Table of Contents
Disclaimer: The information provided is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnose, or treat medical diseases. It is strictly for informational purposes. Seek the advice of your physician prior to undertaking any change in treatment or diet. This blog post does not replace individualized medical nutrition therapy or medical advice.
While there’s not a single diet that works for everyone with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), there are definitely certain foods and beverages that trigger symptoms more commonly than others.
In this post, we share the most commonly reported trigger foods based on a summary of 9 research studies from around the world and answer some common questions about trigger foods.
First, what is a trigger food?
A trigger food is any food that causes symptoms such as gas, bloating, cramping, pain, or diarrhea. Every person is unique and may have individualized trigger foods that cause varying symptoms.
Are trigger foods inflammatory?
Inflammatory foods are foods which increase your risk for active disease when consumed frequently over time. Unlike trigger foods, inflammatory foods are not individualized. The foods that increase your risk for active disease depend on whether you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
While there may be some overlap between trigger foods and inflammatory foods, it’s important to note that trigger foods are not always inflammatory, and inflammatory foods are not always triggers. It’s also possible for you to experience symptoms without having active inflammation.
How do people identify their trigger foods?
A lot of people with inflammatory bowel disease are able to accurately locate some of their trigger foods (which may include some of the ones in this blog post) but usually are not able to locate all of their trigger foods.
That’s probably because trigger foods can be time and/or dose dependent. You may experience symptoms only after eating a certain amount of a particular food, when combined with other specific foods, or after a certain time has passed since eating.
There are also many lifestyle factors that may worsen symptomatic reactions to trigger foods. We always try to recommend ways to control these factors before restricting foods in order to keep your diet as expansive as possible.
What are the 12 most common trigger foods for people with IBD?
The most common trigger foods according to 9 research studies are:
- Fatty/greasy foods
- Dairy products
- Spicy foods
- Raw nuts
- Red and processed meats
- Corn and popcorn
- Raw fruits and vegetables
- Beans and lentils
- Sweets and added sugars
- Raw seeds
- High fiber foods
- Citrus fruits
It may or may not be surprising that participants in 6 out of the 9 research studies reported that fatty/greasy foods and dairy products were the two most common types of trigger foods.
Spicy foods, raw nuts, red/processed meats, corn/popcorn, raw fruits/vegetables, and beans/lentils were reported by participants in 3 to 5 of the 9 research studies. Sweets/added sugars, raw seeds, high fiber foods, and citrus fruits were all reported to trigger symptoms in 2 of the 9 research studies.
Below is a summary of the impact that each trigger food had on symptoms according to participants in each of the research studies.
Keep in mind that even if these foods worsened symptoms for participants in these research studies, that doesn’t mean that you should avoid these foods.
Your diet needs to be individualized to keep it as expansive as possible, reduce the risk of nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition, and maintain a healthy relationship with food.
Some foods on this chart are suggested in research studies to increase certain types of bad gut bacteria (inflammatory foods) and others in this chart are suggested to increase certain types of good gut bacteria (anti-inflammatory foods), but all could potentially trigger an increase in symptoms.
What are your options for dealing with trigger foods?
You have a few options when it comes to dealing with trigger foods.
- You can reduce the portion size of the trigger food rather than avoiding it altogether. Reducing the portion size may decrease the amount of symptoms you experience and make eating more enjoyable.
- You can swap out the trigger food for a better tolerated alternative that is just as satisfying.
- You can have the trigger food as is. Sometimes having the trigger food is worth the symptoms, so if you do decide to have it, enjoy it! (I know I do).
If you’re tired of trying to find your personal trigger foods on your own, we can help! We can fast-track the process of finding your triggers so that you can get back to feeling like yourself again.
Reach out to learn how our IBD nutrition counseling programs can help you find exactly what foods trigger your symptoms, then help you safely expand your diet to include the foods you love, all while reducing your symptoms.
No matter what type of IBD you have or if you're in a flare or in remission, it's possible to eat a broad and enjoyable diet without triggering your symptoms. Find out how today.
- Cohen AB, Lee D, Long MD, Kappelman MD, Martin CF, Sandler RS, Lewis JD. Dietary patterns and self-reported associations of diet with symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease. Dig Dis Sci. 2013 May;58(5):1322-8. doi: 10.1007/s10620-012-2373-3. Epub 2012 Aug 26. PMID: 22923336; PMCID: PMC3552110.
- Limdi JK, Aggarwal D, McLaughlin JT. Dietary Practices and Beliefs in Patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2016 Jan;22(1):164-70. doi: 10.1097/MIB.0000000000000585. PMID: 26383912.
- de Vries JHM, Dijkhuizen M, Tap P, Witteman BJM. Patient's Dietary Beliefs and Behaviours in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Dig Dis. 2019;37(2):131-139. doi: 10.1159/000494022. Epub 2018 Nov 2. PMID: 30391940; PMCID: PMC6381876.
- Vagianos K, Clara I, Carr R, Graff LA, Walker JR, Targownik LE, Lix LM, Rogala L, Miller N, Bernstein CN. What Are Adults With Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Eating? A Closer Look at the Dietary Habits of a Population-Based Canadian IBD Cohort. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2016 Mar;40(3):405-11. doi: 10.1177/0148607114549254. Epub 2014 Sep 4. PMID: 25189173.
- Zallot C, Quilliot D, Chevaux JB, Peyrin-Biroulet C, Guéant-Rodriguez RM, Freling E, Collet-Fenetrier B, Williet N, Ziegler O, Bigard MA, Guéant JL, Peyrin-Biroulet L. Dietary beliefs and behavior among inflammatory bowel disease patients. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2013 Jan;19(1):66-72. doi: 10.1002/ibd.22965. PMID: 22467242.
- Pituch-Zdanowska A, Kowalska-Duplaga K, Jarocka-Cyrta E, Stawicka A, Dziekiewicz M, Banaszkiewicz A. Dietary Beliefs and Behaviors Among Parents of Children with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. J Med Food. 2019 Aug;22(8):817-822. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2018.0206. Epub 2019 May 7. PMID: 31063436.
- Green TJ, Issenman RM, Jacobson K. Patients' diets and preferences in a pediatric population with inflammatory bowel disease. Can J Gastroenterol. 1998 Nov-Dec;12(8):544-9. doi: 10.1155/1998/928706. PMID: 9926264.
- Triggs CM, Munday K, Hu R, Fraser AG, Gearry RB, Barclay ML, Ferguson LR. Dietary factors in chronic inflammation: food tolerances and intolerances of a New Zealand Caucasian Crohn's disease population. Mutat Res. 2010 Aug 7;690(1-2):123-38. doi: 10.1016/j.mrfmmm.2010.01.020. Epub 2010 Feb 6. PMID: 20144628.
- Jowett SL, Seal CJ, Phillips E, Gregory W, Barton JR, Welfare MR. Dietary beliefs of people with ulcerative colitis and their effect on relapse and nutrient intake. Clin Nutr. 2004 Apr;23(2):161-70. doi: 10.1016/S0261-5614(03)00132-8. PMID: 15030955.