We hear a lot about foods that can improve your digestion, and that will help to relieve bloating or prevent constipation. Most people know that a diet that includes lots of fiber and some fermented foods with probiotics will help to improve your digestive health, but what about foods that are bad for you? Let’s take a look at some foods that are a little less friendly to the digestive system and that you may be better off avoiding:
Fried foods and foods that are very high in fat may cause problems if you are susceptible to acid reflux.1 Some people may find that very high fat can cause steatorrhea, which is the medical term used to describe pale colored feces that contain too much fat.2 People with IBS may find that fat makes their symptoms worse.
While some people can tolerate chili quite well, for others it is likely to cause heartburn or indigestion. People with IBS may find that chili makes their condition much worse.3 Studies show that some people can be hyper-sensitive to capsaicin, which is the substance that makes chili hot. If you do not have IBS or acid reflux then you may not notice any adverse effects from eating chili in moderation. Over-indulging in them to the degree that people sometimes might in eating challenges is still not recommended!
While drinking alcohol in moderation should not do too much harm, it takes less than you think to start irritating the digestive tract. Limit yourself to just two drinks per day at most, or one if you are female. Resist the temptation to ‘save up your units’ for the end of the week, because that is not how the body works!4 Drinking a lot in one sitting is binge drinking and can damage your liver. Drinking to excess can also cause heartburn because it causes the esophageal sphincter to relax.5 In addition, alcohol can inflame the lining of your stomach, which will stop you from being able to absorb certain nutrients. Consuming too much alcohol may also lead to diarrhea and stomach pains.
Coffee and Soda
Caffeinated beverages and carbonated beverages can also cause heartburn. In addition, they can have a diuretic effect, and if you don’t replace the water that you lose this can lead to other problems.6 Caffeinated beverages are particularly problematic for people who have acid reflux, but they are something that most people should consume only in moderation.7 You may be wondering what you should be drinking if alcohol, soda, and coffee are off the table. Well, water is a good choice!
Corn contains fiber, which is good for you, but it also contains cellulose, which is something that we cannot digest properly because our bodies do not have the enzyme that is needed to break it down. Our ancestors ate a lot of corn, but they broke the cellulose down by chewing it properly, and they had bigger, stronger teeth than we do. If you are planning on eating corn it is a good idea to chew it slowly and thoroughly so that you don’t end up with indigestion. Probiotics are thought to help with the digestion of harder-to-digest fiber varieties such as cellulose.8
Artificial sweeteners may seem like a great idea because they are low in calories and they won’t cause tooth decay. They do, however, have other problems. Some artificial sweeteners can have a laxative effect and cause other gastrointestinal disturbances.9 According to the FDA you need to consume 50g of sorbitol a day to end up suffering from diarrhea, but many people suffer symptoms at much lower amounts. For this reason, it’s a good idea to limit your portions if you are eating sugar-free sweets. Artificial sweeteners have been demonized in the media for numerous reasons, and recent studies suggest that some of those reasons are unfair. If they are consumed in moderation then they are likely safe and could be a better alternative to sugar and high fructose corn syrup. It is probably a good idea to limit your consumption of ‘sweet’ substances in general, however, especially if you have experienced adverse effects after consuming them.10
Peppermint can have a relaxing effect, and while that might seem like a good thing, it means that it can cause the esophageal sphincter to relax, just like alcohol. This means that it can cause acid reflux. People who are susceptible to this problem often struggle to figure out what is causing it after eliminating the obvious culprits such as smoking and alcohol. Peppermint seems like such an innocuous thing but it can cause a lot of discomforts if you eat a lot of it! Because of the risk of GERD, it is not a good idea to consume large amounts of peppermint tea if you have digestive issues.11
Humans are the only mammal that continues to consume milk into adulthood and that consumes milk from other species. To digest milk, you need an enzyme called lactase. Babies produce this, but a lot of people lose the ability to make it when they get older. If you lack the enzyme then you may find that you end up bloated and feeling gassy when you eat cheese or drink milk. You can get around this by choosing dairy alternatives, or by taking a lactase tablet before a dairy-heavy meal. Lactose intolerance is hereditary and is more common than people think, with around 75 percent of the world’s population losing the ability to digest lactose at some point in their lives.12
Some people struggle with fructose because it is a carbohydrate that can be difficult to digest. This means that foods with high fructose corn syrup in them, and some fruits in general, can cause bloating and gas. This is not usually harmful and will pass when the food is digested, but it can be unpleasant. Fructose is not bad for you, but it is another thing best eaten in moderation.13
Everyone is different, and foods that some people tolerate well may aggravate others. Pay attention to your body and the ‘signals’ you get after each meal. Keep a food diary and focus on a diet that is rich in fresh vegetables and whole grains (assuming you are not gluten intolerance), and you should feel great!
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