Beware of These Common IBS Trigger Foods

woman holding stomach
2 November 2023

Beware of These Common IBS Trigger Foods

If you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and find it difficult to manage your symptoms, one possible solution could be to identify and avoid certain trigger foods that worsen the condition.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a common digestive disorder affecting millions of people around the world. Its symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea, and constipation. While the exact cause of IBS isn’t known, certain foods can trigger or worsen symptoms in many people.

If you’ve been diagnosed with IBS, it’s important to be mindful of what you eat; even some seemingly harmless foods can be a major trigger for your symptoms. By identifying these trigger foods, you can manage your IBS much more effectively and enjoy an easier day to day life.

The foods we’ll discuss include:

  • Insoluble fibres (pasta, brown rice, some veg)
  • Gluten (wheat, barley, and rye)
  • Dairy (milk, cheeses, etc)
  • Caffeine (coffee, energy drinks, fizzy drinks)
  • Fried foods

Insoluble Fibres

Insoluble fibres are found in several foods including whole grains, some vegetables, and bran. The reason it is bad for those with IBS is because it doesn't dissolve in the gut, and instead retains its structure throughout digestion.

For those especially prone to constipation, insoluble fibre-rich foods can irritate the sensitive lining of the intestines, leading to abdominal discomfort, and cramping.

When the body processes insoluble fibre, it can also lead to increased flatulence and bloating, other common symptoms of IBS.

Common foods include:

  • Whole wheat bread and pasta
  • Whole grains like brown rice
  • Cauliflower, broccoli, and bell peppers


Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. With some gluten-sensitive people also living with IBS, gluten can inflame the gut, causing irritation and sensitivity in the digestive system. This leads to the common symptoms of bloating, tummy pain, and diarrhoea.

Common foods include:

  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Cereals
  • Beer
  • Baked goods (cookies, cakes, etc.)


Dairy is a major contributor to the symptoms of IBS. That's because of the high lactose content, a natural sugar found in milk and other dairy items. Some people with IBS don't have the enzyme needed to properly digest lactose, resulting in bloating, gas, diarrhoea, and even constipation in some cases.

Common foods include:

  • Milk
  • Yoghurt
  • Ice cream

Fried Food

These are often culprits for people living with IBS due to the high levels of unhealthy fats that the body struggles to digest. This slower digestion can lead to a variety of common IBS symptoms such as bloating and tummy pain.

Fried foods are also often cooked in oils that can inflame the gut, irritating it further and exacerbating symptoms. In fact, they can even change the amount of gut bacteria in the intestines, potentially leading to irregular bowel habits.

Common foods include:

  • Chips
  • Fried chicken
  • Onion rings
  • Mozzarella sticks
  • Donuts


Caffeine is an extremely popular stimulant enjoyed by people of all ages, but it can also have a notable effect on people with IBS.

As a stimulant, it causes the intestinal muscles to contract more frequently, leading to more frequent bowel movements and urgency.

Caffeine also has a diuretic effect which results in dehydration. For people with IBS, dehydration can cause constipation, as a lack of water in the body creates firmer stools that are more difficult to pass.

On top of this, caffeine affects sleep quality. Over time, this can cause stress and anxiety, other major triggers for IBS symptoms.

Common foods/drinks:

  • Coffee/tea
  • Soft/fizzy drinks
  • Chocolate (especially dark chocolate)
  • Energy drinks

Managing Your Irritable Bowel Syndrome

When it comes to managing your IBS, diet plays a major role in the symptoms you face on a daily basis. However, everyone's experience with IBS is unique, and your triggers may differ from someone else's.

And whilst it's important to know what to avoid in your diet, you've got to find the right alternatives that make a more balanced eating plan. Be mindful of what you eat, and be sure to eat slowly in a relaxed environment to reduce the risk of stress-related IBS symptoms.

Fortunately there are also plenty of alternative foods that cater to IBS-sensitive people, including:

  • Lactose-free milk
  • Soluble fibres (e.g. bananas and oats)
  • Healthy fats (e.g. avocado and nuts)
  • Herbal teas (e.g. peppermint and ginger tea)

If your IBS-related symptoms are becoming a deeper concern, make sure to speak to your GP for various lifestyle guidelines and medicines.

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