Can celery flare up IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common digestive disorder that affects the large intestine. It can cause symptoms like abdominal cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. IBS is a chronic condition that has periods of flare-ups and remission. Certain foods can trigger IBS symptoms during a flare-up. One food that is sometimes cited as problematic for people with IBS is celery.

What is Celery?

Celery is a marshland plant grown as a vegetable. The stalks are the edible part, while the leaves can be used as an herb or seasoning. Celery has a high water content and is low in calories. It contains small amounts of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The stringy fiber strands running through celery stalks make it a rather fibrous vegetable.

Nutrition Facts of Celery

Nutrient Amount Per 1 Stalk (36g)
Calories 6
Carbs 1g
Fiber 0.6g
Sugar 0.4g
Protein 0.2g
Vitamin K 9% DV
Folate 3% DV
Potassium 3% DV

FODMAPs in Celery

Celery contains FODMAPs, which stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. FODMAPs are short chain carbohydrates that some people have difficulty digesting. They can draw water into the intestine, potentially causing digestive issues like gas, bloating, and diarrhea in sensitive individuals.

The main FODMAP in celery is mannitol, which is a polyol. Celery contains about 0.01-0.04 grams of mannitol per stalk. It also contains small amounts of fructans, another form of FODMAP.

Why Celery May Be Problematic for IBS

Here are some reasons why celery may be problematic for people with IBS:

  • High fiber content – Celery is quite fibrous and fiber can be difficult to digest for some with IBS.
  • FODMAPs – The FODMAPs in celery, especially mannitol, may trigger IBS symptoms in those sensitive to them.
  • Texture – The stringy nature of celery may be hard for some IBS sufferers to digest.
  • Fat exacerbation – Eating celery with added fats like peanut butter may worsen fat malabsorption and diarrhea.
  • Salicylate sensitivity – Celery contains salicylates which can bother those with salicylate intolerance.

Studies on Celery and IBS

There are a handful of studies that have looked specifically at celery’s impact on IBS symptoms:

  • A 2018 study found that celery juice acted as a laxative and induced diarrhea in rats. This laxative effect could flare up diarrhea-predominant IBS.
  • A 2015 study had IBS patients follow a diet low in FODMAPs and other ingredients for 4 weeks. When celery and some other foods were reintroduced, they worsened scores of bloating, gas, and abdominal pain in the participants.
  • However, a 2012 study found no issues when they tested celery juice in people with visceral hypersensitivity. The celery juice did not trigger increased hypersensitivity or pain.

Overall the evidence is mixed, but some studies do show celery worsening digestive issues in those prone to IBS symptoms. More research specifically looking at celery’s effects on IBS patients is still needed.

Tips for Tolerating Celery with IBS

If you have IBS, celery may or may not be problematic for you. Here are some tips for trying to incorporate celery into your diet:

  • Eat in moderation – Limit portion to 1-2 stalks at a time and don’t overdo it.
  • Cook thoroughly – Cooked and softened celery may be better tolerated.
  • Avoid high fiber meals – Don’t eat celery alongside other high fiber foods.
  • Reduce FODMAPs – Stick to a low FODMAP diet and limit high FODMAP foods.
  • Supplements – Consider enzymes or supplements to help break down FODMAPs.
  • Remove strings – Cut out the stringy fibers if they cause you issues.
  • Listen to your body – Pay attention to if celery triggers your symptoms.

Alternative Low FODMAP Foods

If you find celery does flare up your IBS, here are some nutrient-rich low FODMAP foods you can eat instead:

Food Serving Key Nutrients
Carrots 1/2 cup Vitamin A, fiber
Lettuce 1 cup Vitamin K, folate
Bell peppers 1/2 cup Vitamin C
Zucchini 1/2 cup Vitamin C, manganese
Green beans 1/2 cup Vitamin K, fiber
Tomatoes 1/2 cup Vitamin C, lycopene

The Bottom Line

Celery contains FODMAPs and insoluble fiber that may trigger IBS symptoms like diarrhea, gas, and bloating during a flare-up. The mannitol and fructans appear most problematic. Some people with IBS seem sensitive to celery, while others can tolerate it without issue. Eating celery in moderation, cooking it thoroughly, and pairing it with low fiber foods can help. Pay attention to your own reaction to celery. If it flares up your IBS, there are plenty of other crunchy low FODMAP vegetables you can eat instead.

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