Have you ever felt gassy, bloated or experienced an extreme case of heartburn after a meal? That uncomfortable, tummy-twisting feeling was most likely due to what you ate. Some foods are worse for digestion than others, particularly if you’re one of the 70 million people in the United States that suffer from a digestive disorder, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), acid reflux, diarrhea, constipation and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), to name a few.
We’ve rounded up some of the top foods that can put your GI tract in a bind. If you’ve found that other foods negatively affect your digestive system
1 Artificial Sweetener
How it affects you: If you like to cut calories by adding artificial sweetener rather than real sugar to your coffee, you may be affecting your digestion and increasing inflammation in your body. “In general, sweeteners which are partially digested (sugar alcohols) have the biggest impact on the GI system and can lead to bloat, gas, and diarrhea,” according nutritionist and dietitian Erin Palinski-Wade. What you can do: Experiment with the multitude of artificial sweeteners that are on the market and determine which affects you the least, suggests Palinski-Wade, who recommends using natural sweeteners, such as agave nectar. “This is not calorie-free, but because it is sweeter than sugar, less is needed, helping to reduce carbohydrates and calories,” says Palinski-Wade.
2 Processed Foods
How they affect you: Beyond upping the risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease and leading to weight gain, refined carbohydrates, like white bread, soda, and potato chips, move quickly through the digestive tract and can result in bloating, cramping, and other GI issues. What you can do: If you can’t totally cut out processed foods from your diet, eat them in combination with foods that digest slowly, like lean protein – think chicken breast without the skin – and healthy fat – like an avocado or natural peanut butter, says Palinski-Wade. On top of that, keep portions in check, so those refined carbs don’t outweigh the good food you’re combining them with.
3 Greasy Or Fried Foods
How they affect you: Food high in saturated fat, like steak (certain cuts, like rib-eye, are fattier than others), French fries, and ice cream, is difficult for the body to digest and can make you feel uncomfortably full and increase the chances of acid reflux, according to Palinski-Wade. If you already suffer from heartburn, fatty food can make it even worse by relaxing the valve that seals off the stomach from the sphincter. The loose valve can cause stomach acid to rise into the esophagus and result in a really unpleasant case of heartburn, says Karen Ansel, nutritionist and dietitian. What you can do: If you’re jonesing for a steak, burger, or other high-fat meal tonight, remember not to combine it with alcohol, which can further irritate your GI tract, says Palinski-Wade. Whenever possible, cook meals in plant-based fats, such as olive oil, which is easier to break down than saturated fat, like butter.
4 Acidic Foods
How they affect you: Even if you have the best intentions, many healthful fruits and vegetables, like oranges, lemons, grapefruit, and tomatoes, may increase your risk for acid reflux and GERD due to their acidity. What you can do: Removing acidic foods from your diet is the best way to reduce your risk for heartburn. However, if you still want to eat these fruits and vegetables every once and awhile, don’t do it on an empty stomach, which can increase irritation and inflammation.
5 Dairy Products
When we pasteurize and homogenize milk, we are essentially turning it into a completely different form. The protein found in dairy, called casein, is highly allergenic and inflammatory. It also stimulates a strong insulin response, which can blunt fat burning and make us hold water and look puffy (oops!). Lactose, the dominant carbohydrate in milk, can also be quite difficult to digest, evidenced by the large amount of lactose-intolerant people. Lactose intolerance is different from having a milk allergy, as the allergy is largely driven through casein. Yogurt and kefir, which are fermented dairy products, should be used only by those who are free from GI symptoms and who do not have any sensitivity to dairy.