6 Common IBS Triggers

Learning to identify your IBS triggers is a crucial step in managing your irritable bowel symptoms. The exact causes of irritable bowel is still unknown, though we know that there are some common dietary triggers that can cause flare-ups in IBS sufferers.

The 6 most common IBS triggers include:

  • High FODMAP foods
  • High fat foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Carbonated drinks

1. High FODMAP Foods

FODMAP is an acronym that stands for:

 Fermentable Oligosacchardies Disaccharides Monosaccharides and Polyols

It is a group of short-chain carbohydrates which are poorly absorbed in the small intestines, passing through to the large intestines where they are fermented by the bacteria in the large bowel. In individuals who have difficulty tolerating FODMAPs, it can cause symptoms such as bloating, excess wind, abdominal cramping, constipation and/or diarrhoea.

Examples of high FODMAP foods include onions, garlic, mushrooms, legumes, dairy, honey, some fruits, wheat and sweeteners. Limiting the intake of high FODMAP foods have been clinically proven to reduce gastrointestinal symptoms in up to 75% of IBS sufferers1.


Following a low FODMAP diet for 4 to 6 weeks can help to significantly reduce or resolve symptoms in individuals with intolerances to FODMAPs.

Keen to learn more? Read more about how we can help you through our signature FODMAP Focus Program here


2. High Fat Foods

Foods that are high in fats take a much longer time to travel through your gut and they slow down the digestion process. It can cause nausea, bloating, wind, diarrhea or constipation.


Moderation is the key here. We recommend that you limit intake of fried foods, chips, pies, sausages, full-fat dairy products and creamy food. Try other cooking methods such as grilling, steaming, poaching or roasting your meat on a rack.

3. Spicy Foods

Spicy food can irritate the gut and cause diarrhea, reflux and indigestion. If you notice these symptoms after having a spicy Mexican, Thai or Indian meal, then it will be better to go for milder foods that don’t irritate your gut.


Avoid having large amounts of spicy food with chilli or jalapenos. To flavour your foods, try adding lemon juice, herbs or spices like ginger, coriander, turmeric and cumin.

4. Alcohol

Alcohol is another gut irritant that can cause tummy cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Excess alcohol consumption can also cause weight gain and affect your liver. Some alcoholic drinks such as rum and sweet wines are high in FODMAPs so they can also trigger symptoms.


Limiting the intake of alcohol is beneficial for your general health. If you do decide to drink, ensure that you do not exceed 2 standard drinks per day, less is better. It is also advisable that you maintain at least 2 alcohol free days per week.


5. Caffeine

Is caffeine a friend or foe? Caffeine can stimulate gut motility and cause diarrhoea in some individuals. 


Limit yourself to no more than 3 cups of caffeinated drinks per day. Remember that caffeine is also found in tea, chocolates, soft drinks and energy drinks. Choose decaf coffee, herbal tea or water.

6. Carbonated Drinks

Fizzy drinks such as soda water, cola drinks and beer can cause bloating, burping and excess wind. 


Limit your intake of carbonated drinks and choose water as your main drink. If you are getting bored of the taste of plain water, try adding a slice of lemon, mint or berries in your water.


Take Home Message

My top dietary tips for managing IBS are:

  • Trial a low FODMAP diet for 2 to 6 weeks, 4 weeks is generally a good period of time
  • Limit gut irritants such as spicy food, alcohol and caffeine
  • Moderate intake of high fat foods and limit fast food consumption
  • Avoid fizzy drinks

It is important to note that symptoms can vary between individuals and there is no on-size-fits-all approach when it comes to IBS management. Get to know your body well so you can identify what are your triggers. If you suspect that certain foods trigger your symptoms, completing a food and symptom diary can be useful. It is important that you see your doctor before embarking on any elimination diet to rule out any other medical conditions that can present similarly to IBS.

The low FODMAP diet is complex and it is important that you see a FODMAP trained dietitian for guidance and support. At SDC, we specialise in gut health and are very passionate about helping people with IBS live better through dietary and lifestyle changes. Charlyn is a Monash University FODMAP Certified Dietitian with years of experience in supporting clients on the low FODMAP diet. She will work closely with you to implement the low FODMAP diet and guide you through the challenge phases, holding your hand through the whole journey.


Specialist Dietitian Consultancy is a premium nutrition clinic with clinic locations in Ardross, Cottesloe, Mount Lawley and Mount Pleasant. We also offer Skype or telephone consults for interstate and overseas clients. This blog post is written by Charlyn Ooi (Accredited Practising Dietitian and Credentialled Diabetes Educator). All content written is based on my clinical experience, backed by scientific research and not sponsored in any way. The information provided is general advice and it is important that you see your medical practitioner before undertaking any dietary changes. For further information or to book an appointment, please click on the Contact page.