Navigating dietary restrictions can be a challenging journey. For those following the Low FODMAP diet, the question of whether alcohol is allowed often comes up. As a digestive health dietitian, I get asked about alcohol all the time! Especially since having a drink is often part of socializing with others.
While the low FODMAP diet primarily focuses on avoiding specific fermentable carbohydrates to alleviate symptoms of IBS, the stance on alcohol consumption is somewhat nuanced. There are several types of low FODMAP alcohol, however, alcohol in general is considered a gut irritant. This just means that low FODMAP alcohol could still be an IBS trigger for some people. In this post, we’ll review some of the complexities surrounding alcohol and the low FODMAP diet, shedding light on which low FODMAP alcoholic drinks might be better tolerated for those with IBS.
IBS and Alcohol: Consider Your Quantity
Although there are some types of alcohol that are low in FODMAPs, it’s still important to be mindful of how many drinks you have in one sitting. Having too many alcoholic beverages when you have IBS can exacerbate symptoms. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to irritation of the gastrointestinal tract, which often results in intensified abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and overall digestive distress.
So, how many drinks should you limit yourself to with IBS? While tolerance will vary from person to person, we typically suggest limiting to one standard drink per day.
Low FODMAP Beer: Is it possible?
Is beer low FODMAP? Yes! If you follow a low FODMAP diet, you may find this confusing. While wheat, barley, and rye contain a FODMAP called fructans, beer made from barley or wheat tends to be fairly low in FODMAPs. Beer’s fermentation process significantly reduces its FODMAP content. During brewing, the yeast consumes some of the fermentable sugars, resulting in a lower overall concentration of fructans from the grains. One can or bottle of beer is therefore allowable on the elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet. How exciting!
As a gut health dietitian, I do have several patients who have told me that beer bothers them more than other alcohol. While it may not be due to the FODMAP content, the carbonation is likely a variable. Beer is very bubbly, which adds to bloating and gas in particular.
Keep in mind, beer is a widespread category and there are lots of varieties. Many craft beers haven’t been formally tested to determine their FODMAP content. It’s important to understand your individual tolerance.
Is Wine Low FODMAP?
Similar to beer, wine is generally considered to be low in FODMAPs due to the fermentation process that breaks down the sugars. Red wine, white wine, sparkling wine, and rosé are each low FODMAP when consumed in a standard 5 oz serving.
However, some dessert wines like sherry, ice wine, and port, as well as fruit-flavored wines can have a higher fructose content, making them higher in FODMAPs. These are often fortified with extra sweeteners or fruit juices to contribute to their extra-sweet flavor.
What About Cider?
Hard ciders haven’t yet been tested to determine their FODMAP content. However, the primary ingredient is generally apples or pears, which are both high FODMAP ingredients. While it’s likely that a lot of the fructose gets converted to alcohol during the fermentation process, we don’t know for certain whether they are low enough in FODMAPs for those with IBS. Additionally, apples and pears also contain a FODMAP called sorbitol, which may still remain in the ciders after the fermentation process.
Hopefully we will learn more about this type of alcohol soon! For now, it’s likely best to avoid hard ciders on the low FODMAP diet.
Hard Alcohol and IBS
We’ve reviewed some of the most common fermented alcoholic beverages above, but what about alcohol that is distilled after fermentation? This would include beverages like vodka, gin, rum, or whiskey. We commonly refer to these as hard alcohol or spirits. So – is tequila low FODMAP? What about vodka? Let’s find out!
The majority of distilled spirits are low in FODMAPs, including:
- Tequila (both gold and silver)
Note: these types of alcohol have been shown to be low FODMAP at a serving size of 1.5 fluid ounces (1 shot glass). So stick to 1 drink!
You may have noticed that rum is not on the list of low FODMAP spirits. Rum does contain higher amounts of fructose than other distilled alcohols, so it’s best to avoid this on the elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet or if you have identified fructose as a trigger for your IBS.
Generally made with vodka or gin, hard seltzers are generally considered low FODMAP. They are usually sweetened with cane sugar, which is a low FODMAP ingredient. Seltzers do often contain natural flavor in small amounts, which isn’t a concern. However, if a seltzer lists fruit juice on the label, it could have higher amounts of FODMAPs – for example cherry juice in a cherry-flavored seltzer. Double check your labels!
Monash University has not tested hard seltzers yet for FODMAP content, but it’s unlikely that they are a FODMAP concern based on what we know about alcohol production. However, they are carbonated, which can indeed contribute to bloating and gas production for some. Carbonation is a non-FODMAP symptom trigger for many people.
Low FODMAP Cocktails: Choosing the Best Mixer
Now that we’ve talked about the best alcohol for IBS, we can’t forget the mixers. Selecting the right mixers for low FODMAP cocktails can be just as crucial as choosing the alcohol itself. There are a few key things to consider when choosing something to mix with your alcohol:
- Bubbles – As I’ve mentioned a few times now, carbonated drinks often worsen bloating, gas, and discomfort in the abdomen. Choosing a mixer without bubbles or using only a small amount of carbonation may be the best option if you have IBS.
- Diet vs. Regular Soda – Several alcoholic beverages use soda like cola, sprite, or gingerale. Avoid regular soda, as this is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. Diet soda is a low FODMAP alternative. Some tonic waters are also made with high fructose corn syrup. If you enjoy tonic, we suggest choosing a ‘fancy’ tonic like Fever-Tree which is low FODMAP.
- Added sugars – A lot of commercial mixers and mixology syrups are sweetened with fructose or use highly concentrated fruit syrups, which could also naturally contain higher amounts of FODMAPs.
Opting for non-carbonated mixers like coconut water (less than ½ cup), diluted fruit juices (such as cranberry or pineapple), or herbal teas can help reduce the likelihood of discomfort. These options are generally easier on the digestive tract and can be more tolerable for individuals with IBS.
Drinking alcohol on a low FODMAP diet requires careful consideration of both the type of alcohol and your individual’s tolerance. While there are several types of alcohol that are low in fermentable carbohydrates (FODMAPs), it’s crucial to remember that alcohol itself can be a trigger for digestive symptoms. It’s advised that people with IBS consume alcohol in moderation and be attentive to their body’s responses. Everyone’s digestive symptoms are unique, so seeking guidance from a registered dietitian can be highly beneficial.
Alcohol consumption is also part of a much bigger conversation about alcohol dependency, addiction, and mental health. If you struggle to reduce your alcohol consumption, it’s highly recommended to consult with your doctor and/or a licensed therapist. We have a fantastic team of psychologists here at Ignite Nutrition who have experience with this complex topic.