These Are 8 Foods GI Doctors Try to Never Eat
Gastroenterologists reveal the foods they try to avoid, ranging from artificial sweeteners to fried foods, to protect their digestive health.
Foods gastroenterologists try not to eat
You eat to nourish yourself and feel full and satisfied. But sometimes, whether it’s the ingredients or flavors, your digestive health can take turn for the worse. You may notice there are certain foods that give you an upset stomach, nausea, or diarrhea. These are just some of the symptoms of gastrointestinal distress.
Food-related discomfort can be brought on by food intolerance, food allergies, or autoimmune disease, such as inflammatory bowel disease. So, what are the biggest culprits that wreak havoc on your digestive health?
We asked gastroenterologists to reveal the foods that they try to never eat for better digestive health.
Sorbitol and artificial sweeteners
When you see the words “sugar-free” you probably think that the product must be good for you—or at least better than the version that’s chock-full of sugar. That’s not always the case. Things like sugar-free gum, candy, and other foods contain an ingredient called sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that the human body digests and metabolizes very, very slowly, according to Donald Tsynman, MD, a gastroenterologist at Manhattan Gastroenterology in New York City. This slow digestion process can lead to gas, bloating, and diarrhea, not unlike artificial sweeteners in general. Christina Tennyson, MD, gastroenterologist with MaineHealth (formerly at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York), tries to limit her consumption of artificial sweeteners, which are slightly different from sorbitol, saying, “I’d rather have a teaspoon of sugar, which, you know, I don’t think is terrible.”
It isn’t groundbreaking news that soda is bad for you. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that gastroenterologists avoid drinking soda. In fact, Dr. Tsynman says he tells patients, especially those who are overweight, that if they were to change one thing right away, it should be to switch to water. Soda is filled with large amounts of sugar, and the more you ingest, the more you put your body at risk for obesity, diabetes, insulin resistance, and other complications such as heart disease. And diet soda, although it technically doesn’t have real sugar, isn’t much better, as it contains artificial sweeteners that, again, can negatively affect digestion. The carbonation in sodas can also cause problems, potentially leading to GI distress with belching and reflux, according to Dr. Tsynman. Instead, stick with these 13 foods to relieve belly bloat.
Dr. Tsynman recommends avoiding “anything that comes in boxes, cans, or bags,” which is code for processed foods (not food that is simply sold in packaging for convenience, like romaine lettuce or shredded carrots.) The processed foods to avoid chiefly are frozen and pre-made meals. They’re generally stripped of their nutrients and fiber, potentially causing constipation, and are filled with additives, especially salt, which can be harmful to those with high blood pressure or kidney disease. Processed cereals and protein bars frequently contain chicory root or insulin, which are commonly difficult to digest and can make you feel very bloated and gassy. These are the 15 worst foods for your stomach.
We know that a high-salt diet can contribute to high blood pressure. “I don’t personally add salt to anything, except for two things, potatoes, and corn on the cob,” says Beth Schorr-Lesnick, MD, assistant professor of medicine at New York Medical College and director of the gastroenterology fellowship training program at Westchester Medical Center, Valhalla, New York. “That’s not a GI thing. It’s a blood pressure thing.”
“If you want an apple, eat an apple, because you get the fiber of the meat or the pulp,” says Dr. Tsynman. Fruit juices, such as apple juice, however, contain high amounts of sugar and devoid of fiber. In fact, they’re not much better than soda. These juices are the result of fruit going through pasteurization, pulverization, and filtration into liquid form, so they lack many essential nutrients and vitamins, not to mention fiber. Another perk of eating real whole fruit—it’s more filling because of the intake of fiber, according to Dr. Tennyson. Check out these other foods to avoid if you have digestive issues.
Specialty coffee drinks
Coffee can lead to acid reflux. But, if it’s a non-negotiable part of your morning routine, it’s important to stick with the basics and avoid what Dr. Tsynman calls “crazy designer coffee drinks.” Like soda and fruit juices, these drinks are packed with excess sugar (after all, whipped cream isn’t just fluffy milk) and have very few—if any—nutrients. Coffee can also lead to increased symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is why Dr. Schorr-Lesnick recommends patients with this disorder cut coffee as well as chocolate and peppermint tea out their diets.
You may relish a giant T-bone, but according to Dr. Tennyson, “there is a connection between red meat and increased risk of colon cancer,” so she tries to limit her intake of burgers and steaks as much as possible. Dr. Schorr-Lesnick says she “rarely” has red meat because of the risks of eating red meat. “Cholesterol and colon cancer and heart disease and all those things”—outweigh the benefit, she says. A healthy, well-balanced diet, however, can be different for each person. For example, Dr. Tsynman eats red meat in moderation as part of a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Here are more diets to consider if you have digestive problems.
French fries and fried chicken may be tasty, but fried foods can be difficult for your body to digest. This can lead to gastrointestinal distress and increased symptoms of acid reflux. A 2015 study published in the journal Nutrients also found eating a lot of fried food (four or more times per week), is tied to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. The researchers suggest eating less fried food and red or processed meats and more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and foods low in salt, to help reduce the risk of chronic disease. Now, make sure you know the 15 best foods for your belly.
- The American Journal of Gastroenterology: “Understanding Gastrointestinal Distress: A Framework for Clinical Practice”
- Donald Tsynman, MD, a gastroenterologist at Manhattan Gastroenterology, New York City
- Christina Tennyson, MD, a gastroenterologist and associate physician at Mount Sinai Medical Center, Brooklyn, New York
- Beth Schorr-Lesnick, MD, assistant professor of medicine at New York Medical College and director of the gastroenterology fellowship training program at Westchester Medical Center, Valhalla, New York
- Nutrients: “Fried Food Consumption and Cardiovascular Health: A Review of Current Evidence”