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,
- 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!
Who are we?
We are Karen Alison and Kathy Bell and we help people self-heal their IBS naturally, with a doctor-recommended method that addresses the least-recognized aspect of this hellish condition – the way the brain triggers uncontrollable symptoms in the gut.
IBS is a lot like having PTSD (also once believed to be untreatable) because of the way your autonomic nervous system is triggered to produce symptoms. But, in a few short sessions, you can learn how to retrain your brain so you shut down the neural pathways that lead straight to diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, and anxiety.
If you don’t deal with this underlying root cause of your problem, you’ll have to spend the rest of your life at the mercy of your Irritable Bowel… and it usually gets worse.
But you can make it stop NOW. Just click on this link for more information and follow the instructions to access the program.
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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27 thoughts on “Worst Foods for IBS”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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
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!
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!
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!
You’re welcome. One thing to check about Nutella – see if it contains sugar or a corn sweetener such as dextrose or high-fructose corn syrup, which may be a problem. Otherwise, there are many nut butters that contain nothing but nuts in the natural food section of the grocery store or in the health food store, or you can order them online. Read labels to avoid sweetened ones as the sugars can be a problem for digestion. (That being said, have you tried unsweetened peanut butter? Just a thought.)
One last comment. I think one reason I am feeling a bit better is that I have stopped researching on the internet to see just what agrees with IBS C. It became very depressing. I canceled my other IBS newsletter that I think dealt mostly with IBS D, plus the website was not easy to find things on. I just read your letter and either find it helpful or not, and then leave it.
thanks for all the info, I am from peru, and I would like to ask you the proper quantity of olive oil should be used for meals, if it is possible to eat it everyday, or is better just once or twice a week? Another thing what about those yogurts with probiotics specially for recover the normal intestinal transit?
In terms of olive oil amounts, everyone is different. You’ll have to see how much your body can tolerate and notice if it’s easier to digest when you’re relaxed as opposed to when you’re under stress. (Always a good idea to relax consciously before meals anyway!) Some people can’t eat any oil, some can handle a tablespoon or two at meals. Also depends if you are prone to diarrhea or constipation. Oil can stimulate bowel contractions.
According to Dr. Campbell-McBride who wrote the GAPS book, even the probiotic yogurt doesn’t have enough good bacteria in it. She recommends you make your own yogurt so you can ferment it longer than commercial yogurt – then you really get the probiotic benefits. Otherwise, a good choice is sauerkraut, fermented the traditional way with water and salt NOT with vinegar. She says to start with a spoonful of the juice, which contains the probiotic, until you are able to digest the kraut itself.
Hope that helps.
O]I have IBS. I listen to my body.I guess that is the best way to overcome IBS.If you don’t “feel” good after eating something it is NOT right to your body. Even if your tongue loved it for taste, your body tells you if its good or not for your gut.I eat some of the food that is in the list and I am OK completely.
I agree with you – you are the best authority on whether something works for your body or not.
We just received an email from a reader who comments: “Worst foods for IBS at least for me are….Chinese food, spicey foods, pizza, fast food, steak, pork, baked beans, choclate.”
This is an important list. Many of these foods have a high fat content, which can stimulate contractions in the intestines (i.e. triggering diarrhea and possible cramping) Baked beans and other legumes are notoriously hard to digest.
Although there are arguments about chocolate and how healthy or unhealthy it is for you, I think many of our readers find it a problem food.
So, thank you, reader, for your input!
I read this and some of it made sense. Every time I eat broccoli, I find myself in a great pain afterwards. I struggle with most everything else because I am only a college student, I don’t have a job that could support me in changing my diet completely and I have found that my symptoms are the worst during Fall and Winter. They all but go away in Spring and Summer. Having IBS at my age is confusing and almost disheartening when I am surrounded by young adults who could never imagine what its like to look at food and think that it will most likely cause a painful episode.
Some thoughts: read about soluble fiber foods and start your meals with them. Interesting that your symptoms are worse during fall and winter and you’re a college student. Makes me wonder if you are stressed by school. Why don’t you try the tapping you’ll find in our post about anxiety – there’s a video in one of them that shows you how to tap. (To find them, see site map or articles list on home page.) Think about what’s different in fall and winter than in spring and summer and tap on that. You might also be reacting to indoor chemicals, so to reduce the stress on your digestive system, avoid scented products, fabric softener, and soft plastics (i.e. don’t keep a lot of plastic bags in your house.) Sometimes when you do the tapping and lower the chemical load on your immune system, the food becomes less important.
I have had diarrhea ibs for the past 14 months! I was screened for everything, nothing infectious, no colon cancer. In fact the gi specialist told me “you just have ibs!” It is very debilitating. I have found I can not handle any sugars. They are poison to me. I had a vaginal yeast infection followed by thrush(candida) which my periodontist picked up. He put me on fluconazole(anti fungal for 14 days and I felt SOO good. I am assuming I have yeast in the small intestine and leaky gut. Can anyone enlighten me on the yeast connection, as doctors seem clueless! thanks
Hi Debbie,I have 3 suggestions for you. One is to read our article called “Have Candida? Treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome for Candida Yeast Overgrowth.” If you go to the list of posts on the right above, you’ll find it about six up from the bottom of the list. Second, you might want to look into FODMAPS and Dr Sue Shepherd’s site, if you’re having so much trouble with sugars. It’s possible you have had a migration of bacteria into the small intestine and the only natural way to get rid of it (or balance those microbes) that I’ve heard of is to go off sugars – especially fructose – for a minimum of six weeks.The third is to read our article on “How to have good gut flora and why you desperately need it.” It’s about nine down in the article list on the right above. It has lots of info about balancing your gut flora – and if you have yeast infections, it means the yeast is systemic and migrating from the intestines. When you have your gut flora in balance, you are unlikely to get a yeast infection.Hope that helps!
Very informative. Thank you for taking the time to write this and passing it along to others.
Hi EE,You’re welcome. Thanks for the kind words.
My family practice actually listens. She put me on liquid nystatin for 2 months to kill the yeast everywhere in my body,especially my small intestine. The die down symptoms made me achy at first. Wow..abdominal cramps gone and diarrhea and constant bowel movements gone. I have weaned off of all conventional meds except synthroid and zocor. Good bye bentyl…..good bye nexium, which i am sure contributed to my ibs. You need stomach acid to kill bacteria before entering the small intestine. I took nexium/prilosec 10 years. Now with careful diet i don’t need it! I follow fodmap diet and eliminated sugars, the bonus my weight and energy are excellent. IBS is a condition, I don’t think I will be cured. It’s all about controlling it. Oh and i had severe internal hemmorroids which i had banded. It relieved pressure and feeling that i have to go all the time! April is IBS awareness month. It is so important to communicate. Your website has been a huge part of my journey. Thanks.
For people like Debbie who have eliminated sugar, the herb stevia rebaudiana is a sweetener that does not affect the body, or gut bacteria, the way refined sugar, honey and other such carbohydrates do.
The “multivitamins=not so good in our gut” is kinda new to me. I was able to contained my symptoms with exercise, pribiotics and proper diet. But I’ll try to cut-down my multivitamins and see what happens.Very informative stuff you got there Karen! 😉
I constantly worry about having the urgency to use the bathroom or anything I eat goes straight through me. I tried to explain to my doctor as I know my body. She insists I eat certain foods; which causes bowel irritation. Not much I can eat.