Gas, bloating, or an upset stomach are common indicators of poor digestion. There are many foods that upset the digestive system, whether that’s by triggering acid reflux, adjusting the speed of your digestive process, or causing a buildup of gas in your gut. Some foods may interact with your gut’s microbiome—the composition of bacteria in your intestines—in harmful ways, leading to poor digestion.
This article will discuss various foods that are hard to digest as well as ways to improve digestion.
8 Worst Foods for Digestion
There are, of course, many foods that can be harmful for your digestive system. The following food categories are either hard for your body to process or irritate your digestive tract in some way.
1. Fried or Fatty Foods
Fried or fatty foods (burgers, chips, etc.) can be difficult for your body to process properly. They can either slow digestion—leading to constipation—or move too quickly through the digestive tract, resulting in diarrhea. One overview of various studies also found that there’s a good chance that fatty foods can lead to dyspepsia (indigestion) by contributing toward abdominal bloating.
2. Sugary Foods
Eating too much sugar can lead to digestive problems as it builds up in the gut. Over time, that buildup can ferment, resulting in gas that can contribute toward various symptoms of indigestion, such as spasms, cramping, etc. Sugar may also stimulate the growth of pro-inflammatory bacteria in your gut, leading to a myriad of health problems. As such, reducing sugar in your diet may be a good idea if you experience chronic indigestion.
3. Salty Foods
A diet high in salt may also have adverse effects for your digestive system. One study published in Frontiers in Microbiology showed some evidence that high salt consumption could alter the composition of the microbiome in your gut while also affecting the absorption of dietary proteins. Not only could this lead to indigestion, but it may also contribute toward general health problems.
4. Processed Foods
Highly processed foods tend to lack essential nutrients that aid digestion (such as fiber). Artificial ingredients—colors, sweeteners, and preservatives—may also be problematic, especially for individuals with sensitivities to those items. Some sweeteners are difficult to digest if consumed in large amounts, so just because a food’s packaging says it’s sugar free doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
5. Acidic Foods
Acidic foods such as tomatoes, citrus, soda, spicy foods, and chocolate are an obvious cause of indigestion. They may trigger GERD symptoms and irritate the lining in your digestive tract, leading to discomfort, heartburn, and wear on your esophagus. Some people may be more sensitive to these than others, so you should gauge your own level of tolerance for these foods.
Keep in mind that not all acidic foods are bad for you. Many contain important nutrients and can therefore be a healthy part of a balanced diet. The key, of course, is to make sure that diet is balanced by not overdoing it.
Caffeine-heavy drinks and foods may trigger your gastrointestinal tract to move its contents more quickly than normal. This means consuming caffeine in excessive amounts could lead to digestive problems such as diarrhea. That said, if you’re constipated, this very function may be helpful, so it really depends on your particular situation.
Alcohol is well known for the effect it can have on your liver, but it can also be harmful to the lining in your stomach. Research indicates that alcohol can also wear out intestinal lining and adjust the composition of microbiota in the gut, leading to intestinal inflammation and leaky gut syndrome.
Finally, many people have a hard time digesting dairy. In particular, one sugar found in dairy called lactose is hard for many people to digest, resulting in bloating, gas, diarrhea, etc. While not everyone has this reaction, it’s still important to avoid excessive dairy consumption since it’s also high in fat. Too much fat and lactose may overwhelm your digestive system, even if you’re not lactose intolerant.
A Quick Note on Fiber and Digestion
It’s worth noting that just because a food is hard to digest doesn’t mean it’s bad for you. Dietary fiber, for instance, cannot itself be digested, but it still helps your digestive system by solidifying stools, feeding gut microbiota, etc. Recent studies even suggest that increased fiber intake may help with metabolic diseases (such as diabetes) by altering the bacterial environment in your gut.
As such, while fibrous foods like cabbage, beans, and numerous fresh fruits and vegetables may have hard-to-digest components, they can actually help digestion. To increase your intake, you may want to gradually increase the amount of fiber you eat over time. That way, you can ease your body into it and minimize any adverse effects.
FAQs on Food and Indigestion
What causes poor digestion?
Poor digestion can result from anatomical problems (like GERD) to bacterial imbalances in the gut. Diet, lifestyle factors, and food intolerances can also contribute to digestion problems.
What is the hardest food to digest?
Fatty, fried, or sugary foods are often difficult for the body to handle, so it’s best to consume them in moderation.
What helps digestion after eating?
Fiber and fluids can help with digestion after a meal, as can avoiding processed, sugary, or fatty treats. In addition, probiotic supplements may also help maintain the balance in your gut’s microbiome, helping you to digest food better.
Probiotics to Improve Digestion
Probiotics help introduce healthy bacteria into your gut, which can help balance your gut’s microbiome by suppressing unhealthy bacteria. Among the potential benefits of taking probiotics is improved digestion since healthy bacteria are better able to process fiber and other important nutrients.