Got IBS? These 5 Carbs Could Be Behind Your Symptoms

Updated: May 27, 2021

One of these types of carbohydrates might be distressing your bowel. Sue Shepherd, PhD, outlines how you can figure out which are causing your IBS symptoms in her book ‘The 2-Step Low-FODMAP Eating Plan: How To Build a Custom Diet that Relieves the Symptoms of IBS, Lactose Intolerance, and Gluten Sensitivity.’


IBS: A prevalent problem

If you’re like 10 to 15 percent of Americans, you might suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. It’s not a disease per say, but a disorder that makes you bloated, gassy, and prone to diarrhea or constipation after you eat. These are clear signs you have IBS. FODMAPs are types of carbohydrates that continue to the large intestine when you eat instead of being absorbed by the small intestine, Dr. Shepherd says. They get more water and gas in your intestines, and affect how the muscles in your bowel work and look. FODMAPs could be driving your IBS symptoms, and cutting one or more from your diet could give you the relief you need. Here’s more on what a low-FODMAP diet looks like.



Fructose is a sugar that occurs naturally in every fruit, but that doesn’t mean you should eliminate healthy fruits from your diet. The problem comes when foods contain more fructose than glucose, meaning they don’t absorb as well as those with a higher ratio of glucose, Dr. Shepherd says. Fruit juices, apples, and watermelon are common fruits with excess fructose, while more balanced choices include bananas, cantaloupes, and grapes.



All mammals’ milk contains the sugar lactose, but you don’t have to restrict yourself to a dairy-free diet. Even lactose intolerant people can usually handle up to 4 grams of lactose at a time (a glass of milk typically has 12 to 16 grams), and some dairy products like hard cheeses have practically no lactose, Dr. Shepherd says. If you do want milk or ice cream, you might want to buy lactase enzyme tablets, which will break down the lactose so your body can absorb it. These are lactose intolerance symptoms you might overlook.



As a general rule, the sugar alcohols polyols end in –ol, though polydextrose and isomalt are also part of this category. Sorbitol and mannitol occur naturally in foods like peaches and cauliflower, but others such as xylitol and maltitol are added to processed foods. Those packages will have a label warning about their laxative effects, which could be paired with gas and bloating if you’re sensitive to them. Find out what your stomach pain means here.



These fructose compounds actually cause symptoms in everyone, but some people can eat way more than others before feeling the effects. Garlic and onions have large amounts, as do wheat, barley, and rye. You’ll probably be able to tolerate wheat in small amounts, like in soy sauce. Here are some natural ways to relieve IBS symptoms.



GOS can be particularly hard for vegetarians to give up—they’re found in lentils, soybeans, and chickpeas, which could be major sources of protein. If you restrict them from your diet, you could consider replacing them with eggs, tofu, or nuts.

Making the low-FODMAP diet change

Sue Shepherd, PhD, is the director of Australian dietetic practice Shepherd Works, a senior lecturer at La Trobe University, and a dietitian. If you want to learn more about FODMAPs, and how identify and avoid your IBS triggers, check out her book The 2-Step Low-FODMAP Eating Plan: How To Build a Custom Diet that Relieves the Symptoms of IBS, Lactose Intolerance, and Gluten Sensitivity.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest