How Does Food Affect Digestion?
It might seem obvious, but what you eat and the way you eat can really affect your digestive health.30 Eating certain types of food2 or simply eating too much can play a part in triggering diarrhea.2,30
Be kind to your system.
If your system happens to be prone to diarrhea, it doesn’t mean you’re unable to control it. There are several tactics you can undertake to maintain your digestive system and keep it on-track. Keeping a food diary to identify problem foods, or eating smaller portions, can help.2
Good eating habits.
Here are some good general eating habits for overall digestive health:
- Eat more slowly. It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain it’s full.31 Eating more slowly gives you time to feel full, so that you’re less likely to overeat.
- Chew your food. When you take time to chew your food properly, you not only slow down the eating process, but chewing also breaks food down into smaller pieces and mixes it with saliva to start the digestive process.32
- Don’t gulp it down. When you gulp down food, you swallow air, which can lead to trapped gas and poor digestion.33
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals.2 Big, heavy meals take longer to digest and make your system work harder.32
- Don’t eat before bed.8, 34, 35 Avoid lying down for two hours after eating to help avoid acid reflux.
Trigger foods and drinks.
Everyone is different and our bodies react differently at different times. What might trigger diarrhea for one person might not for another.
Here are some foods that are sometimes associated with occurrences of diarrhea:
- Alcohol. Drinking alcohol can cause diarrhea in some people. This can happen with occasional or long-term use.8
- Fatty foods. These foods can worsen diarrhea, so it may be a good idea to avoid fatty foods such as meats with a high fat content.10,2
- Fibre-rich foods. Some foods high in fibre – like bran and fruits – can be hard to digest and cause diarrhea.10 Do not eliminate all fibre from your diet, but you might consider eating lower fibre foods such as rice, noodles, or white bread.
- Excess fruits or vegetables. 10,2 For some people, eating large amounts of certain fruits such as prunes, figs, dates and raisins can trigger diarrhea.
- Dairy. Milk, cheese, cream and other dairy products are known to cause diarrhea for some, especially for those with lactose intolerance. If you are lactose intolerant, consider LACTAID® products or non-dairy alternatives.11,2
- Coffee and tea. Caffeine has been identified as a diarrhea trigger for many sufferers. Try to limit how much caffeine you drink.2
- Sweeteners. Certain sweeteners like sorbitol, xylitol, manitol and fructose – which you’ll find in some drinks and sweets – have been linked with causing diarrhea. Keep an eye out for these ingredients on the packaging.2
Your symptoms are not only based on what you eat but also on how much, and when, you eat.
How to avoid eating trigger foods.
If you have diarrhea that may have been caused by eating a certain food, you can try to identify the food item by keeping a diary of what you eat every day, cross-referenced to when the symptom occurs.
Keep a food diary.
- Write down absolutely everything you eat or drink, including condiments, seasoning (if possible) and all liquids. Also record the amount you eat or drink and the timing of your bowel movements.2
- Note your stress levels on each given day. You might be surprised by its impact.38
- Look for patterns and identify your problem foods and fluids.
- Think long-term. You may need to document this information in your diary for several weeks before you notice any patterns. Discuss your findings with your healthcare professional.
Break down problem meals.
You might have discovered that eating a meal with multiple components (pasta with tomato sauce, for example) triggers an occurrence of diarrhea – but you won’t necessarily know which actual ingredient is the culprit. A good way to find out is – using this example – by trying to eat pasta without tomato sauce and vice versa. Apply this same thinking to all sorts of meals.16
Do you have a food intolerance?
Some food intolerances include57:
- Gluten – a protein found in many types of grain, including wheat, barley and oats
- Lactose – a sugar found in milk and other dairy products
- Sugars or Sweeteners – examples may include fructose or sorbitol
If you think you might have a food intolerance, see your healthcare professional for advice on dietary changes and supplements that may help.
Is fibre a problem for you?
For some people, a diet high in fibre (e.g. dried beans, corn, or cabbage) can trigger diarrhea or worsen its effects.2 For these people, eating lower fibre foods such as rice, white bread, and cottage cheese may also help control diarrhea, but it is best not to eliminate all fibre from your diet.2 Just keep an eye on what you eat and learn what works best for your system.
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