Digestive Health

Updated 21 April 2017

5 foods that can be bad for your gut

Keep your digestive system in top form by avoiding these five foods.

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The digestive system is about nine metres long and this intricate structure of “pipes”, “drains” and “valves” is essential to our survival.

Starting at the mouth and ending at the anus, the well-being of this “engine” is totally dependent on the food choices we make.

According to a Health24 review, some foods, like bananas and rice, are easily digestible, while others can cause havoc in your gut and lead to uncomfortable conditions like bloating or an "upset stomach".

Common ailments of the digestive system include:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Gallstones
  • Coeliac disease
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea

 Here are five foods that can cause trouble in your digestive system:

1. Greasy, fried foods

Greasy fast foods like burgers, chips, fried chicken and deep-fried eats like samoosas, koeksisters and doughnuts can lead to bloating. According to Health24 it takes the stomach longer to break down the fats in greasy food. This extra time allows gas to build up, causing bloating.

digestive health, gut

2. Alcohol

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder with symptoms such as diarrhoea, cramping and bloating, and researchers from the SUNY Health Science Center in the US found that about  42% of patients “with alcohol abuse or dependence meet the criteria for IBS”. This is in stark contrast to only 2.5% of patients without alcohol issues.

digestive health, gut

3. Dairy

Health24 review revealed that certain foods may cause diarrhoea in some people. Many people are intolerant of dairy products, due to lactase deficiency. “This is an enzyme that breaks down lactose to glucose, which is then readily absorbed by the intestinal tract,” says Dr Saville Furman, a family physician and part-time lecturer in family medicine and primary care at UCT. “Even small amounts of milk or dairy products can cause diarrhoea in individuals with lactase deficiency. Large amounts of alcohol, caffeine, artificial sweetener, fatty or spicy foods cause diarrhoea in others.”

digestive health, gut


4. Pastries and cookies

They might be so-called “comfort food”, but pastries and cookies can cause constipation. According to Harvard University constipation affects about 80% of people at some time during their lives, and pastries and cookies can be a culprit. They contain refined carbohydrates that are low in fibre and fluid, both of which are necessary to keep you "regular".

digestive health, gut


5. Carbohydrates

A study from Stanford University shows that the presence of more carbohydrates and less friendly gut bacteria “allows the bad bacteria to take over”. Be careful to not consume too much bread, pasta or other carbohydrates. The study warns that patients taking antibiotics should be especially careful, since it can further decrease the amount of healthy gut bacteria.

digestive health, gut


Read more:

Why digestive problems are common in type 1 diabetics

Red meat and eggs risky for people with narrowed arteries

Preventing digestive disorders

 

Ask the Expert

Digestive Health Expert

Dr. Estelle Wilken is a Senior Specialist in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Tygerberg Hospital. She obtained her MBChB in 1976, her MMed (Int) in 1991 and her gastroenterology registration in 1995.

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