Digestion and Your Diet

breakfast tableIn theory, our bodies should be able to digest whatever food they encounter, but in reality, certain foods can set-off stomach issues. Whether it's highly processed foods that our bodies don't recognize or specific allergies (like celiacs who have trouble digesting gluten properly), not all foods are treated equally in the digestive tract. Check out these best foods to keep your digestive system running smoothly, and those to avoid if you have a sensitive stomach. 
Best Foods
  • Probiotics: Contain “friendly” bacteria that can stabilize the digestive tract. Yogurt is another place to find these healthy bacteria. Choose a natural or organic plain low-fat yogurt than does not contain artificial sweeteners.
  • Hydration: Adequate water intake throughout the day is important to maintain good digestive function. Aim for 6-8 glasses a day.
  • Lean meat and fish: Eating chicken, turkey and lean fish is easier to digest than fatty, red meats. 
  • Whole Grains: A great way to amp up your fiber intake, which helps digestion. But take it slow -- increasing your fiber too quickly can cause gas and bloating.
  • Bananas: The electrolytes, potassium and fiber in bananas can help regulate the digestive system and restore normal bowel function if you have diarrhea.
  • Ginger: Ginger is a safe way to soothe an upset stomach, but keep it to 2-4 grams per day (more than that can cause heartburn). 
  • Peppermint Tea: If you are having stomach problems, peppermint acts as a calming agent to the intestinal system.
Worst Foods 
  • Carbonated Drinks & Caffeine: Sodas, coffee, and other carbonated items (like beer) can irritate the bowels and worsen diarrhea. Decaf coffee often has similar effects.
  • Dairy: Many individuals with digestive issues suffer from lactose intolerance, which worsens symptoms. Choose reduced fat milk and milk products and eliminate high fat diary products. If lactose intolerant, avoid milk and milk products all together. Yogurt is often an exception to the rule and provides beneficial ‘friendly’ bacteria to the gut. Boost calcium intake by substituting fortified rice, oat or soy milks.  Goat’s milk is also known to be more easily digested.
  • Artificial Sweeteners & Fats: Sweeteners like sorbitol, malitol, and fructose used in diet sodas, sugarless gum, certain low-calorie products stimulate the bowels and can act as diuretics and/or exacerbate diarrhea.  Artificial fats such as Olestra causes digestion problems in many individuals, particularly IBS sufferers and should be avoided.
  • Gum chewing: Gum chewing can lead to swallowing air, which in turn may produce gas.
  • Fat & Fried Foods: Fat in any form (animal or vegetable) is a strong stimulus of colonic contractions after a meal, so fat intake should be decreased. That means most red meats, oils, butter, cream cheese, peanut butter, nuts, fried foods, avocados, coconut and cheese. Find substitutions for fat, such as using a nonstick pan and fat-free cooking spray. High-fat, red meat sources like beef, pork and lamb can be difficult to digest. Fried foods augment symptoms and can cause painful cramping and bloating.
  • Chocolate, Candy, Sugary Foods – high sugar consumption can cause gas and bloating
  • Insoluble Fiber for Diarrhea – consuming too much insoluble fiber (commonly known as roughage, which passes through the body undigested) can be difficult and can be an irritant to those who suffer diarrhea.  Beans, legumes, wheat and oat bran, grains and certain raw fruits and vegetables can cause gas build-up and bloating.
  • Fiber for Constipation – Eating plenty of sources of dietary fiber including whole grains, high fiber cereal and crackers, vegetables and fruits often alleviates symptoms in individuals who have constipation. To increase fiber, try sprinkling a tablespoon of ground flax seeds on high-fiber cereals, in yogurt or on salads.
  • Soy Products: Soy products including soybeans, tofu, items containing soy protein, etc can exacerbate bloating and gas (some individuals may be more sensitive than others).
  • Overeating, fast eating - Too much food and/or consuming food too fast in a single meal can set off digestive issues; opt for small, frequent meals and eat slowly, enjoy your meal.

Heather Bauer, RD CDN
Heather Bauer, RD CDN

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