Top causes of digestive problems
Published April 13, 2021
Do you find that after eating certain foods you experience digestive issues, yet eating other foods you feel perfectly normal?
Even though the digestive system is resilient and extremely hard‐working, sometimes things can go wrong and digestive problems arise. It is often related to food choices, but also lifestyle factors and stress can play a part.
Digestive problems can range widely, with some people experiencing only mild symptoms while others have a more severe manifestation.
What are the top digestive problems?
Some of the more common digestive complaints include:
- Bloating — Bloating is a familiar digestive problem where the abdomen feels uncomfortably full and tight, and may be visibly distended. It can be accompanied by excessive gas, stomach pain or rumbling. The most common causes of abdominal bloating include eating too fast, swallowing air while eating, constipation, bacterial overgrowth, intolerance to dairy products, during PSM or before menstruation and with sugar substitutes.
- Gas and flatulence — Excess gas collects in the digestive system in two ways: by swallowing air or through dietary choices. Foods that are harder to digest contain components that cannot be easily absorbed. This means that they pass through the small intestine into the large intestine undigested. Here, bacteria break down the undigested food releasing gases in the process and potentially leading to excessive flatulence.
- Constipation — Constipation is the passing of hard, dry stools which are infrequent or difficult to pass. It may be accompanied by a bloated stomach and abdominal cramps. The most common causes of constipation includes a change in routine, insufficient fluids, a low fibre diet or a lack of regular exercise.
- Diarrhoea — Diarrhoea occurs when an individual passes frequent loose or watery stools. It’s often usually a symptom of a passing illness or can be caused by food intolerances, certain medicines or other digestive conditions.
- Indigestion — Indigestion is a general term that describes discomfort in the upper abdomen and affects most people from time to time. It may include a feeling of fullness, heartburn and bloating. Causes include eating too much of a particular food such as fatty or spicy foods, eating too quickly, drinking alcohol or it may be linked to stress.
What causes digestive problems?
There are specific foods called FODMAPS (Fermentable, Oligo‐, Di‐ and Mono-saccharides and Polyols) that can be harder to digest for people with IBS. FODMAPS are prevalent in the diet and are composed of different types of sugars including oligosaccharides (fructans, galactans), monosaccharides (fructose), disaccharides (lactose) and polyols (sugar alcohols). The bacteria of the colon feast on these undigested sugars and create gas, which can contribute to symptoms of bloating and discomfort.
There are many FODMAP foods that may trigger symptoms in some people.
Lactose — Lactose is found in a number of products including milk, yoghurt, ice‐cream, custard, ricotta, cottage and mascarpone cheeses.
Fructose — Fructose is found in 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 — Fructans are 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 — Galactans are found in chickpeas, lentils, black‐eyed peas, kidney beans and soy products.
Polyols — Polyols are in 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.
Food intolerances occur when a person is overly sensitive to a certain food. 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 symptoms. An intolerance is different to food allergies, which trigger an immediate immune response and cannot be tolerated in even minute amounts. More common food intolerances include:
Dairy products — Dairy products are hard to digest when a person lacks enough of the enzyme (lactase) to break down lactose (milk sugar) into smaller sugars for absorption in the gut. Undigested lactose leads to abdominal spasms, pain, bloating and diarrhoea.
Artificial additives — Colours, flavours and preservatives are common artificial additives that people may have an intolerance to and may cause digestive issues if consumed.
Salicylates — For people with an intolerance to salicylates, they may experience symptoms after eating 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.
What are the best foods for digestion?
Consuming plenty of foods such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains which are full of fibre can help to pass material through the digestive system and minimise digestive problems. Drinking plenty of water will help to soften stools and help waste pass through the digestive tract.
Avoiding high fat, protein and refined sugar foods can help to reduce the risk of indigestion and bloating, because these types of foods can take longer for the body to digest. In addition, eating a regular diet that is high in animal protein and refined carbohydrates can have detrimental effects on the bacterial balance of the gut and may lead to digestive problems. Spicy foods or other meals containing spices can also trigger indigestion symptoms in some people.
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.
How Nature’s Own can help
Nature’s Own has developed a range of products that can aid in healthy digestion.
Take a look at the full range of Nature’s Own products that may help your digestive health.
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