Consuming these foods in high doses can put a strain on one of the major players in the digestive process: your stomach.
Food provides us with nutrients, keeps us energized, and can even help us fend off disease. But those benefits aren’t true for all foods. In fact, certain foods can actually cause health issues, inflammation, and drain you of energy. Perhaps even worse is that consuming these foods in high doses can put a strain on one of the major players in the digestive process: your stomach.
Many overprocessed foods are loaded with an amalgamation of unhealthy ingredients that can cause irritation, exacerbate preexisting stomach problems, or even be the cause of new tummy troubles.
To make things even more complicated, some foods that provide incredible benefits to some people may not do the same for others. For those with stomach-related health issues, like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), certain healthy foods contain compounds or nutrients that may irritate the affected person’s stomach, triggering irritation, inflammation, and discomfort. (The good news is that if your gut is healthy, most foods eaten in normal amounts won’t irritate it, say experts.)
Taking care of your gut is paramount when it comes to your overall health—making sure your digestive system is functioning at its prime ensures your body can adequately process food and give you the nutrients and energy you need. So come along for a tour of common eats that can spell tummy troubles.
1. Refined Carbs
Refined carbohydrates, also known as ‘simple’ carbs, refer to sugars (e.g. glucose, fructose, sucrose) or anything made from grains which have had the fibrous wheat germ and bran removed.
Grains which have been refined also lose most of their vitamins and minerals in the process.
All refined carbohydrates are made up of short chains of molecules, which are rapidly and easily converted to glucose in your body, causing a sudden blood sugar raise, or ‘spike’, soon after eating. This causes your body to produce lots of insulin to allow the glucose to enter your body’s cells to be used as energy.
Insulin is vital in helping your body convert food into energy, but if you are experiencing several blood sugar spikes throughout each day, your body can over-produce insulin, leading to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is when your body’s cells no longer recognise insulin and is a contributory factor to developing type 2 diabetes.
Regular consumption of refined carbs can also lead to weight gain. This is due to a number of factors – mainly that refined carbs leave you hungrier and more prone to snacking and overeating.
Also, the low fibre content in most refined carbs means you won’t get the benefits of a high-fibre diet such as reduced sugar cravings, feeling of satiety and happier gut bacteria.
Nutritionists generally advise avoiding refined carbs as much as possible, leaving them for an occasional treat rather than being consumed at every meal.
The simple carbohydrates in refined grains and highly processed foods like chips, white bread, and soda can cause bloating, gas, and cramping. What you may not feel is the gut inflammation from these poor food choices. “Gut microbes love sugary foods, so they thrive and can overcome the good microbes,” says Harvard psychiatrist and trained chef, Uma Naidoo, MD. “When your good microbes become overwhelmed, they cannot help you and this leads to gut inflammation and neuroinflammation. An unhappy gut causes a sad, anxious mood,” says the author of This Is Your Brain on Food.
2. Spicy Foods
Spicy foods may be good for your health for some people, except when they trigger “burning diarrhea.” While a study in BMJ noted that people who consumed spicy foods almost every day of the week had a 14% risk reduction in total mortality compared to those who rarely ate chili peppers, another study in Neurogastroenterology & Motility suggested that the more spicy food eaten (especially if you are young or female), the more common nasty gastrointestinal symptoms tend to be. Foods containing capsaicin, the ingredient that gives chilies their fire, can irritate the lining of the stomach, triggering nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea that burns.
Ugly dangers of eating spicy foods
They can have a laxative effect
It’s simply a fact that eating spicy foods is one of the most common culprits behind an upset stomach and diarrhea. According to one scientific study, capsaicin consumed in abundance can irritate the lining of your stomach after you eat it. The resulting symptoms of too much capsaicin, according to the folks at Healthline, include “nausea,” “vomiting,” “abdominal pain,” and “burning diarrhea.” So, if you’re finding that you’re overly sensitive to spicy foods, it’d be a good idea to cut them out.
They can cause acne and eczema
“Spicy foods may cause people to break out,” Rebecca Tung, MD, a Florida-based dermatologist, told Allure. “When spicy food creates inflammation in the gut—from an upset stomach, acid reflux, or other symptoms—sometimes this inflammation can also be seen on the skin with flushing, acne breakout, or even eczema. If a particular food might be the culprit, dermatologists may suggest a person keep a food diary to pinpoint the offender.”
They can cause insomnia
If you love a meal rich in spice, you may wish to confine it to lunch. “Spicy and acidic foods can kill sleep efforts because they cause heartburn,” say the health experts over at WebMD. “Heartburn is especially problematic for people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux.”
According to many leading health experts, eating spicy foods closer to your bedtime isn’t advised because lying down can actually exacerbate the discomfort you feel.
They can lead to blisters and rashes
According to Barry Green, Ph.D., of the John B. Pierce Laboratory in New Haven, Conn, simply touching some spicy foods can potentially have health risks. “Spicy foods excite the receptors in the skin that normally respond to heat,” he explained to Scientific American. “Those receptors are pain fibers, technically known as polymodal nociceptors. They respond to temperature extremes and to intense mechanical stimulation, such as pinching and cutting; they also respond to certain chemical influences. The central nervous system can be confused or fooled when these pain fibers are stimulated by a chemical, like that in chili peppers, which triggers an ambiguous neural response.”
3. Soup, Ham, and Other High-Sodium Foods
The average can of soup contains more than 700 milligrams of sodium. A ham sandwich packs over 1,117 milligrams. TGI Fridays Chicken Parm Pasta wins the prize with 4,130 mg of sodium; that’s almost double the 2,300 mg recommended limit per day! “High salt diets are known to harm the stomach lining, raising the risk for ulcers and even stomach cancer,” says physician-scientist William W. Li, MD, author of Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Health Itself.
4. Fried Foods, Orange Juice, Coffee, Alcohol, Etc.
The list of foods that are irritative to the stomach and may make gastritis worse is long and varied, according to surgical gastroenterologist Madhan Kumar, MD, of iCliniq.com. “The caffeine in coffee is irritating to the stomach lining, but even healthy choices like very acidic foods like citrus fruits, orange juice, and tomato juice can irritate the stomach lining,” he says. Other foods on the long list of potential irritants include fried foods, dairy products, carbonated beverages, fatty foods, chocolate, and alcohol, among others. Anything that’s deep-fried such as French fries and chicken nuggets can trigger heartburn and acid reflux.
5. Energy Drinks
An energy drink is a type of drink containing stimulant compounds, usually caffeine, which is marketed as providing mental and physical stimulation (marketed as “energy”, but distinct from food energy). They may or may not be carbonated and may also contain sugar, other sweeteners, herbal extracts, taurine, and amino acids. They are a subset of the larger group of energy products, which includes bars and gels, and distinct from sports drinks, which are advertised to enhance sports performance. There are many brands and varieties in this drink category.
Coffee, tea and other naturally caffeinated drinks are usually not considered energy drinks. Other soft drinks such as cola may contain caffeine, but are not considered energy drinks either. Some alcoholic drinks, such as Buckfast Tonic Wine, contain caffeine and other stimulants. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is safe for the typical healthy adult to consume a total of 400 mg of caffeine a day. This has been confirmed by a panel of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which also concludes that a caffeine intake of up to 400 mg per day does not raise safety concerns for adults. According to the ESFA this is equivalent to 4 cups of coffee (90 mg each) or 2 1/2 standard cans (250 ml) of energy drink (160 mg each/80 mg per serving).
Energy drinks have the effects of caffeine and sugar, but there is little or no evidence that the wide variety of other ingredients have any effect. Most effects of energy drinks on cognitive performance, such as increased attention and reaction speed, are primarily due to the presence of caffeine.
Other studies ascribe those performance improvements to the effects of the combined ingredients. Advertising for energy drinks usually features increased muscle strength and endurance, but there is no scientific consensus to support these claims.
Energy drinks have been associated with many health risks, such as an increased rate of injury when usage is combined with alcohol, and excessive or repeated consumption can lead to cardiac and psychiatric conditions.
Populations at risk for complications from energy drink consumption include youth, caffeine-naïve or caffeine-sensitive, pregnant, competitive athletes and people with underlying cardiovascular disease.
Energy drinks contain caffeine and other stimulants and the water-soluble vitamin B3 known as niacin. The high caffeine content and/or niacin in these drinks have been shown to cause upset stomach and nausea, among other symptoms. While the risk of niacin toxicity is low, it can happen, according to Philadelphia-based nutritionist Beth Auguste, RD, of Be Well with Beth. “It’s possible to over-consume so you do want to check the label to see what percentage of your recommended daily allowance these energy drinks contain,” says Auguste. Signs of niacin toxicity include flushing, dizziness, low blood pressure, fatigue, headache, upset stomach, nausea, blurred vision, and inflammation of the liver.