Worst Foods for IBS

What are the worst foods for IBS? Here’s a list with explanations of why each one can be a problem:

1) Dairy foods.

According to every expert I’ve read as well as our experience with clients, the number one worst food for IBS is anything made from dairy.

That means any kind of milk that comes from a four-legged animal, and any food product made from that milk: milk and chocolate milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream, cheese popcorn, milk chocolate, the cream in your coffee and anything else with milk, cheese or cream in it. (Eggs are not dairy, even though they’re in the same department in the grocery store. Eggs are from chickens. But you already knew that.)

I know a lot of people aren’t happy that dairy tops the “worst food” list. Dairy is a comfort food for many of us and it’s easy to become “addicted” to certain cheeses (I’ve been there) or other dairy delights.

But it’s the top food allergen for everyone, not just people who have IBS, and it contributes to a wide variety of health nightmares that go far beyond digestion, including arthritis, osteoporosis, and kidney problems. Even if you’re not lactose-intolerant, the proteins in dairy can cause trouble for you.

Are you worried that you won’t get enough calcium if you don’t eat dairy foods? Well, here’s the reality: dairy IS a good source of calcium. For a CALF. If you’re not the child of a cow, your body can’t absorb and process the calcium in milk products very well. At the molecular level, it doesn’t seem to work for the human body.

And think about it. For hundreds of thousands of years, right up until the Agricultural Revolution (about 10,000 years ago) we humans never drank milk. (We didn’t eat sugar either…) Yet, studies of ancient humans show that they had better bones, were taller, had few or no cavities (despite not brushing their teeth), and were apparently getting all the calcium they needed without a single cow or goat making a contribution. I guess in those days, if you wanted milk, you’d have to find a lactating wild animal and chase it down. Not an easy task!

Some people find that cutting out dairy products alone is enough to significantly reduce their digestive symptoms.

2) Foods that contain sugars, especially fructose.

This is another area where people get a bit antsy. Let’s face it; how many people do you know who DON’T like fruit and other sweet foods? You can probably count them on one finger.

We’ve all been told that a healthy diet includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. But when you have an irritable bowel, some of the worst foods for IBS are foods that are usually considered beneficial.

So what does that include?

In the veggie department, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, like cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage to name a few. That’s because they contain a sugar called raffinose. Humans lack the enzyme needed to digest this sugar.

Raffinose is also found in beans or legumes, those famously “windy” foods that so often cause gas, bloating and digestive discomfort. That includes kidney beans, black beans, navy beans, lentils, chickpeas, soy beans and soy products, and – guess what? – peanuts. Yes, peanuts are a legume, not a nut. They grow on the ground, not in a tree and they have a weird mould called aflatoxin that is a carcinogen.

If you want to eat cruciferous vegetables (since they do have many health benefits) or legumes, look for a digestive enzyme that contains α-galactosidase, the specific enzyme that breaks down raffinose.

Then there’s fructose. Apparently, many people with IBS suffer from fructose malabsorption – meaning you have trouble digesting foods that contain fructose, which then causes gas, bloating, diarrhea and stomach pain. You could also experience nausea, fuzzy thinking and fatigue. Fructose absorption problems are why some people with IBS cannot eat apples in any form, whether raw, cooked, peeled or unpeeled.

Fructose malabsorption may occur because of too much bacteria in the small intestine that feeds on the fructose and other sugars. The way to get rid of the excess bacteria is to go off all sweets for a minimum of two weeks.

This is assuming your diet is already pretty clean. If you’ve been eating the standard American diet (SAD), it may take longer and you might not feel very good while your system is killing off that extra bacteria, but keep at it! It will make a huge difference.

You especially want to watch out for foods that have a high fructose to glucose ratio, like:

  • sucrose or table sugar,
  • apples, pears,
  • melons, watermelon,
  • papaya,
  • dried fruit, fruit juice,
  • honey, anything containing high-fructose corn syrup, agave syrup

Also avoid other sweets like:

  • bread and baked goods,
  • breakfast cereals,
  • cakes, cookies,
  • pizza, pasta,
  • soft drinks whether sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners…

… Well, you get the picture.

Once you have killed off that excess bacteria, you can try adding some fruit back into your diet. Be careful to choose low-fructose fruits. How? There’s an awesome site called The Farting Pear, for people with fructose malabsorption, that gives you a breakdown of what’s in different foods:


If you’re serious about being healthy and having good digestion, I’m going to suggest that you NEVER eat anything with refined sugar in it again. Just my opinion, but there’s a mountain of evidence to support it. Not eating sugar has literally changed my life and my digestion permanently for the better. (But I do eat the occasional piece of fruit, now that I can handle it.)

3) Fatty, oily and especially deep-fried foods

You have to have some fat in your diet or you’ll die of a deficiency-related disease. But it has to be good fat: high-quality fish oil or the naturally-occurring fats in foods like coconut, avocado, organic meat, and free-range poultry.

The fats that fall into the category of worst foods for IBS are:

  • Any fats or oils that are heavily processed – so basically all the vegetable oils in the grocery store except extra virgin olive oil,
  • Any deep-fried food – heating oil kills all the nutrients and turns it into toxic waste – very hard to digest!
  • Most fried foods – once the oil or fat smokes in the pan, it is over-heated

If you have diarrhea you will want to be especially careful with fatty foods, since fats stimulate the production of a hormone called cholecystokin that causes the intestines to go into contractions (also the gall bladder.) Hmm… maybe that would work better for people with constipation, but remember to choose healthy fats and oils that will offer your body some valuable nutrients, NOT French fries, fish and chips, or breaded and fried foods. (Ouch foods!)

4) Most vitamins, especially multi’s

I know, I know – vitamins are supposed to be good for you! And they are. IF (and that’s a big “if”) they are made correctly. Otherwise, they have a good chance of making you feel worse instead of better.

Unfortunately, most of the vitamins on the market – yes, even the expensive ones at the health food store – are not very good. And how the heck would I know that? Well, I’m glad you asked.

I just came back from a health show where I listened to keynote speaker, Raymond Francis, a 75-year-old man in excellent health, who was supposed to die at age 46 because his liver was poisoned by a prescription drug. Ray saved his own life with vitamin therapy and then spent considerable time learning about the biochemistry of nutrients to find out the best forms of vitamins for the human body. The guy obviously knows what he’s talking about.

Anyway, here’s why most vitamins are a total waste of money and have ended up on the list of worst foods for IBS:

  • They often contain so little of the active ingredient(s) that they don’t do anything for you.
  • They are “loaded with cheap fillers and contaminated with solvent residues, artificial food colors and flavors, allergens and other potentially harmful chemicals.” (p. 5, The Road Map to Supplements by Raymond Francis) This is the aspect of vitamins that is especially hard on the sensitive digestive tract of the IBS sufferer.
  • The ingredients in them don’t work with your body’s natural biochemistry, so you can’t access the nutrients.

So your typical multi-vitamin isn’t doing you much good. In fact, it might even be making your IBS symptoms worse.

I don’t usually name specific products, but I know people are going to ask, so if you’re interested in a decent multi, I bought mine from Beyond Health. The pills are really big, so I use my kitchen cleaver to gently cut them in two. Then I take a half per day. I’m not sure my body can handle the full dose yet! I mean, we’re talking vitamin POWER here.

Or try some Sea Minerals by Gerry Amena; or a bottle of VitaMineral Green which is a powdered whole food product you can make into a drink packed with nutrients. (I love, love, LOVE VitaMineral Green. It is a true superfood.)

Are these products expensive? You betcha! But that’s because they’re the real thing. They work and they’re not full of toxic garbage. (So you won’t need to buy all that other stuff that didn’t work so well.)

Okay, so since we’re talking about products and the worst foods for IBS, you’ll find more information about foods for IBS in our 8-module audio program, The No IBS Program. And if you are a person who suspects that there’s more to your IBS symptoms than food, or you feel anxiety and emotional pain along with your physical symptoms, then the program is definitely for you.

You can always try out the program and if you decide it’s not for you, Kathy and I will refund your money.* So you can’t lose!

Or you can get a taste of the No IBS Program in our ebook: Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome IBS: 3 Crucial Secrets to Getting Better. It’s the “cheater” version of the program: short and sweet (but still packed with useful info!)

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#1 Beth 2012-10-23 09:58
Papaya is suppose to be a digestive aid. It is full of soluble fiber and I was told by a dietician that it is a wonderful food for IBS so I eat it every day. What's the story? I'm so confused and stress level has risen once again. I will never understand this IBS creature.
#2 Karen of No IBS 2012-10-23 10:14
Hi Beth,
Thanks for your excellent question. You may simply NOT be a person with fructose malabsorption. Not everyone with IBS has fructose malabsorption, although many do. Every body is different. You may tolerate papaya well but not be able to digest broccoli or raisins.
This is why I've talked about the worst foods for IBS in terms of groups of foods (and vitamins.) Individuals vary and that's why no one can tell you the exact diet for IBS - there isn't one single diet that fits all.
It's also possible that food is less of an issue for you than other triggers of IBS, for example the kind of stresses and trauma triggers we show you how to deal with in the No IBS Program and our ebook.
So, don't worry! If you feel good when you eat papaya, that is your best indicator of whether or not it works for you.
#3 Beth 2012-10-23 10:37
I never feel good. I hurt everyday, all day. So I don't know what I can eat and what I can't. Just can't figure it out. I don't know how to figure out what foods hurt me and what foods are okay. Sorry.
#4 Karen of No IBS 2012-10-23 14:10
Have you been checked for food sensitivities? There are different forms of testing for this, but it can really help to pinpoint whether you are reacting to grains, certain fruits (I was shocked to find out that I was reacting poorly to fruits!), or whatever. BIE and electro-dermal testing are popular methods for this. With BIE, the practitioner can often help you improve your response to some foods.
#5 BRONDA 2012-11-13 07:24
I was checked for food sensitivities early in in my quest to sort my IBS out
I went to a Registered Medical Herbalist here in UK who does allergy testing
Milk from any animal is top of my list
Some vegetables are not good... e.g broccolli, sprouts, cabbage!
I,ve been where you are Beth, so I really do know how it is....I thought I would never be normal or well again
I kept a food diary and put down every bit of food/liquid that passed my lips and noted my body,s reaction
It has taken nearly a year, but I now know very clearly what I can and can,t eat
If I have a moment of weakness, then I know I,m in for a day or two of the horrors...in my case diarrhoea,tummy cramps and feeling like death warmed up!
Find out your food triggers,stay strong and it will get better!
B xx UK
#6 Karen of No IBS 2012-11-14 18:37
Hi Bronda,

I like your food diary idea - very useful way to track the consequences of foods.

Broccoli and cabbage are cruciferous vegetables which, as I've explained in other posts, are foods containing raffinose, an indigestible sugar that can cause gas and bloating, so not a good choice for people with IBS. Definitely could have been part of this post on the worst foods for IBS, so thanks for mentioning!
#7 George 2012-12-11 22:20
very interested read ..The information presented was very informative, and I thank you for taking the time and energy for researching on our behalf.
I am hoping that some day you will put forward a Recipe Book
that we can follow to rid IBS completely
. george
#8 Nancy 2013-01-01 14:31
What great information! Thank you! Lunch seems to be the hardest meal for me to find something agreeable to eat. I've had peanut butter too many times and paid for it yesterday, almost to the point of getting sick. I knew better, but what can I eat? Also an FYI, pull-on slacks instead of jeans, pull-on and zippers, are gentle on my stomach/intestines. They help when I have flare-ups. Thank you, again, for all your help!
#9 Karen of No IBS 2013-01-01 20:14
Hi Nancy,
Thanks so much for the kind words!
If you have been able to tolerate the high fat content of peanut butter, would you be able to eat other nut butters - almond, hazelnut, cashew, etc? Sometimes when you eat the same food over and over again, you sensitize to it, which means you start to react to it so if you can eat nut butters, rotate them - i.e. eat one type one day and another the next. (A four-day rotation is ideal.)
Another idea is to eat a soluble fibre veg like cooked carrots or parsnips or beets or sweet potato, then a lean protein for lunch. Or a meat broth with cooked soluble fiber vegetables.
Thanks for the tip about the pull-ons - great idea!
#10 Nancy 2013-01-02 11:08
My hubs mentions Nutella, the hazelnut spread. If he wants some, I might try it. Sweet potatoes don't agree with me, but I will try the cook carrots, etc. Thanks!

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