8 types of food to avoid if you have irritable bowel syndrome

About five million Canadians have IBS, the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation says. Science Photo Library

Did you know Canada has one of the highest rates of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in the world?

In fact, it’s estimated that five million Canadians suffer from IBS, with about 120,000 Canadians developing the disorder every year, reports the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation.

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When it comes to managing IBS, diet becomes a very important component, says dietitian Andy De Santis.

Symptoms of IBS often include cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas and diarrhea and/or constipation, according to the Mayo Clinic.

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And food, De Santis says, is often a trigger of these symptoms.

“Understanding the foods that cause or worsen symptoms, and controlling the amount of those foods that one consumes, can make a massive difference for many people,” De Santis says. “For many people, this means improving the overall quality of their diet while also being very aware of the potential food triggers that lead to symptoms.”

IBS is a condition that needs to be managed in the long-term. And it’s important to note that there is no “one size fits all” solution to solving IBS, De Santis explains, because everyone’s gut is unique and responds to different foods and stimuli in different ways.

With that in mind, managing IBS can be a real challenge for some people, he says. Consulting a dietitian or physician who specializes in IBS management would be a good idea as some people’s IBS symptoms may be so severe that it may not be managed by dietary changes alone.

“Different people living with IBS respond to different foods in different ways. But there are certainly some ‘usual suspects’ which tend to be more likely to cause problems,” De Santis says.

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So should you be one of the millions of sufferers in Canada dealing with IBS and need help managing your food triggers, those usual suspects often include:

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  • Dairy products – especially milk
  • Legumes: all types of beans, peas, lentils
  • Allium vegetables: like onion and garlic
  • Sugar alcohols like sorbitol: found in some types of sugar-free gums and candy
  • Gas-producing vegetables: like Brussel sprouts and cabbage
  • High fat and greasy foods: French fries, ice cream, butter or anything fried
  • Wheat: as found in commonly available varieties of bread, pasta, cereal and other foods
  • Certain beverages: like pop, fruit drinks, alcohol and caffeinated drinks

It’s possible to find some relief with the help of certain foods as well, De Santis points out.

“Certain foods that are rich in soluble fibre and either contain or promote the growth of healthy bacteria (probiotics) may be particularly helpful for people looking to improve the health of their digestive system,” he says.

For example, include flax seeds, tempeh and quinoa into your diet, he says.

If it is well tolerated, yogurt is a great source of probiotics, which may help some people with IBS manage their symptoms, De Santis adds.

Lastly, drink plenty of water to help your body make the most of – and adapt to – extra fibre in your diet. The amount you need, De Santis says, will vary depending on gender, activity level and other factors, but about two to three litres a day is a reasonable guideline to follow.


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