Trigger Foods: What They Are & What to Do About It

In this post, we will share what are trigger foods and what can you do about it.


The idea of this exercise is to get a general overview and awareness of which foods/food groups are your triggers.


Fill out the table (attached as a separate handout) for every meal you eat over a 2-week period, including all the symptoms you feel after each meal.


Once you have completed the 2-week exercise

  • Have a look at your completed diet diary
  • You will notice common results/patterns amongst foods you have eaten and the symptoms you have experienced. Note these down
  • As a result of the above, make a list of your potential trigger foods
  • Conclude which food groups these triggers belong too and write these down (see list below)
  • Remove 1 of your trigger food groups from your diet completely for 3 weeks
  • Observe after this time if there is a change in your symptoms
  • Sometimes removing one food group that has been affecting you is enough to see positive changes

List of common triggers and their food groups

  • Gluten – cereals, pasta, bread, bread products, pizza (unless products are made gluten-free)
  • Dairy – cow’s milk, cow’s milk cheese, cow’s milk yogurt, butter
    Caffeine – chocolate, coffee, black tea, energy drinks
  • Processed Sugar – sweet treats, baked goods, various processed foods
  • Artificial sweeteners – found in many processed foods, sugar replacements
  • Fructose – onions, garlic, honey, pears, apples, fruit juice, dried fruit, high fructose corn syrup, processed foods, sugary drinks

Dairy & Gluten Free Products

If you feel gluten or dairy could be a trigger for you, check out this helpful list.


What To Avoid

Suggested Substitutes

Cow’s Milk Rice milk, coconut milk, almond milk, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, oat milk, soy milk (preferably organic, from whole beans and malt free).
Butter or spreads Olive oil, flax oil, macadamia oil, sesame oil, nut butter or spreads, avocado, tahini, hummus.
Yogurt/Dairy desserts Sugar-free coconut yogurt, soy yogurt, sheep’s yogurt, goat’s yogurt, chia pudding or an avocado-based pudding is creamy and filling desserts.
Cow’s Milk Cheese Goat’s cheese, goat’s fetta, sheep’s cheese, soy cheese.
Ice Cream Non-dairy gelati, fruit sorbet, coconut or almond milk ice-cream, frozen soy ice cream or frozen dessert
Milk Chocolate Dairy free carob bars (preferably sugar-free).
Ready-made sauces Make a fresh sauce using corn or rice flour and milk substitute. Homemade cashew cream or coconut milk/cream can add creaminess.
Packaged soups Fresh soups thickened with potato or pulses such as lentils or soup mix.
Buttermilk, Butterfat Ghee, coconut milk/cream, copha.
Batter (pancakes) Make with gluten-free or wholemeal flour, eggs, and milk substitute.
Crackers with milk solids Rye/wheat/rice/corn – brand dependent (check labels).
Malted chocolate drinks Chocolate flavored coconut, almond or soy milk is available. Make your own by adding cacao and stevia to your milk substitute. Also consider carob, dandelion coffee, and chicory drinks.

Good to know: Goat and sheep alternatives

Both sheep and goat’s products contain lactose but in lower levels than cow products. People with mild lactose intolerance is often able to tolerate small amounts of these products. Those with allergies or sensitivities to the proteins in cow’s milk are usually able to tolerate sheep and goat products.

Tips for dairy-free eating

  • Most of the above suggestions are available from leading supermarkets and health food shops or the health section of other supermarkets.
  • Read labels. Notify restaurants of your dietary requirements when booking.
  • Margarine commonly contains milk solids. A healthier alternative is olive oil, (dip as the Italians do!) avocado, tahini, hummus and nut spreads instead of margarine.
  • Soy cheese sometimes contains casein. Read the label.
  • Mayonnaise and salad dressings are traditionally made without dairy products but many commercially prepared, now do. Read the label.

Variety is the spice of life and key to a healthy diet. Try not to rely on one type of substitute for dairy. For example, if you are currently using a lot of soy products, consider rotating with almond or coconut based products.


What To Avoid

What To Include

Grains: Wheat (including, durum, semolina) rye, barley, bulgur, couscous and oats (Spelt and Kamut are ancient gluten-containing grains but may be tolerated by people with gluten sensitivity or wheat intolerance).

Roots and Tubers: Store-bought french fries (check labels, often coated in flour).

Legumes: Baked beans unless gluten-free.

Flours: Wheat flour, wholemeal flour, bakers flour, semolina, barley or rye (avoid battered or crumbed food).

Grains: Buckwheat, brown rice, basmati rice, wild rice, maize, (corn) quinoa, amaranth, millet or sorghum.

Roots and Tubers: Potato, tapioca, arrowroot, sweet potato, parsnip or Jerusalem artichoke, homemade french fries.

Legumes: Beans, soy, lentils, pea or chickpea. Flours: Any flours made from the above sources

Bread:  Wheat bread – whole grain or white, rye bread, oat bread, barley bread, burritos or pumpernickel bread (Spelt may be suitable for some people with wheat intolerance).

Cereals: Commercial cereals, (rice bubbles, weetbix, wheat containing muesli, coco pops, etc) wheat germ, wheat bran, porridge oats, oat bran or oat germ. Any cereal containing malt.

Bread: Gluten-free bread based on buckwheat,
corn, rice, chickpea flour and/or soy flour.Cereals: Gluten free muesli, homemade muesli
made from a combination of brown rice flakes,
millet flakes, organic cornflakes, puffed corn,
puffed rice, raw nuts & seeds, shredded coconut.
Pasta: Durum wheat pasta, (spaghetti, macaroni, etc)egg noodles, Hokkien noodles, barley pasta or spelled pasta. Pasta: Buckwheat noodles, rice noodles, vegetable, corn, spinach or quinoa pasta.
Crackers: Wheat crackers, bran biscuits, rye crackers or oatcakes Crackers: Rice cakes, corn cakes, gluten-free products.
Snacks and Desserts: Commercial biscuits, cookies, cakes, scones, pastries, licorice, some lollies/candy, chocolate, and ice creams, some commercial fruit pies, flavored or frozen yogurts, processed cheeses & creams (check labels). Snacks and Desserts: Popcorn, fresh fruit, carob, sesame snacks, fruit and nut bars, gluten-free biscuits, vegetable sticks or other snacks.
Beverages: Beers, ale and lager, cereal and malted beverages, malted or flavored milk drinks, instant tea or coffee substitutes. Beverages: White wine, light rum, gin, potato vodka, teas, coffee, soft drinks, mineral water, fresh fruit and vegetable juices.

Important notes

  • This process is about trial and error. If you see no change in results after removing the trigger food group, repeat the process with a different food group that could be another one of your triggers.
  • Please do not eliminate more than 2 main trigger groups, as chances are these foods are creating a vast amount of gut inflammation and discomfort. It is still important to maintain an overall balanced diet.
  • It may be that you don’t have any triggers at all – this is ok.
  • If you have severe reactions from any of the foods consumed, you may have an allergy. Consult your health care practitioner.
  • If you are on a special diet, do not follow this protocol.

Further information

Bear in mind it does take time to see change. The body is a complex system and solely removing trigger foods will not be a cure or a solution. It will certainly help though! It is the beginning of the process. So hang in there! There is no need to bring the trigger foods you have removed back into your diet if you feel much better without them! Should Gluten or Dairy be your trigger foods, see my other handout for extra assistance.

More About Trigger Foods

How to Identify Trigger Foods –

16 foods to avoid with IBS: What trigger foods not to eat – Medical News Today

Foods that trigger overeating –

The Effect of Trigger Foods and How to Avoid Them –

Trigger Foods: Foods That Make You Do Bad Things – Women’s Health