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Best and Worst Foods for IBS

Low-FODMAP diet may control symptoms

If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), knowing what to eat can feel like the holy grail. For some patients, the right diet, along with attention to exercise, can control symptoms without medication.

For my patients, I often recommend a special diet of easily digestible food, called a low-FODMAP diet, which is detailed in this chart.

FODMAP stands for “fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols” – a mouthful to say, but in more common terms, FODMAPs are carbohydrates that may not be digested or absorbed well.  Undigested carbohydrates are then metabolized by intestinal bacterial to produce excess gas, which leads to abdominal pain, diarrhea and/or constipation.

What foods to limit (and good substitutes)

Here’s a breakdown of what foods to *limit* when you’re following a low-FODMAP diet, as well as some suggested substitutes:

  • Lactose is found in milk and other soft dairy products like cottage cheese, cream cheese, ice cream and sour cream. Anyone can handle a very small amount of lactose, but if you eat more than your intestine can handle, you will get gas and abdominal pain. About half the population is born with low levels of lactase, which metabolized dietary lactose.
    What to eat instead: Try lactose-free milk, oat milk, rice milk or soy milk as good alternatives to cow’s milk, as well as lactose-free yogurt. For cheese, try any of these three: hard cheeses, brie and camembert. Need butter? Go for olive oil instead.
  • Fruits contain the sugar fructose, which can cause issues for IBS sufferers. Fructose is particularly high in apples and pears, and somewhat high in watermelon, concentrated fruit, dried fruit and fruit juice. Fruits with lower levels of fructose include bananas, citrus, grapes and berries.
    What to eat instead: Eat fruits that are lower in fructose, such as banana, blueberry, boysenberry, cantaloupe, cranberry, grape, orange, lemon, lime, kiwi and strawberry.
  • Certain vegetables cause gas and abnormal bowel habits.  Avoid cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, coleslaw and sauerkraut. Also, limit artichoke, brussels sprouts, onions, shallots, leeks, and asparagus.
    What to eat instead: Vegetables that are good to eat include eggplant, green beans, celery, carrots, spinach, sweet potato, yam, zucchini, and squash. For more good options, see this chart. You can enhance flavors of these veggies with herbs. On the safe list, you’ll find: basil, chili, coriander, ginger, lemongrass, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary and thyme.
  • Legumes, or beans, are often called the “musical fruit” because they contain indigestible saccharides. Baked beans, chickpeas, lentils and soybeans have high amounts, and IBS patients should avoid them, or eat them in very small quantities.
    What to eat instead: While not exactly a substitute for beans, you can enjoy rice, oats, polenta, millet, quinoa and tapioca. Also, as long as you do not have Celiac disease, you can eat gluten on a low-FODMAP diet, which is an inaccuracy of the chart.
  • Polyols, sugar substitutes found in sugarless gum and candy, also can cause problems. Avoid them, including sorbitol, mannitol, isomalt, maltitol and xylitol.
    What to eat instead: It is perfectly fine to eat (in moderation, of course) good old-fashioned sugars; other artificial sweeteners that do not end in “ol,” such as NutriSweet®; Splenda®; and honey substitutes such as maple syrup, molasses and golden syrup.

The best treatment for IBS

Sometimes IBS is treated with medications, but a change in diet is the first thing we try. A healthy lifestyle — with a low-fat diet, exercise and avoidance of alcohol and cigarette smoking — often makes a great difference. For people who still need help, special diets, such as a low-FODMAP diet, can provide relief.

The good news is that a low-FODMAP diet is not a terribly restrictive diet. When you study the FODMAP chart, you will find there are plenty of good foods you can eat.

Your doctor may find that medication is also necessary to keep your symptoms at bay.  These therapies include anticholinergic medicines, which calm the spasms, and antidepressants to reduce stress.

Tags: diet, IBS, irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance
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Bret Lashner, MD, is a gastroenterologist, Director of the Center for Inflammatory Bowel Disease and a Professor of Medicine at Cleveland Clinic.

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  • i knowledge

    Cute article.
    Perhaps the public will benefit more with moderate depth to the subject. For instance, the author could categorise between food to eat, food to avoid and food to eat. Otherwise great editorial, informative and insightful for people who need to know. Also reflective point for individuals to monitor how their own body reacts to ingested food even if not experiencing IBS

  • Chris Bechetti

    He did. You need to click on the chart and it brings up foods to eat and avoid.

  • Lydia Jay Martin

    I’d love to see Stevia listed as a natural, plant-based sugar alternative – so much healthier than substitutes such as Splenda.

    • Margaret Satterwhite Brown

      I wish Cleveland Clinic would monitor comments. No offense, but when I went to Cleveland Clinic, one of the first things they told me was that Splenda and Stevia were both out. I cannot digest them. One (I think Splenda) nobody can digest, but it isn’t a problem unless you have IBS (or ingest a lot in a day, I guess).

      • Lydia Jay Martin

        Comments are opinions. This is what is true for me.
        Some may not be able to digest Stevia, but for me it in moderation is a healthy, CC Dr approved alternative to sugar and to artificial sweeteners which are all toxic for me. All Stevia products are not created equal – some brands have additives and may even contain sugar. Reading labels has become a major component of a healthy lifestyle.

      • patcee14

        I have IBS and tolerate Splenda just fine. I think everyone’s story is different and only trial and error can tell you what you shouldn’t eat. Some of the fruits on the fodmap chart that you shouldn’t eat get along with my gut okay but many don’t. I have been keeping a list of food items that cause me trouble, but when you are eating dinner you really can’t always tell what did it! Was it the peas or the spinach?

        • Margaret Satterwhite Brown

          FODMAP is about eliminating all of the items on the list for a period and then introducing them separately to see if you digest them properly. Also, it is likely that you won’t know if something bothers you even then because it is also about quantity and combinations of irritants. It is a fact that nobody actually digests Splenda. It is a pass through sweetener, so a combination of that with an irritant (undigetible)or two could give you trouble.

        • Margaret Satterwhite Brown

          That is the point of FODMAP. You eliminate everything for so many weeks, then you introduce items in isolation to see the reaction. It is also about combination and quantity.

  • Melinda Pace

    I have had a customer who was taking Humera injections for his IBS and after a month of taking Vemma, the state of TN revoked their approval of that drug for that use and he was extremely worried about it. Another month went by, and even without the injection, he was fine! Vemma helped him…what if it worked for you too? http://www.getvemmahere.com

  • Mom of 3

    My daughter has IBS/fructose intolerance/ & other suspected intolerances. After reading about the Fod diet ( and there are some very current books on this diet that go into great detail) we see great promise with this diet. Unfortunately, many GI doctors are not educated about the specifics of this diet or feel its too restrictive which we have to disagree. It’s also very hard to find a Dietition who specializes in this diet as it is fairly new. If anyone could knows of a Dietition that specializes in this diet at the Cleveland Clinic we would be very grateful!.

    • Margaret Satterwhite Brown

      Call thr Digestive Diseases Institute at Cleveland Clinic. They provided me with everything I needed. It is true it is very restrictive for the first 2 months, but you can introduce one category at a time after that to isolate what is causing the symptoms. I get a little weepy while grocery shopping at times, but I would never go back to eating some of those foods. The diet is a life changer.

  • Jenny Porter

    I disagree with suggesting someone to eat cauliflower (it contains the nicotine alkaloid), eggplant, chili as written in this article. They contain the natural toxic poison called nightshade alkaloids. Research is showing they are the cause of pain, arthritis, and the American Heart Association explains graphically how the nicotine causes all manner of heart disease. Nightshade veggies and “foods” are green peppers, green tomatoes, eggplant, cauliflower, white organic potatoes, hot peppers, red cayenne pepper, paprika, chili pepper, tomatillos, pepinos, hot sauces, salsas, “firey” snack chips.

    • Jenny Porter

      I agree with him not to eat cauliflower.

      • patcee14

        I eat cooked cauliflower with no problem, even though it is a cruciferous veg which are supposed to be bad for IBS. I also eat chiles cooked with my vegetables. In fact, I eat most of what you have listed. As long as vegetables are cooked I seem to tolerate them. I could never eat raw green tomatoes. Ouch even thinking about it.

  • fizzy bubbles

    Brie is a hard cheese? Who’s editing these pieces?!?

    • patcee14

      I think there was a comma missing: hard cheese, brie….

  • Sarah Stinebaugh

    I have/had IBS for a long time was diagnosed around 1989 worse things for me to eat/drink Peanut butter , eggs, and milk,so I stayed away from them. Then in 2008 I found out I was allergic to Pork and pork by-products and it is amazing what all pork is in . Now I don’t have problems with my IBS since i cut pork out of my diet. It is in Peanut butter that has roasted peanuts, it is in milk and cheese that has rennet. Dairy products like sour cream and cottage cheese sometimes contain Gelatin. Bread , pie crust, pizza crust that has L-cysteine. Read your labels people. I stay away from vegetable and fruit that have big seeds I limit them if I do have them but like I said my IBS cleared up when I found my allergy…now it only rears its head when I’m extremely stressed. Everyone’s body is different . I did my own research and got tested by an allergist. made a list everytime something bothered me wrote it down . Good luck .

  • everett

    Not a Lot of Information out there if One Has GASTROPREASES ( Lazy ) Stomach. –Foods that are Low Sugar, Palatable, and Do not Impact are Hard to find . —-

  • Nancy Weiss

    Where do I find the god map chart?

    • Sandra Sneden

      google FODMAP – originally
      developed our of Standford

  • Kyra Swim

    First thing to do is keep a food diary with symptoms to help narrow down stressors. I went to the Cleveland clinic of integrative medicin and got food allergy tested and it turned out to be wheat! Not celiac disease just wheat. Took me forever to have someone tell me to do those simple things first. Also you can use digestive enzymes to help you digest foods. I learned this from the dietician at vital choice healthstore in north royalton! Don’t just accept ibs and take a pill. Do your homework

  • glenn47

    I had bad IBS for 10 years. Several Drs. Had no idea what to do, told me to get used to it. If I wanted to leave the house, I couldn’t eat breakfast. Made no difference what I ate, it went through me at record speeds. So I started doing some home work and finally decided on a colon cleanse, it was two pills a day and some fiber mixed in some juice. On the fifth day, I had my first normal BM in 10 years.
    I now take probiotics and checked for a yeast build up in my system. took care of it and still use probiotics and digestive enzymes and things are great. I can eat anything.
    Most people are not told as we age, usually around 40 and up, our stomach do not produce as much digestive enzymes as we used to. So they do the opposite that is needed, they take antic acids, when we need the acid.

    • Karen

      Could you expand on the colon cleanse that you did? Thanks!

      • glenn47

        Hi Karen, I am sure there are several great brands out there, I happened to Use the Renew Life in the yellow box back then. It was a 30 day cleanse, taking one pill in the am and one pill in the pm. Washed down with fiber in some OJ. It worked for me. I now have regular movements after 10 years of …. I still cleanse about once a year.
        The best of luck to you.

        • Karen

          Thanks for your reply! So you didn’t fast or anything for 30 days – or did you….?

          • glenn47

            No, I didn’t. I just ate normally and amazing after 5 days, things were good. After listening for Drs. Say for 10 years, get used to it. I did the complete 30 days to get rid of all the old stuff. Let me know if it works for you. I wish you the best. I also use digestive enzymes now to help with digestion. After about age 40 or so, we make less and we are led to believe we have too much acid, when we really need it. So many older people think they need to be on expensive meds the rest of their lives. Read up on it.

        • Margaret Satterwhite Brown

          This would kill me. Many people with IBS, including myself, were told by Cleveland Clinic to be on a low fiber diet.

  • Sandra Sneden

    My doctor (with a pretty good sense of humor) to me, if it tastes (or looks good) don’t eat it.

  • Finallypainfree

    I have just recently discovered the low fodmap diet and it is miraculous! On the first day of limiting FODMAPS, I had NO pain. Still figuring out what the exact trigger might be but I’m grateful none the less. Actually cried from the relief.

  • Lisa

    Just had a horrid ibs/c attack…..tried a list of foods from McDougall’s Digestive Tune-Up book. I feel so much better its ridiculous. I am extremely sensitive to a regular American diet but I keep drifting back to eating animal protein and then suffer. After this last attack, I believe I am in peril if I take this lightly. Simply eating clean foods for a few days, I went from looking like a zombie in full zombie face makeup back to looking human. Clean for me is anything I can digest with ease that doesn’t cause constipation. I can use the expression “trust your gut” here because i went from a writhing mass of pain to a functioning person in 48 hours. Good luck to all who suffer….accept that you are food sensitive and like an alcoholic cannot fall off the wagon without consequences….this is real and all the doctors who have sent you home feeling that they just don’t get you….well, they don’t. Like the brain, we have a lot to learn about how the colon functions. I wish this country took our issue more like the disabling condition that it is and would throw some funding at studying it, so we can feel like they don’t want us to go and get mental health prosessionals to deal with this obviously physical/mechanical problem.

    • Lydia Jay Martin

      My digestive issues improved with a plant-based diet. The Standard American Diet is just S.A.D.!

      • patcee14

        With IBS, vegetables and fruits are usually the worst culprits. There are few I can eat without symptoms and I can’t eat any raw vegetables. How someone with this condition can live on a plant-based diet, I dunno. Can you share your digestive issues – do you have IBS?

        • Lydia Jay Martin

          I was diagnosed with IBS years ago (long before CC), but I’m not sure that was an accurate diagnosis. I certainly had some spasticity as diagnosed by symptoms and backed up by a colonoscopy. On a plant-based diet my symptoms all but disappeared. Dairy increases my symptoms, as do red meat and pork. I tolerate fruits, vegetables and grains very well, processed foods, especially sugar, not well at all.
          Everyone is different and even within similar diagnoses we experience these disorders differently. We can only experiment to find what we tolerate well.
          I wish you the best in your quest for health and well-being.

        • A Parker

          If you take a good quality probiotic and digestive enzyme from a reputable health food store, you may find your problem will go away and you can eat anything. I had IBS and GERD for decades until I found this out.

          • patcee14

            You mean something like Activia? I’m not sure what a probiotic is. I have tried Activia but it didn’t help.

          • JT

            A probiotic is usually capsule form pill, that adds good bacteria to your stomach. You can get them usually around the fiber/ drink powders. They make some like Culturelle but my GI doctor recommended Phillips Probiotic, and I take it every day. There are a ton on the market now days. :-)

          • patcee14

            Thank you. I am going to try the Phillips.

  • Sharon

    Increasing soluble fiber ( prebiotics) helps also.

  • guest

    i’ve suffered terribly from IBS bouts probably my whole life but got worse in adulthood…the triggers are stress and aggravated by certain foods but then there were times when i did everything right but IT has a mind of its own and i’d be plagued for a period of time until it ran its course for my digestive tract to calm down. GI doc would just prescribe med and fiber therapy that didn’t work. i had to be my own advocate & research myself…the gut has it’s own nervous system that should be in sync with the brain but with IBS they are out of sync. after too much rapid weight loss during one of the many bouts, missing work, choosing between eating & leaving the house or living on applesauce & rice cereal i went to a homeopathist and i have found a very viable treatment. i encourage anyone to seek one out. the whole person is treated (mind, body, emotional health) The most i’ve had to deal with in the last 7 years is some bloating due to ingesting something that doesn’t agree with me on a particular day…and there are plenty of remedies to counteract that as well without ANY side effects. Activated Charcoal is also a go to anytime.

  • Margaret Satterwhite Brown

    I am really concerned about some of the reader posts here, as I know some of the advice would absolutely ruin me. Cleveland Clinic cured me. I had been through years of medications, diets, self diagnosis, slander, procedures….you name it. The truth is: We are all different, and our digestive systems can be just as different. Stevia may be great for one person, but it would hurt me. Meat may be bad for some people, but the fact is that is one thing I can count on to not hurt me. Make an appointment at Cleveland Clinic’s Digestive Disease Institute and stop being a guinea pig. It isn’t worth it, especially with something as complicated as #IBS…And for the love of all that is sacred, #ClevelandClinic, will you please start monitoring posts to your articles? Do you realize sales reps try to gain business here, and PR companies hire people to spin info for them? These articles only help people if they seek out good quality advice and treatment from your doctors or others at hospitals that specialize in Digestive Diseases.

  • A parker

    Glenn47, you are exactly right! I had terrible IBS and GERD. I started taking NuLife probiotics and a good digestive enzyme. I limited my sugar intake and I no longer have either. If I need something sweet, I use whole leaf stevia. The comment that all stevia is not created equal is absolutely correct.

  • John Johnsen

    Glenn47 had said had IBS for 10 years. My wife has had upper and lower GI with biopsies. Every blood and stool test there is plus breath tests for Lactose intolerance. All tests come back normal. I thought I’d try what Glenn had said about the 30 day colon cleanout and orange juice with fiber twice a day. The part I didn’t understand was do you start the pro-biotic right away or wait until the cleanse is over? Any one besides Glenn try this?

  • Utah rose

    I also found warching what you eat and a probiotic really helps. I find that ice cream really triggers this and so does chocolate or fried foods. Stress also worsens it. I was on penicillin for several weeks and really had a bad episode. I didn’t know about the probiotic then, so id suggest anyone taking an antibiotic to take a probiotics 2 hours after or even later. Hate giving up these things but I’m in my seventies and I think your body changes the older you get. Eating lots of fiber like high fiber bread helps me too.