Foods that can cause digestion problems

Published November 27, 2014

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Sometimes the foods we eat can cause digestive ailments or trigger digestive symptoms. This is often the case with abdominal bloating, indigestion and conditions such as medically diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The following types of foods may be implicated and avoiding or limiting these foods may spell relief.

FODMAPS (Fermentable, Oligo‐, Di‐ and Mono‐saccharides and Polyols)

FODMAPS are prevalent in the diet and composed of different types of sugars including oligosaccharides (fructans, galactans), monosaccharides (fructose), disaccharides (lactose) and polyols (sugar alcohols).1 These can be difficult for some people to digest including those with IBS.1 The bacteria of the colon feast on these undigested sugars and create gas, which can contribute to symptoms of bloating and discomfort.1 FOMAPS and the foods that are rich in them include:1

  • Lactose – Milk, yoghurt, ice‐cream, custard, ricotta, cottage and mascarpone cheeses.
  • Fructose – Fruit such as apples, pears, peaches and mangoes; coconut cream and milk; dried fruit; fruit juices; honey and agave; soft drinks, sauces and syrups made with high‐fructose corn syrup.
  • Fructans – Vegetables such as artichoke, asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, beetroot, garlic, leeks, cabbage, onions and snow peas; grains such as wheat and rye; fruits such as watermelon.
  • Galactans – Chickpeas, lentils, black‐eyed peas, kidney beans and soy products.
  • Polyols – Fruits such as apples, apricots, blackberries, cherries, nectarines, peaches, plums, prunes and pears; vegetables such as cauliflower and mushrooms; sugar substitutes such as mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol and maltitol found in chewing gum, mints, lollies and cough drops.

Any food intolerance

If you have a food intolerance, you can generally tolerate a reasonable amount of a certain food but if you consume too much or too often it can result in various symptoms including bloating, diarrhea, vomiting and irritable bowel.2 They are different to food allergies, which trigger an immediate immune response and cannot be tolerated in even minute amounts. Common food intolerance include:

  • Dairy products, where a person lacks enough of the enzyme (lactase) to break down lactose2
  • Artificial additives (colors, flavors, preservatives)2
  • Salicylates2 – Found in a wide range of fruit and vegetables including apples, avocado, blueberries, dates, kiwi fruit, grapes, berries, prunes, alfalfa, cauliflower, cucumber, radish and eggplant; some nuts and beverages such as coffee, wine and beer.
  • Gluten – Some people are sensitive to the protein gluten and therefore may experience gastrointestinal discomfort after eating wheat, barley, rye, oats and triticale.

High fat, protein and refined sugar foods

Common digestive complaints such as indigestion and bloating may be caused by overindulging or eating foods that are greasy and high in fat. These foods can be more difficult or take longer for the body to digest. In addition, eating a regular diet that’s high in animal protein and refined carbohydrates can have detrimental effects on the bacterial balance of the gut and may lead to digestive problems.3

Spicy foods

Chili, Mexican food and other meals containing spices can trigger indigestion symptoms in some people.4

To determine whether your digestive problems are associated with a food you’re eating, keep a food/symptom diary. Record your meal times, everything you eat, and describe and rate your digestive symptoms. You may be surprised to learn that foods you didn’t suspect were problems are actually triggering your symptoms.

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