Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects about 5 million Canadians, with an even greater number more suffering from other transient or undiagnosed digestive issues such as gas, bloating, indigestion and constipation. Many of these issues are directly related dietary habits, and potentially a result of eating too much of certain foods that are known gastrointestinal irritants.
I truly appreciate that consistent digestive issues can be among the most disrupting, disheartening and aggravating problems that a person could face on a regular basis. For this reason, I wanted to provide a starting point to help individuals suffering from IBS or other digestive issues identify some of the foods and packaged food ingredients that are recognized to contribute to digestive issues, especially in people with IBS.
Please keep in mind that, when it comes to digestive issues, different individuals respond to different foods in different ways. Today’s posting is only meant to be a reference to point out some of the more common trouble foods. These foods may or may not be contributing to your particular issues.
Five Foods to limit if you have IBS
1. Soft Cheeses: Soft cheese varieties such as cottage cheese, cream cheese and ricotta are particularly high in lactose and may be especially troublesome for people with IBS and/or lactose intolerance. You can consider swapping in hard cheeses such as asiago, cheddar, mozzarella or parmesan, which may be better tolerated.
2. Beans/Lentils/Chickpeas: These foods are inexpensive sources of protein, fibre and many nutrients but unfortunately are a usual suspect when it comes to digestive issues. They are high in a certain carbohydrate known as galactans that some people may have trouble digesting. If you are looking for an alternative inexpensive plant-based protein source, try tofu.
3. Pop/Soda/Fruit Drinks: These sweetened beverage items are widely consumed, especially by adolescents. Unfortunately, they are unnaturally high in fructose which is poorly digested in the human gut, especially by certain individuals with IBS. Limiting your consumption of these items or avoiding them completely may go a long way to helping ease digestive discomforts. Keep in mind that these items are high in calories and low in nutrients, making them of little value to begin with.
4. Certain Vegetables: I personally hate to tell anyone to consider limiting their intake of vegetables, especially since most people do not eat enough to begin with. However, in the case of IBS and other digestive issues, specific common vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, garlic and onions may be contributing to your digestive problems. This may be especially true if you eat these foods in large quantities. With that being said, do not limit these foods if they do not appear to cause you issues and make sure you are eating plenty of other vegetables if you do.
5. Any packaged foods (sauces, marinades, candies, baked goods, anything!) with the following ingredients: This may sound like a hassle, but if you can come to terms with scanning the ingredients list of the packaged foods you purchase, it could go a long way to helping you avoid known gastrointestinal irritants.
The ingredients you want to avoid include: fructose, honey, high fructose corn syrup (gluctose-fructose), xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol and maltitol. You may also want to be cautious of lactose and milk-related ingredients, especially if you are lactose intolerant.
If you use of any of these ingredients to bake, try replacing them with better tolerated alternatives such as: maple syrup, molasses, sucrose, sucralose or stevia.
Some people may also respond well to eating less wheat. You do not need to severely restrict your wheat intake, but choosing wheat-free alternativs such oatmeal, rice, potatoes and quinoa more frequently over wheat-rich items such as cereal, bread and pasta may be enough of a change to help improve symptoms in some people.
Please keep in mind this is only meant to be a quick sampling of the more common foods associated with IBS and other digestive issues. There is more to the issue than I have discussed here and there are several other potential irritant foods to consider. The precise foods that trigger symptoms will inevitably vary from person to person. Limiting the foods and ingredients listed above is a starting point that may help, but I urge you to review more comprehensive and reputable resources and seek guidance from a health professional if you are looking to more thoroughly address any digestive issues you may be having.
As always, I wish you the best in all your food and nutrition endeavours
Andy De Santis RD MPH
I would also like to acknowledge IBSGroup.org who provide excellent information on this topic.