Candy, candy everywhere…how can one resist! Halloween can be a scary time for those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). The sweet treats are loaded with sugars, dairy, fats and other ingredients which could trigger symptoms. Sugary treats can sometimes contain high FODMAP ingredients, caffeine, or other triggers, which can lead to pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. What’s more, because candy is low in fiber, we can eat a lot of it quickly without feeling full right away, compounding the negative effects.
IBS & Gut Health
Research shows a link between IBS and the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is the ecosystem in our digestive tract. It includes thousands of microorganisms including bacteria and yeasts which perform different functions. They work to help feed the cells in the colon, and act as a defense system, keeping harmful bacteria out of your digestive system. The microbiome is believed to support health, influence metabolism and support overall well-being.
The microbiomes of healthy people differ from the microbiomes of people with health conditions such as IBS and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Our microbiome continues to change depending on what we eat, our environmental exposures, or an illness. Our diet is one of the most important factors that change our microbiome, and it is thought that eating highly processed foods, added sugars, and unhealthy fats can support the growth of less favourable microbiota.
‘Dangerous’ Halloween treats
Many common Halloween treats can result in an attack in those with IBS. This is because they contain certain ingredients which are the main culprits. Some of the most common ingredients are –
- High fructose corn syrup
If dairy is a trigger for you, skip treats like Twix, Kit-Kat, and Milky Way.
If fructose is a trigger, look for high fructose corn syrup in the ingredients and avoid it. Unfortunately, this includes the much-love candy corn, and many other treats.
Steer clear of sugar-free sweets. Though they sometimes seem like a healthier choice, they often contain polyols, which can be a major trigger for diarrhea, bloating and cramping. The sugar alcohols sorbitol and mannitol, found in sugar-free gum or sugar-free gummies, are often linked to increased IBS symptoms and abnormal flatulence. Caffeine is best avoided as it stimulates your colon and can cause diarrhoea in people with IBS.
The good news is that IBS need not stop you from enjoying Halloween! There is a variety of low FODMAP candy that you can indulge in that needn’t trigger an IBS attack… Dark chocolate is a great option, as it is often dairy free and high is good antioxidants. Regular, lightly salted popcorn can be a satisfying option for salt cravings, though the fiber can cause bloating if consumed in excess. Some people find that Swedish Fish can be tolerated in modest amounts, a swell as Atomic Fireballs, Boston Baked Beans, Butterfingers, Circus Peanuts, Conversation Hearts, Dum Dums lollipops, Haribo Gummi Bears, Jolly Ranchers, Junior Mints, Reese’s Pieces, and Skittles. We are not advocating that there are in any way “healthy,” but rather can be a treat less likely to trigger symptoms if you choose to indulge.
The other thing worth remembering is that IBS symptoms are just that – symptoms. Unlikely a true food allergy that can lead to significant, life-threatening physiologic effects, IBS symptoms are unpleasant, but nothing more. You always have control of your symptoms if you know what your triggers are. We typically think of this in terms of avoiding these foods in order to avoid symptoms, ut you’re also in control of times when you choose to eat these foods, and can be prepared for your symptoms. It is always a choice, and though you may suffer some uncomfortable symptoms, you are not making yourself “less healthy,” damaging your microbiome in any permanent way, or doing any other permanent or catastrophic detriment to your health.
Enjoy the holiday!
As Halloween is largely connected with consuming large amounts of candy and treats, it ends up being associated with cramping, bloating, constipation, and other symptoms for those suffering from IBS. However, it needn’t be this way! Enjoy the many ways—apart from candy—that you could celebrate Halloween. Whether pumpkin-carving, setting out decorations, costume-making or enjoying a proper scary film marathon with family and friends, there are many fun ways to enjoy Halloween without risking an IBS flare-up. The key to conquering IBS, after all, is to avoid your triggers and know your limits. Most importantly, avoid overeating, control stress and anxiety, and consciously relax.
If you do experience a flare-up, prepare some soothing activities for yourself for the next couple of days. This can include taking time to relax, exercising to release endorphins and relieve constipation, using peppermint oil to soothe symptoms, and listening to IBS hypnotherapy programmes on phone apps. If your symptoms persist, consult your doctor or dietitian.
This content is not intended as medical advice or to diagnose or treat medical diseases. It is strictly for informational purposes. Before undertaking any course of treatment or diet change, do seek the advice of your physician or healthcare provider.