

The Role of Food in IBS

A healthy diet generally consists of eating a wide variety of nutritious, low-fat foods in moderation. However, you may notice an influx in symptoms after you eat certain foods if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Because symptoms can vary between patients, there’s not one list of off-limit foods. However, by avoiding some of the most common culprits of IBS symptoms, you may notice more regularity as well as less cramps and bloating.

Insoluble Fiber

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Fiber adds healthy bulk to the diet. It’s widely available in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. However, fiber also aggravates diarrhea. Eating too much insoluble fiber in the form of grains can increase your trips to the bathroom.

Focus on soluble fiber instead. This includes vegetables and fruit. Keep in mind that insoluble fiber may relieve constipation, but it can make you feel bloated.


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While the insoluble fiber content in whole grains may be a culprit in IBS symptoms, certain grains cause other problems. Products containing rye, wheat, and barley contain gluten. This is a type of protein that can damage your intestines and worsen symptoms of IBS. While an allergy to gluten is known as celiac disease, at least half of IBS patients are also gluten-intolerant.

Luckily, more gluten-free products come onto the market every day. If you can’t do without pizza, pasta, cakes, or cookies entirely, you can always substitute with gluten-free ingredients.


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Milk is problematic for two reasons. First, milk contains fat, which can increase diarrhea. You may need to switch to low-fat or non-fat milk to minimize symptoms.

Second, many IBS patients are lactose intolerant. This means their systems can’t digest lactose in milk products. You may still eat yogurt, but you might have to switch to soymilk and cheeses instead.

Make sure you talk to your doctor about a calcium supplement if you decide to avoid dairy entirely.

Fried Foods

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French fries and other fried foods are a staple in the typical American diet. Not only do they cook quickly, but they’re downright tasty. Moderation is the key with fried foods. The high fat content may be especially hard on the system for IBS patients.

This doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite foods. Consider grilling or baking them instead for a healthier option.


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Beans: the more you eat, the more you—well, we all know how the rest of that saying goes. Beans are generally a great source of protein and fiber, but they can be a source of bathroom nightmares if you have IBS.

While the food can increase bulk in stool to help constipation, it also increases gas, bloating, and cramps. If you’re like most IBS patients, you’ll want to mark this item on your list of foods to avoid.


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Some people swear by their morning coffee for regularity. But it has a stimulating effect on the intestines that can increase diarrhea in others. Coffee and other beverages that contain caffeine are off-limits for people with IBS.

If you need a pick-me-up, consider eating a small snack or going for a quick walk.

Eating Tips for Better Living

Not everyone with IBS experiences the same symptoms. Consider using the elimination approach to find out which foods affect you. Make a list of possible culprits, then avoid one food at a time for 12 weeks. Take frequent notes to assess if eliminating a certain food makes any difference. 

You can also help decrease symptoms of IBS by eating breakfast every day and eating smaller meals instead of three big ones.

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