I found out the hard way that I had to avoid a food additive called inulin. As with all IBS sufferers, it becomes a matter of trial and error to figure out what foods can make your symptoms worse. For me, it took a few miserable IBS flare ups before I finally figured out what was contributing to my symptoms.
I love the natural, no calorie sweetener Stevia. I had already been using it, long before it was popular and long before you could find it in the grocery store along side other sweeteners such as Equal, Splenda, and Sweet N Low. When I was purchasing it in the health food store, it was not yet approved by the FDA to be sold as a sweetener, so it was sold as a supplement among the vitamins. In 2008, the FDA approved the use of stevia as a sweetener and it quickly gained in popularity. Once stevia started to become a more popular and well known sweetener, I realized that the type of stevia I was originally using was pure with no additives. Companies that sell stevia as a sweetener, add a fiber called inulin, which helps bulk up the product, and makes it more like sugar in it's consistency. Even though this type of fiber is safe and can be beneficial, it can be a terrible problem for those with IBS. You can still buy the pure stevia from a company called KAL, so, if you have IBS, I highly recommend you stay away from anything but the pure form of stevia.
So what is this fiber that companies are adding to not just stevia, but many other popular foods? Well, this additive is considered a prebiotic, which simply means it serves as a food for the bacteria naturally found in your intestines. As it is broken down by this bacteria, gas is produced —and for those of us that are sensitive, TOO MUCH GAS. As you well know, when those of us with IBS experience too much gas, it just becomes a trapped nightmare....causing pain, discomfort and extreme bloating!
Inulin actually occurs naturally in many foods such as wheat, bananas, onions and garlic, with the most abundant source being in an herb called chicory. Since these foods can be difficult to over consume, it does not usually cause digestive problems. But when this fiber is used in concentrated and processed amounts as a food additive, it can be too easy to consume too much, and literally become a pain to those of us with IBS.
There are many other common foods besides stevia products that contain added inulin. When you are checking labels, make sure you also look for an herb called chicory root as an additive, as that is the most abundant source of inulin. Manufacturers are adding these two products to foods such as yogurt, ice cream, energy and cereal bars, juice and the list is growing! It works as a good filler, is slightly sweet and provides a creamy texture. Since it cannot be digested in the body, it is considered a fiber, and allows companies to state that their product is 'high in fiber'. However, there has been no real evidence that this type of processed fiber has any of the benefit that a more natural fiber is supposed to provide.
That said, I'm sure all these foods taste great and I wish I could eat them, but it is just not worth the pain and discomfort those of us with IBS would have to endure after enjoying them. Make sure you read the labels to avoid IBS flare ups!