Digestive problems can be a common and recurring complaint for many of us, especially when we don’t prioritize consuming healthy foods and beverages. Other lifestyle choices also affect our digestive system’s ability to perform its job effectively and efficiently, such as the pace of our schedule and the number of hours of quality sleep we get each night.

Anxiety and stress are directly linked to problems with digestion. So are an inactive, sedentary lifestyle.

Consuming primarily natural, local, organic, raw or lightly cooked foods is ideal. If you eat meat, doing so in moderation and consuming mostly white meat rather than red is the recommendation.

When digestive problems such as diarrhea, heartburn, cramping, pain or constipation are present, we need to be extra mindful of what we consume. Here is a list of several types of foods and drinks to avoid in order to bring your gut health back into balance:

Fatty and fried foods

Grease is difficult to digest. If you have the slightest digestive sensitivity, fried food can cause painful heartburn and acid reflux. Avoid fatty steaks and anything deep-fried. French fries and a hamburger are not a good choice for digestive health and happiness.

Spicy, salty foods

Avoid chili peppers and hot sauces. Instead of salty chips or dressings, opt for the BRAT diet when you are dealing with indigestion or diarrhea, which stands for Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast. In other words, bland foods. Nothing exotic or spicy.

Sweets

Our digestive system suffers when we use artificial sweeteners. It’s better to consume natural sugar, brown sugar in particular. The little pink, yellow and blue packets are full of artificial ingredients that increase inflammation, bloating, diarrhea and gas. Although aspartame and stevia offer the sweetness of sugar without the calories, they alter the gut microbiome, causing glucose intolerance (which can lead to diabetes).

Even chocolate can trigger digestive symptoms like heartburn and upset stomach, and as a diuretic, it can cause diarrhea and loose stools in some people.

Raw salads

When your digestion is off-kilter, it is best to avoid eating large quantities of raw vegetables. While salads eaten after a main course can actually help enhance the digestion of a healthy, functional system, the opposite is true when indigestion is present, as raw veggies are more difficult for the stomach and intestines to process and fully digest than are cooked veggies.

Corn in large amounts is high in cellulose, a fiber that our stomachs can’t break down. Because corn passes through the digestive system and remains undigested, even when it is cooked, it can cause cramps and gas. The same is true for many raw vegetables.

Dairy

With the possible exception of yogurt and hard cheeses, avoid dairy products in order to maintain strong digestion. Opt for non-dairy, lactose-free milk like almond, rice or oatmeal milk rather than cow’s milk. Minimize the amount of cheese you consume, making it a rare treat instead of a frequent indulgence.

Dairy (milk), fatty foods (fries) and spicy vegetables

Alcoholic & caffeinated beverages

Drinking alcohol, even in moderation, can relax the sphincter in your esophagus, causing heartburn or acid reflux. An excess of alcohol inflames the stomach lining, causing cramping and diarrhea and prevents proper nutrients absorption.

Coffee is highly acidic and consuming too much of it can lead to heartburn, acid reflux, inflammation, dehydration and constipation. Remember that black and green teas and many carbonated sodas also have caffeine.

Processed foods

The carbs in packaged foods like chips, crackers and white bread — also known as junk food — move through the digestive system quickly, and can cause bloating, cramps and gas. Processed foods also contain artificial coloring and preservatives which are hard to digest.

Foods associated with heartburn

Be aware of the foods that are known to commonly trigger heartburn, such as: alcohol, especially red wine; black pepper, garlic, raw onions, and other spicy foods; chocolate; citrus fruits; coffee and caffeinated drinks, including tea and soda; peppermint and tomatoes.

Concluding tips

The timing and size of meals is also an important factor in digestion. It’s better to eat five or six small meals every few hours than three big meals per day. Eating a large meal late at night/right before bed is not recommended.

Exercise is important, too. Get your heart rate up for an hour, at least 3-4 days of the week. It’s good to go for a walk after eating. Don’t lie down too soon after eating if you are prone to indigestion.

As mentioned earlier, anxiety and stress adversely affect digestion. Practice meditation, guided relaxation, gentle tai chi or yoga moves in order to lower your stress level. Pause a few times throughout your day to take several long, slow, deep breaths.

By eliminating harmful foods and drinks from your diet and starting to implement these healthy lifestyle guidelines, you can get your digestive tract back on track in no time!

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