Apples, often hailed as a ‘superfood,’ are packed with vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants. They’re a staple in many diets and are celebrated for their numerous health benefits.
But when it comes to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), the picture gets a bit more complex. While the nutrients in apples are undeniably beneficial, their high fructose and fiber content can be a double-edged sword for IBS sufferers.
In this article, we’ll delve deep into the relationship between apples and IBS, helping you understand how this crunchy delight can affect your gut.
Apples and IBS Key Takeaways
- Apples contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals, have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and promote healthy digestion and gut bacteria growth, making them beneficial for IBS.
- Honeycrisp and Pink Lady apples provide more antioxidants than other varieties.
- Apples are a low FODMAP option for those with IBS, but fructose malabsorption and sensitivity to pectin can cause symptoms in some individuals.
- Incorporating apples into an IBS-friendly diet can be done by choosing ripe but firm apples with lower fructose content, cooking them to make them easier to digest, and moderating their intake while paying attention to any symptoms and working closely with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian.
How Do Apples Affect IBS?
Let’s start by addressing the main bulk of the matter: how do apples affect IBS?
Here are the key facts:
- Apples are high FODMAP fruits. This means they contain fructose and sorbitol.
- Three out of every four people with IBS find that apples trigger the symptoms. So as a general rule, if you have irritable bowel syndrome, you should avoid apples.
- A medium or small serving of apples (30-160 grams) could trigger your IBS. So even when eating a small amount of apples, your symptoms might be triggered. Basically, it’s best to avoid them.
- Not everyone with IBS will be triggered by apples, so you will have to figure if this applies to you or not.
As a general rule, it is safe to assume that apples are bad for IBS, which is why they are almost always listed on the “do not eat” list for those with irritable bowel syndrome.
When we say that apples are high in FODMAP, we mean that they contain fermentable sugars, and this is what can trigger the IBS symptoms.
Some people with IBS might be able to tolerate small amounts of apple, while others will tolerate no amount whatsoever. You should have to test where you fall on the scale, and go from there!
How Do Apples Affect IBS-C (Constipation in IBS)?
For some people, irritable bowel syndrome mainly showcases itself through the symptom of constipation. These people are classed as IBS-C because constipation is the predominant bowel habit associated with their IBS.
In these cases, apples might actually be helpful. Apples are very high in sorbitol, which is known to have a laxative effect, able to trigger diarrhea. This means that sorbitol could fight constipation, alleviating that main symptom.
However, while apples are always recommended to those suffering from constipation, regardless of age, people with IBS have to be more careful. It is not as simple as “this relieves constipation, my main symptom is constipation, so this is the solution”, we wish it was!
Apples are high in sorbitol, but also high in fructose. Both of these sugars are FODMAP, they rapidly ferment and produce gas. So they could worsen other IBS symptoms, such as abdominal pain, distension, gas and bloating.
Once again, it depends on the person, and you won’t know until you test it out for yourself!
How Do Apples Affect IBS-D (Diarrhea in IBS)?
Okay, so if you have IBS-C, apples might be able to help alleviate your main IBS symptom, meaning you should be fine to eat apples. However, there is still the risk that apples will make it worse regardless, so you need to test it out.
But what if you have IBS-D? This is when diarrhea is the predominant stool issue associated with your IBS.
Well, with IBS-D you should almost certainly avoid apples completely. Apples are high in sorbitol, which is a laxative, so they could make diarrhea even worse.
For those with IBS-D, a FODMAP-free diet is the best course of action. Foods such as apples cause your digestive tract to have more water, which in turn means more diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain. So no apples are recommended for people with IBS-D.
Do Different Types of Apples Affect IBS Differently?
Apples, in general, are bad for those that suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, as they are a high FODMAP food that can trigger and worsen IBS symptoms.
For those with IBS-C (constipation), apples in small quantities might be okay, and might even help alleviate constipation.
For those with IBS-D (diarrhea), apples should be avoided because they will almost be guaranteed to make the symptoms worse.
But is this the same for all types of apples, and apples in all their forms? Could eating apples in a different way change the effects?
As a general rule, the effects will be practically the same, regardless of the type of apple, or how you are consuming the apple.
But just in case, let’s look at all the different types of apples, and how they might affect people with IBS.
Red Apples and IBS
Red apples are one of the most common types that people consume.
One serving of a medium red apple (which is about 160 grams) is very high in sorbitol and fructose, both of which are FODMAP. This means they will almost certainly trigger IBS symptoms.
One serving of a small red apple (around 20 grams), on the other hand, contains a more moderate amount of sorbitol, so if eaten carefully it might not trigger IBS symptoms. (As always, this completely depends on the person).
One serve of about 25 grams or less of red apple will usually be quite easy to tolerate, so this should be okay to consume.
Green Apples IBS
Green apples are basically the same as red apples. So the same type of servings will cause the same effect on people with IBS (although you need to remember that not everybody with IBS will be triggered in the same way).
So mostly, green apples will be bad. But a serving of 25 grams or less should generally be okay.
Dried Apples and IBS
Some people might think that dried apples are more tolerable for those with IBS, but the truth is that unfortunately, that isn’t right. Dried apples contain the same amounts of FODMAPs as normal apples, so they can trigger your IBS symptoms in the exact same way.
In fact, according to the Monash University FODMAP app, even the smallest serving of dried apple can trigger IBS symptoms, as the quantities of sorbitol and fructose are very highly concentrated.
Peeled Apples and IBS
The contents of the apple that can trigger IBS symptoms, the FODMAP content which is basically the sorbitol and fructose, are found within the flesh of the apple, and not on the skin.
This means that peeling the apples does nothing to reduce the amount of FODMAP content, and therefore they will have the exact same effect on people with IBS as unpeeled apples.
In fact, peeled apples will have a higher amount of FODMAP per serving, as it is all flesh, meaning all the weight of the serving is full of the contents that trigger IBS symptoms. So if anything, peeled apples are worse than unpeeled apples when it comes to triggering IBS!
Cooked Apples and IBS
There isn’t really any research specific to how cooking apples affect their effect on people with irritable bowel syndrome. However, cooking the apples, as a general rule, will not reduce the content of FODMAP elements, and therefore it will not change the way in which the apple triggers IBS symptoms.
Cooking the apple might alter the FODMAP content, but it will not reduce it. So…sorry but cooking the apple will not stop it from triggering your IBS.
Apple Juice and IBS
If you decide to turn the apple into apple juice, does that affect the amount of FODMAP in any way? The answer is no.
Apple juice has the same effect on people with IBS as a normal apple would. So if apples are a trigger of your symptoms, then you really do have to avoid apples in all their forms!
Should You Eat Apples If You Have IBS?
Now that we’ve talked about how apples affect people with irritable bowel syndrome, depending on the different types of IBS symptoms that are prevalent in the person, and depending on the different types of apples, it’s time to conclude with one final question: should you eat apples if you have IBS?
The answer completely depends on each individual person, as IBS affects people differently, and not everybody has the same food triggers.
It is true that apples trigger IBS symptoms in three out of four people, so there is a very high chance of apples being bad for you if you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. But it could be that it doesn’t affect you!
So as a general rule, you should not eat apples if you have IBS. However, there are some people with IBS that can tolerate small amounts of apples without triggering their symptoms, meaning they can eat apples now and then without a problem.
Basically, you have to figure out how apples affect you, and then you decide yourself whether you should or should not be eating them, based on the results.
In order to evaluate how apples affect you, you need to go through a three-phase low FODMAP plan.
Here is the 3-phase low FODMAP plan that you need to follow as a test:
Phase 1 – Restriction
The first phase is all about restricting your diet so that you cut out all types of FODMAP foods for up to 6 to 8 weeks. Those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome really benefit from this type of plan.
If there is no improvement in your IBS symptoms during this period, then it means that a low FODMAP diet does not work on helping alleviate your IBS, so limiting these foods unfortunately won’t help your IBS symptoms.
Phase 2 – Reintroduction
During the second phase, it is best to get the help of your doctor or a dietitian. It consists in re-introducing different FODMAP foods, bit by bit.
There are 6 different types of FODMAP foods in total, and not all of them will trigger your IBS symptoms. So essentially, it is all about figuring out which types trigger you, and which ones don’t.
So for example, if you introduce apples before anything else, and your IBS symptoms return, then you know for certain that apples are a trigger because it couldn’t be anything else triggering the symptoms at that moment. You then heed to eliminate that food again and wait until symptoms resolve before trying a new food. If you tolerate the food just fine, it’s okay to move on to another one after a few days.
Phase 3 – Personalization
The last phase of the process is all about continuing the different food tests until you come up with a list of foods that trigger your symptoms, and foods that don’t.
You should slowly learn what you can and cannot eat, in order to avoid having severe symptoms, and which foods you are okay with.
You can, of course, still, eat anything you want. But the goal of slow reintroduction is so that you know exactly which foods are going to cause you the worst symptoms to help you avoid the discomfort and pain of IBS.
Apples and IBS – A Delicate Balance
Apples, with their crisp texture and sweet taste, are a favorite for many. Their health benefits are numerous, from boosting heart health to aiding digestion.
However, for IBS sufferers, the journey with apples might require a bit more caution. The high fructose and fiber content can be triggering for some, while others might tolerate them well.
It’s essential to listen to your body, perhaps starting with smaller portions or trying cooked apples instead of raw. Remember, every individual’s experience with IBS is unique, and what works for one might not work for another.
The key is to find a balance that allows you to enjoy the benefits of apples without exacerbating your IBS symptoms.
For more articles about IBS symptoms from various food and drinks: