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A List of Non-FODMAP IBS Food Triggers

Feature, Gut Health & IBS | September 5, 2022

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A List of Non-FODMAP IBS Food Triggers Featured Image

Are you struggling with IBS symptom management? Whether you are on the low FODMAP diet or not – there are some IBS triggers that aren’t FODMAPs that are also important for you to consider. As an IBS dietitian I am always looking for ways to help improve quality of life for my patients, as well as help reduce their IBS symptoms.

In many cases, people who follow a low FODMAP diet still report having symptoms even when they’re being diligent about the elimination of high FODMAP foods. But why? It could be that they are still consuming some non-FODMAP food triggers or perhaps there are some lifestyle factors affecting their symptoms.

In this post we will review how you can avoid IBS triggers that aren’t FODMAPs to help you with the management of your IBS symptoms!

Table of Contents

  1. Alcohol
  2. Caffeine
  3. Spicy Foods
  4. Fatty Foods
  5. Carbonated Beverages
  6. Fermentable Fibre
  7. Stress
  8. Hormones
  9. Smoking
  10. Sleep
  11. Meal Spacing & Timing
  12. Eating Quickly
a white bed with pink coloured roses laid out in a row at the bottom two pillows at the top and a cup of coffee in the middle of the frame. There is a text box that reads "top IBS triggers that aren't fodmaps"

Knowing some common IBS triggers can be helpful. Although not everyone will have the same diet and lifestyle triggers for their IBS, having knowledge of possible culprits may help you to prevent IBS symptoms from worsening.

Here are Ignite’s Top IBS Triggers That Aren’t FODMAPs

1. Alcohol

Alcohol can irritate the gut, resulting in GI changes such as cramping, diarrhea, bloating, and constipation. Although it does not affect everyone the same, it is strongly recommended to reduce alcohol consumption and avoid binge drinking in particular.

While reducing all alcohol is likely beneficial, you may also want to consider which types of alcohol flare-up your IBS more. For many people, carbonated alcohol such as beer or drinks mixed with soda tend to make them feel more bloated and uncomfortable. If you’ve never eliminated alcohol before and your IBS is flaring up, consider abstaining from alcohol for a few weeks to see how your body responds.

Additionally, alcohol consumption can sometimes lead us to eating foods we wouldn’t normally eat – often foods higher in fat or with a high FODMAP content.

2. Caffeine

Caffeine can stimulate your bowels which may help or hinder IBS. For individuals who experience mostly diarrhea, this can be an unwanted cause of bowel urgency, while people with constipation may find caffeine to be a useful part of their bowel routine.

If you experience more urgency and diarrhea, consider reducing your intake of caffeinated foods and drinks including coffee, black tea, green tea, cola, chocolate, and energy drinks. Pre-workout shakes are also a significant source of caffeine, so avoid those if necessary.

3. Spicy Foods

Spicy food can cause indigestion, and stomach upset. Capsaicin, a naturally occurring compound in spicy foods like peppers, can aggravate our gut lining, speed up digestion, and activate pain receptors in the gut.

If you also experience heartburn and reflux with your IBS, spicy food should be avoided as it is a common trigger for those symptoms as well.

4. Fatty Foods

Fatty foods can exacerbate both diarrhea and constipation. Consuming a lot of fat can slow down the digestive process. At the same time, those who have troubles absorbing fat, or their bile acids, can have diarrhea or loose stools. Try to limit fried or high fat foods such as french fries, large portions of nuts, cooking oils, or rich high fat dairy products.

5. Carbonated Beverages

Carbonation in beverages can increase pressure in the gut, stimulating visceral hypersensitivity (ie. increased sensations we feel when digesting food). This can be very uncomfortable for many people with IBS.

Try eliminating carbonated beverages from your diet, especially if you have upper gut symptoms like pressure, reflux, and pain. If you’re a fan of carbonated water, try swapping for flat water infused with natural fruits and veggies such as cucumber water, or water with frozen berries. It’s really refreshing and makes plain water much more exciting to drink!

6. Fermentable Fibre

There are other types of fermentable fibres that aren’t classified as FODMAPs. Certain prebiotic fibres may exacerbate bloating and gas, causing pain. This includes things like resistant starch, pectin, and beta-glucan. These are naturally present in some foods you may consume, but tolerance appears to vary based on the person.

Consider speaking with a dietitian about whether these types of fibres are affecting your IBS symptoms.

7. Stress

Stress can decrease your window of tolerance, increasing chances that you will activate your ‘fight or flight’ response, and may futz around with how the brain and the gut talk to one another. This is part of autonomic nervous system function, and practicing stress reduction techniques may help to improve this relationship between gut and brain.

Some stress management strategies to consider trying include:

  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Working with a psychologist or counsellor
  • Clinical hypnotherapy

Learn more ways to tackle the gut brain connection!

8. Hormones

Many hormones impact digestion. Mood, stress, and sex hormones are just a few of the hormones that influence the gut-brain connection and may impact IBS symptoms. For example, right before a menstrual cycle (late luteal phase), the rapid drop in estrogen and progesterone levels can make bowel symptoms worse. Track your symptoms around your cycle to gain a better understanding of how your hormones influence your symptoms.

9. Smoking

Smoking increases reflux. It also increases the risk of peptic ulcers. As well, smoking may increase the amount of air you swallow, intensifying stomach pressure and visceral hypersensitivity. See your family doctor or pharmacist for help with quitting smoking.

10. Sleep

Sleep impacts overall quality of life, including IBS symptoms. Although there are limited studies on the influence of sleep on the GI tract, without adequate length and quality of sleep, it is difficult to prioritize other lifestyle and nutrition goals for a healthy gut. Not only do we feel lethargic without proper rest, but it can significantly impact our motivation to exercise, cook, socialize, and more!

Aim for 7-9 hours a night, and try to implement positive sleep hygiene habits. This could include avoiding screens close to bedtime, avoiding caffeine at night, going to bed at the same time each night, and doing something relaxing to help you wind down.

11. Meal Spacing & Timing

Skipping meals and having large meals can make gut symptoms worse simply due to the volume of food. When going long periods without food, it increases the likelihood that we’ll eat larger amounts, and often more quickly! Try having 3 meals and 1-3 snacks a day, or eating every 3-4 hours for best symptom control.

12. Eating Quickly

Digestion starts with chewing. The majority of people do not chew their food adequately, which can exacerbate IBS symptoms. As well, eating too quickly can cause indigestion, and cause you to swallow air. As mentioned above, it’s important to eat regularly to avoid rapid eating when you become over-hungry.

Some tips for slowing down while eating: Practice 5 deep belly breaths before eating, put your fork down in between bites, and try to chew each bite really well, savouring the flavour.

Take Home Message

Individual tolerance to non-FODMAP food triggers varies widely. If you feel like they may be a trigger for you, try using a food journal and monitoring how your IBS symptoms vary when you consume these foods. Often reducing some of things from your regular intake can help reduce IBS symptoms, especially during an IBS flare up.

Managing IBS symptoms can be stressful and frustrating, but there are many strategies you can use to get your IBS symptoms back on track. If you’ve tried the above strategies and are still struggling to find relief, working with an IBS dietitian is recommended. Together, you can work together to find management strategies that are individualized and work for you.

a white bed with pink coloured roses laid out in a row at the bottom two pillows at the top and a cup of coffee in the middle of the frame. There is a text box that reads "top IBS triggers that aren't fodmaps"

FAQs about IBS Triggers That Aren’t FODMAPs

Can IBS be triggered for no reason?

Because there are many things that can cause an IBS flare up – it can be very hard to tell exactly what caused your IBS symptoms to flare-up. Aside from FODMAPs there are other IBS triggers that aren’t FODMAPs including alcohol, caffeine, spicy and fatty foods, fizzy drinks, some types of fibres, stress, hormones, smoking, sleeping habits, meal spacing and timing, and eating quickly.

Can fizzy drinks cause IBS symptoms?

Although the carbonation in drinks like pop, soda and sparkling water is not a FODMAP it is considered an IBS trigger that isn’t a FODMAP. Fizzy drinks can increase pressure in the gut, stimulating visceral hypersensitivity and lead to upper gut symptoms like pressure, reflux, and pain.

How do you calm down an IBS flare up?

Managing a bad IBS flare up can be stressful and frustrating, but there are many strategies you can use to get your IBS symptoms back on track. Including making sure you are getting enough fibre and fluid in your diet, avoiding IBS triggers that aren’t FODMAPs and managing stress.

Andrea Hardy
About the Author

Andrea Hardy

Andrea Hardy is known in the media as Canada's Gut Health Dietitian. With her expertise, she has spoken internationally on all things digestive health, from SIBO, to the gut microbiome, to IBS. As owner of Ignite Nutrition, she has trained her team in the 4 Pillar Approach™️ to digestive health management - our comprehensive, evidence-based approach to managing digestive issues.

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