Foods That Cause Bloating and Hurt Digestion
By Tiffany Gagnon
Ever have, to quote a line from Star Wars, a “bad feeling about this”? It could be your digestion setting you off balance.
Foods low in fiber, high in sugar and heavy on the dairy can really mess with your digestive system—and do so subtly, so you may not be able to pinpoint them as the culprit. Many of these same foods are also lower in essential vitamins and nutrients and higher in calories—all the more reason to stay away.
If you want to rid yourself of tummy troubles, consider cutting these not-so-great foods even further out of your diet. A happy digestive tract will have you feeling more energized, less bloated and can even make it easier to drop stubborn pounds. Research shows it may even clear up your skin, too!
Dairy can be very bothersome to the belly, especially for those with lactose intolerance. “Lactose can be a major issue for many adults as we naturally produce less of the necessary digestive enzyme lactase as we get older,” says Smith. If you consume dairy products pretty regularly, try cutting them out for a few days and see how your body reacts.
Eat This Instead! If you feel better after that break, try a lactose-free diet. “For anyone with lactose intolerance, products with added lactase like Lactaid, or products that are aged or fermented like hard cheeses and yogurts can be easier to stomach,” says Smith.
Rarely does soda receive any praise for its health benefits, and for good reason. If you sip on it pretty often—regular or diet—it’s probably the cause for your bloat, and could also be preventing you from going to the bathroom regularly. “Fluids, specifically water, are absolutely key for optimal digestion,” says Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition. “Consuming beverages that are high in sugar or caffeine can not only be dehydrating, but in some cases can add to excess calorie intake, too.”
Drink This Instead! For a healthier alternative, swap out soda for sparkling water with a splash of lemon or lime juice if you’re craving the fizz.
It’s always a good idea to choose foods lower in sugar, but pay close attention to why that sugar count is so low. Healthy foods like vegetables that are naturally low in sugar aid digestion, thanks to high-fiber counts, but foods that sub in artificial sweeteners are just that: artificial solutions. “Foods that are processed with added sugars, particularly with artificial sweeteners, can be seriously upsetting to the intestinal tract and can cause gas and bloating for many,” says Smith. Furthermore, studies have also found fake sweeteners to lead to weight gain—the opposite of what you were hoped for.
Eat This Instead! Look for foods made with real sugar, and limit yourself to 20 grams (if you’re a woman) or 36 grams (if you’re a man) per day—and avoid anything that contains Acesulfame-K, Aspartame, Mannitol and Saccharin.
On average, women need about 25 grams of fiber per day and men need about 38 grams. Most Americans are consuming half that, or even less! Foods made with white flour like white bread, white pasta, and white rice are relatively low in fiber and may cause you to get a little backed up. “Bumping up fiber can help promote healthy regularity or bowel movements,” says Smith.
Eat This Instead! “Choosing whole grains along with fruits and vegetables can help with this,” says Smith. A simple switch from white bread to whole wheat or from white rice to brown will keep things moving along smoothly.
We’re waving our fingers at the classics—greasy fries and burgers. “Foods that are high in grease or are really fatty, like fast food, can cause gastrointestinal upset,” says Smith. While some fats are great for your gut, like omega-3s found in fish or nuts, these fats don’t interact with your body the same way. Fast food often contains high levels of unhealthy fats like saturated and trans fatty acids that cause an inflammatory response in the body, meaning your body wants it out!
Eat This Instead! If you’re going to eat out, use our Restaurant page to make the right choice, every time.
You don’t have to say sayonara to happy hour, but you may want to reconsider getting that third or fourth drink. Alcohol can directly damage the digestive tract and research has also found it to mess with the good bacteria in your gut. “Alcohol can be difficult for many to stomach, particularly the following day,” says Smith.
Drink This Instead! “Always try to match one glass or serving of alcohol with one glass of water,” she adds.