With Irritable Bowel Syndrome Awareness Month upon us, we decided to unpack a number of trigger foods that can worsen symptoms or encourage a flair-up. We’ll also be unpacking what the condition involves and providing a few simple alternatives to these known troublemaking foods.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder of the intestines which causes a range of painful and uncomfortable symptoms. Stomach pain is one of the more common signs of the disease, often as a result of hormonal imbalances and poor signals between the gut and brain. Constipation and diarrhoea are also two of the major hallmarks of IBS, and they may be experienced independently or in rotation with each other. Diarrhoea-predominant IBS afflicts around a third of those with the condition, with a study showing that those with this form of IBS had twice the number of bowel movements than others. Constipation-predominant IBS affects 50% of IBS sufferers, and involves having under 3 bowel movements per week. One of the more surprising symptoms of IBS has to do with the food we put on our plates – up to a whopping 70% of those with IBS have foods that trigger or worsen their symptoms, with 2 in 3 choosing to avoid these foods to prevent flair-ups. While these foods are not believed to be allergies, research shows that they can in fact cause IBS symptoms to worsen. The common culprits include foods known as FODMAPS – these include foods high in fructose and lactose – along with foods high in gluten. Let’s dive in to 4 of the most common triggers.
A diet high in added sugar can result in an imbalance in the gut microbiome and chronic inflammation, both of which can contribute to the worsening of IBS symptoms. These sugars can be poorly absorbed in the small intestine and can ferment in the colon, causing gas, bloating and diarrhea. While the link between added sugar and IBS is not fully understood and can vary from person to person, it is generally recommended that people with IBS limit their intake of added sugars to reduce symptoms. A low-FODMAP diet, which limits certain types of inflammatory foods, including added sugars, can also be helpful for some to reduce the severity of their symptoms.
These tend to contain copious amounts of sugar, salt, trans fats and preservatives, along with hiding many ingredients you wouldn’t find in home-cooked foods – we’re talking about the ingredients that are listed as long, confusing numbers and strange names. These are often code for colours and preservatives, much of which can be inflammatory to the gut. Take a look at some of the ultra-processed foods that are commonly associated with more severe IBS symptoms:
- Frozen meals
- Highly-processed meats
- Deep-fried foods
- Sugary cereals and yoghurts
- Soft drinks
Overdoing it on these foods can cause gut distress to anyone, but may be particularly triggering for those with IBS. Research shows that just 4 serves of highly-processed foods each day can skyrocket our risk for developing IBS, while also shooting up our risk for obesity and cancer.
The high-fat profile of fried food can be difficult to digest, particularly in those with IBS. It’s also worth noting that the cooking method complicates things significantly – frying alters the makeup of the food, with toxic chemicals released when certain oils or fats are heated. For a safer option, stick to grilling or baking – and remember to note each oil’s smoke point. For instance, ghee may be more suitable for high heats, while you might want to use hemp seed oil cold.
Beans and legumes may be loaded with nutrients, but their compounds known as oligosaccharides are known to hinder the digestive process. This can potentially lead to gas and bloating, and issue many with IBS are already more than a little familiar with. Some may find that soaking their legumes overnight can help them go down better – so if you’re keen to reap the benefits of these humble beans and peas, try this soaking method and see how you go.
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