Gas, stomachaches, constipation and diarrhea are common signs that your digestive system is off-kilter. But did you know that brittle hair and low energy can also point to tummy troubles? Find out which foods keep your gut clogged and which keep it moving smoothly…
A healthy digestive system begins with a good diet. Eat the right stuff and you improve digestion. Eat badly and you feel like a human garbage can.
How you eat can affect the way you feel too.
The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is also home to our most precious disease-fighting resource: the immune system.
“Two-thirds of the immune system is in the digestive tract,” Lipski says. “There are more neurotransmitters in the GI than in the brain and more nerve endings than in the spine,” she adds.
Here’s how to keep your digestive system working well.
Worst Food for Your Gut #1: Red meat
The more red meat you consume, the you increase the possibility of colorectal cancer. That’s because it’s often high in saturated fat, which is tied to cancer of the small intestine, according to a 2008 Cancer Research study.
How to avoid it: If you need to eat red meat, choose lean cuts of beef, lamb and pork and try to substitute in more protein- and iron-rich legumes. In place of red meat when you can, such as a grilled portobello mushroom instead of a burger.
Worst Food for Your Gut #2: Processed meat
Lunch meats, hot dogs, sausages and other processed meats are packed with saturated fat, sodium and nitrates.
Processed meats have been linked to colon cancer, possibly because they are cooked at high temperatures, which can increase carcinogens.
How to avoid it: Stick to fresh, lean cuts of meat and choose other forms of protein (legumes and grains).
Worst Food for Your Gut #3: Hydrogenated oils
Trans fats are created when liquid oils are hydrogenated, allowing them to become solid at room temperature and enabling fats in foods to last longer on supermarket shelves.
But your body pays a high price: Trans fats are tough to digest and have been linked to many health problems, including increased bad (LDL) cholesterol, decreased good (HDL) cholesterol and colon cancer.
In November 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its push for food companies to phase out trans fats. The agency already requires trans fats to be on labels, but it also allows manufacturers to claim zero trans fats if there are fewer than 0.5 grams per serving.
Don’t be fooled. If a food lists any hydrogenated oil as an ingredient, it contains trans fats.
How to avoid it: Ditch the packaged, processed stuff and get your nutrients from foods that are fresh, whole and natural.
Worst Food for Your Gut #4: Gluten
Food sensitivities affect 10% to 20% of us and can cause plenty of digestive complaints, including gas, cramping, bloating, heartburn, indigestion and other GI symptoms, as well including chronic headaches, aching joints and muscles, depression, concentration and memory problems and flagging energy, Lipski says.
About 2 million Americans suffer from gluten intolerance, says the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Gluten is a protein found in barley, rye, spelt, wheat and many other foods, including processed meats, soy sauce, ice cream, cheese, cookies, pasta, ketchup, salad dressings and more.
Worst Food for Your Gut #5: Lactose
Another potential cause of stomachaches is lactose, the main sugar found in milk. Lactose intolerance affects 30 million to 50 million Americans, according to the NIH.
Avoiding milk and dairy products will help, but you don’t have to give up all dairy. Some lactose-intolerant people do fine with small amounts of milk.
How to avoid it: Drink lactose-free milk and eat cultured dairy products, like yogurt, which break down lactose. Aged cheeses (like cheddar and Swiss) have less lactose and may be easier to digest. And many lactose intolerant people are able to eat dairy products with the help of a product like Lactaid, which provides the lactase needed by the body to break down the lactose in dairy foods.