Peppers, Spicy Foods, and IBS: What You Need to Know

Figuring out what you can eat can be a huge challenge when you have IBS. Both FODMAPs and spicy foods can be triggers. So if you enjoy peppers and other spicy foods, it is important to understand the relationship between FODMAPs, capscaicin, and IBS.

In this article we cover the FODMAP content of various types of peppers, how spicy foods affect IBS, and how to introduce peppers and spicy foods to your diet.

Are Bell Peppers Low FODMAP?

Are bell peppers low FODMAP?

Red and green bell peppers have both been tested for FODMAP content. But it gets confusing because various sources have conflicting information on how much is ok. The thing is – these lists that you find all over the internet get outdated fast.

My own Low FODMAP Grocery List needed to be updated a week after I published it! This is because Monash University tests and re-tests foods all the time. So, one week the portion size for red bell peppers was higher than that for green. Then, suddenly the next week it flipped the other way around.

What happens is – as foods are tested and retested, more data is gathered. The FODMAP content of foods is the average of different samples of that food. FODMAP content can vary based on ripeness or the region it is grown.

And the labs that test for FODMAPs do their best to give us the FODMAP content of these foods, based on those averages.

Food lab

So, in short…  Yes, bell peppers (red and green) do have a low FODMAP serving. At the time of this writing, red bell peppers are low FODMAP at a portion of 1/3 cup (43 grams). Green bell peppers are low FODMAP at a portion of ½ cup (75 grams).

As for yellow and orange bell peppers? Monash hasn’t tested them. But FODMAP Friendly recently added a listing for yellow bell peppers – they were noted to be high in fructose.

And there is good news for those who are intolerant to spicy foods (more on that later) – bell peppers do not contain capsciasin, the cuprit behind discomfort associated with hot peppers.

Are Jalapenos Low FODMAP?

A small portion of jalapeno is considered low FODMAP – that is one small chili per meal (weighing approximately 29 grams). A medium jalapeno (41 grams) is high in fructose.

But FODMAPs are not the only thing to consider if you have IBS. Continue to the “Spicy Foods and IBS” section to learn more about how hot peppers affect your symptoms.

Are Other Chili Peppers Low FODMAP?

Below is the information available from Monash University and/or FODMAP Friendly.

Again, this is the information that is available at the time of writing and is subject to change. The best way to get the most up-to-date FODMAP content on any food is to download the Monash University and/or FODMAP Friendly apps.

Don’t see your pepper of choice listed? It likely hasn’t been tested. If you are past the elimination phase of your diet, you can try a small portion of an untested food and monitor symptoms. A registered dietitian can guide you through this process if you have several foods you would like to try.

Mixed peppers

Green Chilies

According to the current information in the Monash University FODMAP app, green chile peppers (peeled and deseeded) are low FODMAP at a serving of 1 chili (61 grams). However, the listing is rather vague on what they mean by “green chile”.

Canned Green Chilies

Canned and chopped green chili peppers are noted to be low FODMAP at a serving of 2 Tablespoons.

Red Chilies

An 11 cm long (28 gram) red chili is listed as low FODMAP. Higher amounts contain fructans. As with “green chilies” it is unclear what specific pepper was used.

Red Habanero

1 medium (17 gram) raw red habanero is low FODMAP. Large portions (6 peppers!!!) are high in fructose. Despite my love for spicy foods, I will avoid eating 6 habaneros, thank you very much!

Poblano Peppers

1 medium poblano pepper (97 grams) is low FODMAP. Larger portions (3 ½ peppers or more) contain galactooligosaccharides (GOS) and fructans.

Banana Peppers

Banana peppers are not listed under the Monash app, but they have been tested by FODMAP Friendly and passed as low FODMAP at a portion of 100 grams, or approximately 2 medium (4.5” long) banana peppers.

Chipotle Peppers

A chipotle pepper is a dried and smoked ripe red jalapeno pepper. One whole dried chipotle is listed as high in fructose. However, ground chipotle powder is low FODMAP at a serving of 1 teaspoon.

Canned chipotles in adobo sauce have not been tested, but generally contain high FODMAP ingredients like onions and garlic so proceed with caution.

Crushed Red Pepper

Chili flakes or crushed red pepper is low FODMAP at a portion of 1 teaspoon. Higher amounts contain fructose.

Ancho Chilli Powder

This product is listed as high in fructose. But the serving size tested was 17 grams, which is more than 2 tablespoons.

There are some certified low FODMAP products containing ancho chili pepper, which means that there is likely a low FODMAP serving – the amount just hasn’t been determined yet.

If you decide to try small amounts of ancho chili powder, just be sure to monitor your symptoms.

Is Black Pepper Low FODMAP?

Yes! Black pepper is considered low FODMAP at a generous portion of 1 teaspoon per meal.

Interesting fact – did you know that black pepper doesn’t come from peppers at all? In fact, peppercorns are small berries from a vine called Piper nigrum.

Is black pepper low FODMAP?

Is Hot Sauce Low FODMAP?

Whether hot sauce is low in FODMAP or not depends on the brand and the ingredients they use. Some brands contain onion and garlic. Hot sauce is generally used in small amounts, so even with a little onion and garlic, they might be ok on a low FODMAP diet.

Once again, if you have completed the elimination and re-introduction phases and know which FODMAPs cause you trouble, you can decide whether you want to introduce a small amount of these items into your diet.

Sriracha is a popular hot sauce that has been tested and is low FODMAP at a serving size of 1 teaspoon. Higher amounts have excess fructose.

Green habanero sauce also has a listing in the Monash University app with a low FODMAP serving of 1 teaspoon. But for many people, a few drops of hot sauce does the trick to add a little zing to your foods.

But don’t get carried away until you know how spicy foods affect your IBS!

Spicy Foods and IBS

Spicy foods and IBS

Spicy foods are a common trigger for IBS symptoms. Even low FODMAP peppers can be trouble for some people. This is usually due to the presence of capsaicin.

Capsaicin is the chemical in hot peppers that make them hot. It can also be a gut irritant. People with IBS have reported the following symptoms when eating spicy foods: burning sensation in the mouth, abdominal pain, and esophageal reflux1.

Interestingly, there is a study that looked at the use of red pepper flakes in the form of a pill as part of a treatment for IBS. There was a noted improvement in the threshold for pain. This was thought to be due to the desensitization of pain receptors from frequent exposure.2

However, this was a very small study. And it is worth noting that 8 people being treated with red pepper flakes dropped out of the study due to increased pain. The authors note that there may be an increase in pain in the initial weeks of therapy, followed by an improvement in symptoms later.

Though interesting, this study is not enough evidence to recommend treating IBS with red pepper flakes. In fact, it is generally recommended to limit spicy foods with IBS. Howeer, there are some some people with IBS who do tolerate a little heat just fine.

How much is too much? The Scoville scale is a measurement of how hot a pepper is. The higher the Scoville scale, the more capsaicin. So, more capsaicin = a higher Scoville Heat Unit (SCH) = generally less well tolerated. Though this is a little different for everyone.

Spicy foods and IBS: The Scoville Scale as a measure of heat

Summary

Figuring out your IBS triggers can be tricky. FODMAPs are carbohydrates that are difficult to digest and commonly aggravate IBS symptoms.

Some types of peppers are high in FODMAPs and others are relatively low. But people with IBS need to be aware of it isn’t just the FODMAPs in peppers that can cause discomfort.

Capsaicin, the chemical that makes peppers hot, can also trigger symptoms for many people. So, spicy foods and IBS are not always a good mix.

A FODMAP elimination diet can help you determine which (if any) FODMAPs cause you trouble. And if you want to experiment with spicy foods, choose a low FODMAP pepper and one that is lower on the Scoville scale – like poblanos or crushed red pepper. And remember to track your symptoms.

Need help figuring out your food triggers? Book a Free Connection Call Today!

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References

1.         McKenzie YA, Bowyer RK, Leach H, et al. British Dietetic Association systematic review and evidence-based practice guidelines for the dietary management of irritable bowel syndrome in adults (2016 update). J Hum Nutr Diet. 2016;29(5):549-575. doi:10.1111/jhn.12385

2.         Bortolotti M, Porta S. Effect of red pepper on symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome: Preliminary study. Dig Dis Sci. 2011;56(11):3288-3295. doi:10.1007/s10620-011-1740-9

Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read here.

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