My last blog post focused on my top ten foods for digestive health. This post contrasts with the top ten worst foods for digestive health. Some of these foods are inherently not great for digestion, and some will exacerbate current digestive issues. What do you think is missing from this list?
- Gluten: I’ll be writing a lot about gluten, that protein molecule found in wheat, barley and rye. Gluten is the number one food to create the largest amount of damage, in my opinion. In addition to being the trigger for Celiac disease, there is an enormous population of people who have non-Celiac gluten intolerance. Gluten is very difficult to break down in the body. Large, unbroken molecules create gas, bloating and inflammation. Gluten has been shown by researchers to actually “unbutton” the connection between the cells that line the small intestine, triggering leaky gut. Until proven non-reactionary by an elimination-challenge test, people with GI issues would be wise to stay far from this guy.
- Dairy Products: When we pasteurize and homogenize milk, we are essentially turning it into a completely different form. The protein found in dairy, called casein, is highly allergenic and inflammatory. It also stimulates a strong insulin response, which can blunt fat burning and make us hold water and look puffy (oops!). Lactose, the dominant carbohydrate in milk, can also be quite difficult to digest, evidenced by the large amount of lactose-intolerant people. Lactose intolerance is different from having a milk allergy, as the allergy is largely driven through casein. Yogurt and kefir, which are fermented dairy products, should be used only by those who are free from GI symptoms and who do not have any sensitivity to dairy.
- Soy: Soy contains protease inhibitors. Protease is an enzyme used by the body to break down proteins. So, when we consume soy, we are consuming compounds that are blunting digestion. Soy also contains carbohydrates that are not recognized by the human GI tract, so they remain entirely whole and undigested. When these large, undigested molecules hit the small intestine – who likes everything broken down as small as possible – gas, bloating and cramps are the result. Consumed over time, soy will generate an inflammatory response in the small intestine. Fermented soy is a different character and does not fall in the same category as processed soy products like tofu, soy milk, soy sprinkles, soy meat and cheese and soy proteins. Fermented soy products include miso and soy sauce and are OK to use.
- Sugar: The food that needs no introduction, sugar wreaks havoc on the GI system primarily through three drivers: suppressing immune function, feeding pathogenic bacteria and yeasts in the gut, and generating inflammation. Sugar is a very broad category and refers to high sugar foods or processed sugar foods as well, such as cakes, candies, cookies, granola, dry cereal, bagels, crackers etc. People with candida overgrowth, IBS, IBD and Celiac disease would be best served curbing sugar intake drastically until they were in a stable place with their symptoms.
- Beans/Legumes: Beans and legumes contain compounds in them called lectins and saponins. These compounds exacerbate leaky gut, keeping up the cycle of inflammation and immune stimulation. Their carbohydrates are enormously difficult to digest, as evidenced by the popularity of products like Bean-o.
- Nightshade Vegetables: The nightshades include tomatoes, white potatoes, eggplant and bell pepper. They are part of the Solanaceae botanical family, and contain a variety of compounds, including solanine, that can exacerbate leaky gut and also decrease cellular energy in the intestines. People with GI compromise should avoid the nightshade family of vegetables until they complete a full gut restoration program.
- Fake Fats/Trans Fats: In addition to being very difficult to digest, which can spark symptoms of gas, bloating, cramps and loose stools (has anyone seen the commercial for Olean?), these fats inhibit optimal nutrient absorption by speeding up the intestines. Trans fats also make cells and membranes more rigid, which decreases cellular communication and fluidity.
- Fake Sweeteners: The major GI symptom caused by fake sweeteners is gas and bloating. Many dieters will swap to “sugar free” versions of their favorite candies and sweets to find a slew of digestive problems they never had before. These are best used sparingly, if at all.
- Gums and thickeners: Guar gum, xantham gum and carageenan have all been shown to cause colitis in mice models. People that have colitis and inflammatory bowel disease should avoid these compounds. If you have been on an elimination diet, or have swapped cow milk for a milk alternative and are still having GI symptoms, check the ingredient label for gums.
10. Red Dye: Red dye is inflammatory, disrupts nerve signaling, decreases energy production and output, and is directly toxic to cells.
Did any of these foods surprise you? I want to know!