9 Foods That Cause Digestive Problems

Digestive problems including acid reflux, gas, colic, and bloating affect many of us. There are certain foods that can trigger these types of symptoms in the digestive tract. Foods that affect your digestion are highly individual, as one food may upset one person, while the same food is fine in another.

Listening to your body can help identify which foods are bothering you. If you find that beans or cabbage bother you every time you eat them, there are a few things you can do about these foods to keep enjoying them without the discomfort. Other foods, such as oranges and peppermint, can also trigger digestive issues, but may need to be avoided.

Find out which foods can cause digestive problems and what you can do if they upset your stomach. Remember, some of these foods provide good-for-you nutrition, so unless they upset your stomach or cause discomfort, they can be eaten as part of your healthy eating plan. And for more gut healthy tips, check out the 19 Best Gut Healthy Foods.

fried food
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Fried foods are high in fat and can cause stomach upset and diarrhea. Additionally, fried food has been linked to acid reflux, as reflected in this study published in 2021 from Preventive Nutrition and Food Science.

Try this instead: Choose a deep fryer (uses less oil) or other low-fat cooking methods such as grilling, grilling, sautéing, and stir-frying.

RELATED: 10 Popular Foods Damaging Your Gut Health

chewing gum
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Candy, gum, and other sugar-free foods made with sugar alcohols can cause gas and upset stomach in some people. Read the ingredient list and look for sweeteners that end in “-ol” such as sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, erythritol, and malititol.

Try this instead: If sugar alcohols bother you, choose candies, gum and other foods made without sugar. Remember, added sugars should be limited to no more than 10% of total calories, per the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, so eat anything with added sugars in small amounts as well.

corn syrup
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High fructose corn syrup is a sweetener used to make candies and pastries, and can cause gas, diarrhea, bloating, and cramps in some people.

Try this instead: Read labels for nutrition facts and choose candy, cookies, and other foods that don’t contain these sweeteners.

Peeling and unrolling oranges is easy on the cutting board.
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Highly acidic fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes can cause heartburn in some people. This is because citrus foods relax the esophageal sphincter (or valve), which can allow acid to back up into the esophagus and cause heartburn. Acid can also slow stomach emptying, which can cause acid from the stomach to back up into the esophagus and cause heartburn.

Try this instead: Citrus foods provide lots of good-for-you nutrients, but if these acidic foods cause acid reflux, then avoid them and choose other non-citrus fruits as a sweet snack.

RELATED: The 8 Best Supplements for Gut Health

peppermint leaves
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Peppermint is known to trigger heartburn and indigestion in some people. Peppermint can relax the esophageal sphincter, which is located between the stomach and the esophagus. When this sphincter relaxes, acid from the stomach can back up into the esophagus, causing heartburn and indigestion.

instead: If peppermint bothers you, avoid it and choose another herb or other type of tea.

black beans
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Beans contain oligosaccharides, which are indigestible, fermentable fiber that can cause gas, stomach discomfort and bloating. They are actually beneficial for the gut, as they are not digested in the stomach or upper intestine and enter the large intestine, where they are fermented by good bacteria. During this process, gas is created. So while nuts are good for you, they can cause discomfort.

Try this instead: Soak dry beans for at least 4 hours and drain off the water before cooking to help minimize gas. Research also shows that if you are not used to eating nuts and have stomach problems, regular consumption of ½ cup of nuts for at least 8 weeks can reduce bothersome symptoms.

broccoli, kale, and brussels sprouts
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Cruciferous vegetables are vegetables from the cabbage family and include cabbage, broccoli, kale, and collard greens. They contain the same sugar as nuts which can cause gas, stomach discomfort, and bloating. They are also high in fiber, which makes them harder for some people to digest.

Try this instead: If you are uncomfortable with these vegetables, cook them instead of eating them raw. This tends to make them easier on the stomach and minimize gastrointestinal symptoms.

RELATED: 8 Drinks That Can Help Smooth Digestion

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Some people are sensitive to spicy foods which can cause heartburn and acid reflux. Spicy foods can relax the sphincter (or valve) that sits between the stomach and esophagus, allowing acidic food to back up from the stomach into the esophagus, causing heartburn and acid reflux.

Try this instead: If you are sensitive to spicy foods, reduce the heat by adding less peppers and spices, or avoid them altogether and opt for milder foods.

Delicious chocolate
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Chocolate is another food that can cause the esophageal sphincter (or valve) to relax, such as peppermint and citrus fruits, which can cause heartburn and indigestion. Some people may be sensitive to one or more foods that cause this—so it’s very individual.

Try this instead: If chocolate is causing symptoms of heartburn and indigestion, then try limiting your consumption. You don’t have to give up forever, but you may want to avoid it for now.

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