Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS for short, is a frustrating condition that can result in gas, abdominal pains, bloating, and problems like diarrhea and constipation. While the cause of the condition is not known, IBS symptoms often emerge after eating. This means that people are often able to reduce their IBS symptoms by paying close attention to the foods that they eat.
The most common recommendation is to focus on a low FODMAP diet. FODMAP is an abbreviation for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. The simplest way to consider these is as a collection of short-chain carbohydrates that can ferment.
Research has found that FODMAPs tend to be absorbed poorly in the body and create considerable gas, partly because gut bacteria can cause the compounds to ferment. While some people can eat FODMAPs without any problems at all, others experience significant side effects.
The foods that we’re featuring on the list below are all ones that people with IBS can usually tolerate well. This means that we’re leaving off most of the FODMAPs.
However, finding your own balance is important too. Many of the foods that a FODMAP diet excludes are powerful sources of nutrients, such as broccoli, cauliflower, kidney beans, and dairy. And, IBS sufferers vary in the foods that they’re able to tolerate.
To get the best health outcomes, you’ll need to play around with your food over time. Try starting off with a restrictive diet and adding foods back in to see how your body responds. This will help you to find the best combination of foods for your needs.
Food For IBS
- Plant-Based Milk
- Lactose Free Dairy Products
- Low Fat Dairy Products
- Cooked Vegetables
- Leafy Greens
- Low FODMAP Fruit
- Fruit Without Skins
- Rice Cakes
- Lean Beef
- Other Types Of Meat
- Cold Cut Meats
- Smoked Salmon
- Sweet Potatoes
Eating oats regularly is a key recommendation for IBS sufferers. Oats are full of digestible fiber, which helps to decrease cholesterol levels and keep blood sugar stable. This fiber is also important for keeping your bowel movements regular and healthy – an outcome that is especially important for anyone with IBS.
Oatmeal is the easiest way to eat oats, as this is already a common breakfast choice for many people. You could also turn to overnight oats or baked products that contain oats.
However, you’ll need to be careful about what you’re eating at the same time. Oatmeal and overnight oats, for example, both often use milk as a source of liquid. But, dairy can be a poor choice for people with IBS and can aggravate symptoms. You may have better outcomes by relying on a plant based milk instead.
Changing from regular milk to plant based milk is one of the simplest ways to reduce IBS symptoms. The term plant based milk just refers to any milk alternative that is made from a plant source.
While plant based milk mightn't be considered a food in its own right, the milk can be used as an ingredient in many different meals. In some cases, you may only need to change the type of milk to make a meal IBS friendly.
Lactose Free Dairy Products
Many people don’t need to avoid dairy entirely, even if they get IBS symptoms from regular dairy products. You may be able to use lactose free dairy products instead. These are dairy foods that have been treated with the enzyme lactase. Lactase breaks down the lactose in the product, leaving the rest of the compounds intact.
This process is helpful for IBS sufferers, as the lactose in dairy is the FODMAP compound, not the other parts of the milk. Lactose free milk is the most common type of product. This has a similar nutritional profile, flavor, and texture to regular milk – making it a very easy ingredient to cook with.
The main difference is that lactose free dairy tends to taste slightly sweeter than dairy that contains lactose. This is due to differences in how our bodies perceive complex sugar versus simple sugars.
You may be able to find other lactose free dairy products too, such as lactose free cream cheese and sour cream. Using these is much simpler than trying to find a plant-based alternative.
Low Fat Dairy Products
While lactose is generally avoided on a low FODMAP diet, many IBS sufferers can enjoy dairy without any symptoms at all. If this is the case for you, then low fat dairy is a good addition to your diet. After all, dairy contains a decent range of nutrients, including calcium.
Low fat dairy is generally preferred to higher fat options, as fatty foods can sometimes trigger IBS symptoms. Low fat dairy avoids that risk and could be better for your waistline too.
Yogurt and frozen yogurt are common recommendations, especially as these aren't as rich as many types of cheese. If you are taking this route, pay attention to the products that you choose. Some dairy foods have high amounts of sugar, along with artificial flavors or colors.
If you’re eating yogurt, look for products that contain active cultures. The bacteria in these will use some of the lactose as a food source, which leads to a lower lactose food. Yogurt also tends to be better tolerated than many other dairy foods. So, even if you can’t eat other types of dairy, you may be okay with yogurt.
Most people with IBS can tolerate many types of cooked vegetables. The main exceptions are broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, which create more gas than other types of vegetables.
Experiment to see what works for you. Many people can enjoy broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage as well as other types of vegetables.
And, if you find that a vegetable doesn't cause you IBS symptoms, then including it in your diet does make sense. After all, vegetables offer important nutrients and plant-based compounds, while helping to improve your gut flora too. Skipping out on too many vegetables could even make your IBS symptoms worse.
If you do struggle with vegetables as an IBS sufferer, one approach is to start slowly. Focus on vegetables that are least likely to cause problems, such as bell peppers, carrots, sweet potato, eggplant, zucchini, and parsnip. You can expand to more difficult vegetables over time.
Cooking your vegetables rather than having them raw is important too. Raw vegetables are more difficult to digest, so they're more likely to cause IBS symptoms.
Leafy greens are a particularly important type of vegetable. And, thankfully, they tend to be well tolerated. Many people with IBS can even eat leafy greens raw. This means that you could include them in a salad or blend them into a smoothie.
If you get symptoms from the raw greens, try cooking them instead. Sauteeing the greens in olive oil is a simple and delicious way of cooking them.
Low FODMAP Fruit
While some types of fruit can cause IBS symptoms, cutting fruit out of your diet isn't a good idea either. As is the case with vegetables, fruit contains important nutrients and helps to maintain your gut health.
Focusing on low FODMAP fruit gives you the chance to get the benefits of fruit, without much discomfort. Key examples include bananas, blueberries, grapes, oranges, pineapples, and raspberries.
You may be able to enjoy avocado too, but you may need to keep your serving size small – perhaps an eighth of an avocado in a sitting. Avocados are rich in fat, after all, which could trigger IBS symptoms.
You should also keep an eye on the amount of fruit you eat at a time. If your serving is too large, your body might not be able to deal with all the sugar before some of it ferments. That fermentation is what you're trying to avoid, as it leads to the IBS symptoms.
Fruit Without Skins
If you still have trouble even with low FODMAP fruits, try eating the fruit without its skin. You may find that this makes the difference.
And, once again, be sure to experiment and find what works for you. Doing so is crucial for fruits and vegetables, as reactions and recommendations vary so much. For example, oranges are sometimes considered low FODMAP fruits that you can enjoy with IBS. But, some authors suggest that IBS sufferers should avoid citrus fruit.
Rice cakes are low in fat and are mild, so they're unlikely to contribute to IBS symptoms at all. They're also an easy snack, which can be important, as waiting too long between meals can increase the risk of IBS symptoms when you do eat.
Of course, rice cakes aren't especially nutritious either. Some people find that they're a little like eating air.
As long as you're not loading on the toppings, popcorn is another easy IBS snack choice. The advantages are similar to rice cakes – you're enjoying a low fat snack that's pretty mild.
Despite their high fat content, nuts are suitable for many people with IBS. This is partly because they contain a decent amount of fiber and protein. Many are low in FODMAPs too. Walnuts, pine nuts, and pecans are all safe choices.
You can enjoy almonds and hazelnuts too, but you'll need to be a little more careful with your quantities here. Try not to have more than ten almonds or hazelnuts per serving and you should be good to go.
Some seeds can be included on an IBS diet too, including sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. These also act as a good source of protein and additional nutrients.
While these seeds are low in FODMAPs, responses do vary. Some people find that they are sensitive to the seeds, while others can eat them without any issue.
For the most part, IBS sufferers can tolerate bread of any type. This includes regular white bread, whole grain bread, and even gluten free breads. Bread products will often be safe too, such as bagels and perhaps even pastries.
However, this is one area that you will need to play around with and work out for yourself. For one thing, anyone who is sensitive to gluten will have problems with many types of bread. And, if you do get symptoms from eating bread, then you might not realize that you are sensitive to gluten.
Many lists of IBS foods suggest excluding gluten-containing foods anyway, which is the easiest approach if you are unsure.
The difference in recommendations highlights just how complex IBS is. There is no single IBS diet that works for everyone. Instead, people vary in which foods they are sensitive to.
People with IBS can also enjoy pasta of whatever variety – and there are so many types to choose from. You will, however, need to pay attention to what you serve with your pasta. After all, some pasta meals are high in fat, while others rely on high FODMAP foods.
Thankfully, there are plenty of useful recipes out there too. You can start by searching for ‘IBS pasta recipes’ or ‘low FODMAP pasta recipes’. Both approaches will provide you with many recipes to be going on with.
Meat tends to be a safe choice for IBS sufferers, especially if you're focusing on lean cuts and avoid more processed options, like sausages or breaded meats.
Chicken is an easy place to begin, as chicken tends to be a lean source of protein. Chicken breast, for that matter, is a common food for dieters, partly because it is low in calories. The low fat content also makes chicken breast the best part of the chicken for anyone with IBS.
Chicken is also a versatile ingredient. You can use chicken in many different dishes. It's even a common choice for meal prep, as well-seasoned chicken tastes just as good cold as it does warm.
Turkey has the same advantages as chicken and can even have a similar nutritional profile. Chicken and turkey do vary a little in flavor, so some people prefer one over the other.
As far as IBS goes, either option will work well. Once again though, the white meat tends to be a better choice than dark meat – making turkey breast the most appealing part of the bird.
You need to be a little more careful with beef, as many cuts are high in fat. Some are marbled too, which makes the fat more difficult to avoid. Sticking to the lean cuts is the best way to keep yourself free of IBS symptoms.
Pay attention to how you cook the beef too. Relying on too much fat during cooking won’t be helpful.
Some theories suggest that you can choose fattier cuts of meat if they are grass-fed, pasture-raised, or free-range. Animals raised like this may have fewer toxins in their fat, which could reduce the risk of IBS symptoms. However, such ideas are speculative and may not come to pass in reality.
As always, you’ll need to try for yourself to learn what you can tolerate and what you cannot.
Other Types Of Meat
As long as you’re focusing on lean cuts, most types of meat can be included in your diet. This includes pork and lamb, along with more exotic cuts of meat like venison and wild game.
Wild game is a little harder to digest than regular other types of meat, so you’ll need to experiment for yourself. Still, it is worth trying, as exotic meats can taste amazing and each type of meat will have its own unique nutrient balance.
Cold Cut Meats
Not surprisingly, cold cut meats like ham, chicken, and roast beef are easy IBS choices. Steer clear of anything that is heavily processed or high in fat and you should be just fine.
It’s also important to check the labels for any unexpected additions. For example, you should be able to eat salami, but you’ll need to make sure that garlic isn’t used as an ingredient (it often is). If you can’t check the ingredients label, then it’s often safest to simply skip the salami.
Eggs are another easy and safe choice for protein. They're particularly good for IBS sufferers, as eggs are easy to digest. Eggs are nutrient-dense too, which is another reason for relying on them.
Another advantage is that there are so many different ways to prepare eggs. Hard boiled, soft boiled, and poached are all easy choices if you want to avoid frying anything.
You'll also find egg-based meals on the menus of most cafes and restaurants, making eggs perfect when you are out and about.
You will need to experiment for yourself, as some people do experience IBS symptoms with egg whites. Others find that egg yolks are problematic instead, due to their high fat content.
Many IBS sufferers don't get any symptoms from fish. This is fantastic, as fish is the single best source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Getting omega-3s in your diet regularly could even help with your IBS symptoms, as omega-3s may decrease inflammation and inflammation has been linked to IBS symptoms.
There are many different types of fish to choose from too. Salmon is a popular choice, as it is a meaty fish that is rich in protein and other nutrients. Wild caught salmon is the ideal choice, although many people choose farmed salmon instead because of the price difference.
Don't worry if you're not a fan of salmon. other types of fish can be just as appealing, including white fish, sardines, herring, and even anchovies.
Seafood is just as safe as fish on an IBS diet. This includes examples like shrimp, prawns, mussels, and crab.
Seafood is also appealing because you’re eating a type of whole food, where there aren’t likely to be extra ingredients used. You will have to be careful if you’re ordering a seafood-based meal while you’re out for dinner, of course, but if you’re cooking at home, creating a delicious and safe meal should be easy.
Smoked salmon deserves a special mention, as this is an easy and delicious way to enjoy salmon. There is no prep work or cooking to worry about. You can simply use the salmon as-is.
The ease of use makes smoked salmon a perfect choice for breakfast, helping you to get more protein and healthy omega-3 fatty acids. You can also easily use smoked salmon to create low FODMAP appetizers for parties.
Many people with IBS can tolerate small quantities of cheese, especially if you focus on the low lactose varieties. After all, lactose is the FODMAP aspect of dairy and the amount of lactose present isn’t always the same.
Aged cheeses tend to contain less lactose than other types. The longer the cheese has been aged, the less lactose.
Some types of aged cheese only contain trace amounts of lactose, making them ideal for anyone who is very sensitive. Parmesan is one good example of this.
You may also be able to tolerate some other types of cheese, including options like brie or camembert. However, you will need to experiment to find the right options for you. Fresh cheeses like feta and mozzarella tend to be the worst choices and will often have the most lactose.
While sweet potatoes do have some FODMAPs, you can eat sweet potatoes with IBS, as long as you keep your portion size in check. A common recommendation is to have no more than half a cup of sweet potatoes in a serving.
This may not sound like a lot, but the serving size is large enough to still provide you with important nutrients from the sweet potatoes and to stop it feeling like you are missing out.
Regular potatoes are naturally low in FODMAPs, which is good news. After all, we do use potatoes in so many different ways. It would be a shame to have to cut them out.
However, there is the same serving size caveat with potatoes as with sweet potatoes. You’ll generally want to eat no more than half of a medium potato in a single sitting.
Rice is another classic food that you can still eat without any concern. This is true for white rice and brown rice, which gives you the chance to choose your preferred type.
The way you cook the rice doesn’t matter, but you will need to pay attention to what you serve with it. For example, beans, onion, and garlic are all common ingredients in rice dishes, but none of these is good for anyone on a low FODMAP diet.
Conventional grains aren’t the only safe bets for IBS sufferers. You can also turn to options like quinoa. Quinoa is often considered to be a pseudocereal because it isn’t technically a grain but we eat it in the same way as a grain.
Quinoa has become popular recently as a superfood – because it is packed with nutrients and includes a decent amount of protein. Plus, quinoa has more nutrients and flavor than rice, and you can easily use it instead of rice in a meal.
You could also consider other types of pseudocereal, like millet. While you will need to experiment to find the best options for you, pseudocereals are unlikely to cause strong IBS reactions.
Soybeans are high in FODMAPs, so you’ll normally be skipping them if you have IBS. However, some products that are made from soybeans actually end up low in FODMAPs.
This is the case for tofu, as most of the FODMAPs end up being removed during the production process.
But, the type of tofu that you choose matters. A block of tofu tends to be low in FODMAPs, as part of the production process involves pressing the block and draining off excess liquid. That liquid is where you find the FODMAPs. This is true for extra firm, firm, and soft tofu.
Silken tofu, on the other hand, doesn’t involve draining off the liquid. You end up consuming all of the compounds from soy milk. As a result, you’ll need to avoid silken tofu entirely.
You may also be able to eat tempeh if you have IBS. While tempeh is made from whole soybeans, it is a fermented food. The fermentation process breaks down some of the FODMAP compounds, making this a good choice.
You may also find tempeh more appealing than tofu, as it has a more interesting texture and a somewhat nutty flavor.
The fermented nature of tempeh could help with IBS symptoms too. Fermented foods like this can help to improve the balance of bacteria in your gut. Doing so may help to improve your ability to digest food and make you less sensitive to trigger foods.
Quorn is an interesting vegetarian protein source that is sometimes vegan friendly too. The food is basically a meat alternative that is created from a soil mold. The use of mold makes the meat alternative highly controversial, to the point that there have been attempts to get it banned.
Quorn is still sold in the United States, although it needs to have labels to identify that it uses mold as a key ingredient. Quorn is not even officially available in Canada, as it isn’t considered a food source. Yet, Quorn does remain popular in the UK and is often through to be healthy.
Controversy aside, Quorn is a low FODMAP choice, one that IBS sufferers may be able to enjoy. A subset of consumers do experience side effects from the products, including symptoms like vomiting and nausea. While such side effects are rare, they do suggest that you start with a small amount of Quorn and work your way up from there.