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Top Ten IBS Trigger Foods


Updated July 02, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Chili hot dog with french fries.
Photo: Nabilah Zaini/EyeEm/Getty Images

It can be hard to know which foods may be trigger foods for GI upset and IBS. Just as every snowflake is unique, so is every body. Some people have "stomachs of steel" and can eat whatever they want whenever they want. Other people, particularly those with IBS, have to be more careful. Because of these individual differences, no food can be labeled definitively as a "trigger." Only through keeping a simple food diary, tracking what you eat and how you feel, can you be assured that a specific food contributes to your digestive symptoms. It is important to remember that other factors, such as emotional upset or simply eating too large a meal, could also be playing a role in your digestive upset. To help you in your detective work, here is a list of foods that have particular potential to be troublesome.

1. Greasy Food

Food with a high fat content will serve to increase the strength of intestinal contractions triggered by the body's own natural gastrocolic reflex. If you have a sensitive digestive system, you should avoid fatty meats and fried food. For example:

  • Pizza
  • Sausage
  • French fries

2. Dairy Products

A large number of people suffer from a condition known as lactose intolerance, in which their bodies are unable to digest lactose, the sugar found in dairy products. Lactose intolerance can lead to digestive symptoms of bloating, cramping and diarrhea. Common dairy products include:

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Ice cream

3. Whole Grains

Although a diet high in fiber is important for overall health, certain high fiber foods may be problematic. For individuals who suffer from celiac disease, ingesting a protein called gluten found in some whole grains (wheat, rye, barley) causes the body's immune system to attack the small intestine with the result of serious health problems. Even if you don't suffer from celiac disease, you may want to avoid bran products, as bran appears to be an irritant to the digestive system. Try other whole wheat, non-bran products instead.

4. Raw Fruits

Fruits are a wonderful source of important nutrients and so should be a major part of one's diet. However, some people have difficulty with certain raw fruits. Luckily there is always the option of eating fruits that have been cooked or canned. Here are some common raw fruit offenders:

  • Melons, such as watermelon and cantaloupe
  • Citrus fruits, such as oranges and tangerines

5. Vegetables

Like fruits, vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. Certain types of vegetables may be harder on your system:

  • Raw vegetables, such as onions, scallions and red peppers
  • Gas-producing vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli and beans

6. Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes, found in many sugar-free and diet foods, are often poorly tolerated, resulting in symptoms of gas and bloating. Again, be sure to read labels carefully and look for these additives in the following products:

  • Sugar-free gum
  • Sugar substitute packets for coffee
  • Sugar-free ice cream

7. Drinks

Don't overlook what you are drinking when you are trying to identify foods that may create digestive upset. Here are some common culprits:

  • Sodas and other carbonated drinks, particularly if you suffer from gas and bloating
  • Coffee and other drinks with caffeine
  • Alcoholic drinks, particularly red wine
  • Diet sodas, as artificial sweeteners can also contribute to gas and bloating

8. Spicy Foods

A recent study suggests that spicy food may contribute to the abdominal pain seen in IBS. The study found evidence that IBS patients have a greater number of a specific type of nerve fiber that reacts with pain to a substance within chili peppers. Chili peppers are a common ingredient in those spicy foods that set your mouth aflame.

9. Nuts and Seeds

Perhaps because of their high fat content, nuts present a problem for some IBS sufferers. If you have also been diagnosed with diverticulosis, your doctor may have told you to avoid nuts and seeds. Although there has been no medical research to support this theory, patients have often noted that eating nuts and seeds has led to painful flare-ups.

10. Chocolate

I left this item for last, as it breaks my heart to add such a delicious item to this list. However unfortunate it may be, the reality is that many people do find that chocolate aggravates their digestive tract and therefore it should be avoided.

High FODMAPs Foods

Researchers have identified certain carbohydrates as contributing to IBS symptoms.  For more information on their work, see:


Free E-Course: Eating with IBS


Akbar, A., Yiangou, Y., Facer, P., Walters, J., Anand, P. & Ghosh, S. "Increased capsaicin receptor TRPV1-expressing sensory fibres in irritable bowel syndrome and their correlation with abdominal pain" Gut 2008 57:923-929.

Farhadi, A. "I Have IBS…Now What?!!!" 2007 SanitizAir, Inc.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) "Irritable Bowel Syndrome"

Whorwell, P. " Dietary Aspects of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)" Digestive Health Matters 2007 16:6-7.

Goldstein R, Braverman D, Stankiewicz H. "Carbohydrate malabsorption and the effect of dietary restriction on symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and functional bowel complaints." Isr Med Assoc J. 2000 Aug;2(8):583-7.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed physician. It is essential that you discuss with your doctor any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.

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