Healthy Women Image

Nora Saul, MS, RD, LDN, CDE

Manager, Nutrition Services
Joslin Diabetes Center
Boston, MA

Full Bio
woman suffering from IBS holding her stomach

Foods to Avoid With Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Ask the Expert


I've been told I have irritable bowel syndrome, mostly stress-related, but are there certain foods I should consume more of and others I should stay away from?


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is what is known as a functional digestive disorder. Although there is nothing wrong with the structure of the gastrointestinal organs, they don't work together to move waste products efficiently through the bowel. When you have an irritable bowel, you may suffer from symptoms such as gas, diarrhea, constipation, cramping, bloating and abdominal pain. Having a bowel movement may relieve symptoms.

At this time, there is no cure for irritable bowel syndrome, but there are a variety of things that can help improve or relieve symptoms. Reducing stress in your life and medications can help bring IBS under better control. You should discuss the use of medications with your health care provider.

Diet can also improve symptoms. Gradually increasing the amount of fiber in your diet until you reach 25 to 30 grams a day and eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day can make the stools softer and relieve constipation. It is important to include enough fluid as you increase your fiber intake or you can make constipation worse. While there is no "standard diet" for IBS, trying some or all of these suggestions may help you feel better.

In addition, you may want to try cutting down on the following foods:

  • fatty foods
  • chocolate
  • alcohol
  • caffeine
  • milk products

Since IBS can wax and wane, and individuals respond differently to foods, you may find you're able to eat some of these foods without problems at one time and find them difficult to digest at another. If milk products bother you, be sure to include another source of calcium in your diet.

You might be interested in