How To Eat Your Way Across Europe And See More Than The Bathrooms: A Guide For IBS Sufferers

As someone who lives with irritable bowel syndrome, you know that diet plays a crucial role in maintaining your health, but finding the right foods in a foreign environment can be challenging. No one wants to seek out diarrhea remedies in a foreign country. Here is a guide to help you navigate your culinary options and control your IBS while touring Europe.


In many American's minds, pasta is Italian food.  Unfortunately, for sufferers of IBS, pasta can aggreviate your symptoms.  While pasta indeed plays a large role in Italian cooking, Americans are often unaware that there is much more to the cuisine than the ubiquitous noodle.  The Italians are masters at using fresh fruits and vegetables, seafood, lean meats, and rice.  Look for dishes that highlight these ingredients.

  • Risotto, a creamy rice dish that can include truffles, mushrooms, and roasted asparagus is a delicious option for those avoiding gluten.  Look for risotto dishes that are heavy on the produce and use a light hand with butter and cheese.
  • Osso buco, which translates to "bone with a hole," is one of Italy's most famous non-pasta dishes.  It consists of stewed, cross-cut veal shanks in a velvety gravy.  Usually served over thick polenta, it's an Italian classic that is gentle on the tummy.
  • Alcohol and caffeine can be very irritating to the colon, so when choosing a beverage, skip the local chianti and espresso and try an Italian soda instead.  Made with very lightly carbonated sparkling water and fruit juice, they come in many delicious flavors, like lemon and orange.  As long as you don't over-indulge, they are a refreshing alternative to wine and coffee that will keep your body in top shape.


A country known as much for their rich food and sumptuous sauces as anything else, finding a meal to suit your IBS can be tricky.  Eating too much dairy and excessive fat will sideline you for days, which presents a challenge in a country with 629 recognized varieties of cheese.  However, if you exercise caution, you can find food that is delicious and kind to your body.

  • Look for dishes that showcase local ingredients.  Mussels are often served in a white wine sauce, creating a dish that is as elegant as it is delicious.  Prepared with freshly-caught seafood, white wine, garlic and herbs, the alcohol cooks out of the sauce, so it's an excellent option for someone with IBS.
  • Many of France's famous stews, like boeuf bourguignon, a beef stew with pearl onions and mushrooms, or coq au vin, a chicken dish braised in wine, are sublime.  They also include many fresh vegetables, making them excellent choices for anyone concerned with their health, and especially IBS sufferers.
  • Every bistro will serve a salad, but always done with French flair.  They can include crunchy, bitter greens, like frisee and luxurious additions like strips of thick-cut bacon and poached eggs. These make a superb meal that won't irritate your digestive track.


Americans are only recently discovering something the rest of Europe has known for years: Spanish cuisine is fantastic.  From the national dish, tortilla, an omelet of potato, onions, and eggs, to chorizo and other cured meats, it's virtually impossible to have a boring meal in Spain.  However, their love of fried food will be challenging for your IBS.  Order with care.

  • The Spanish custom of eating tapas, or small plates with two or three bites of food, is a charming way to have a meal.  The tradition began in southern Spain where barkeepers would bring their patron's drinks covered with a small dish to keep out the flies.  Eventually, it became customary to include a bite of food on the plate.  Today, tapas are eaten all over Spain as a unique way to try a taste of something rich without sabotaging your health.  Look for food that is grilled or baked and avoid the deep fried options when possible.  If you can't say no to the deep fried prawns or croquetas, a tapa-sized plate will let you taste them but not overdose.  Stick to a single serving.
  • Many Spanish meals begin with a "primer plato," or first course.  The offerings often include salads, soups, or lentil stews.  These tasty and healthy dishes are splendid options.  Try to fill up on a large serving so you won't be tempted by the deep-fried dishes that can follow.
  • Spaniards aren't big on fatty desserts and are more likely to serve a large platter of seasonal fruit.  You may see delicacies like blood oranges, mangoes, apricots, and other local gems.  This is the place to indulge--it's likely to be some of the best fruit you've ever tasted.

Don't let your IBS keep you from fulfilling your dream.  You can travel through Europe, see the sights, and even eat the food if you remember to be thoughtful in what you select. 

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