5 Foods That Are Harming Your Gut

Have you ever felt bloated or very uncomfortable after a heavy meal? Or maybe you have trouble opening your bowels daily? These bowel problems can often be directly caused by some of the foods we eat every day. If you are having problems with your digestion, it is worth considering if you eat a lot of these common, but not so gut friendly foods.


It may come as no surprise that fried food features on this list. Although delicious, fried and fatty food is harder for the body to digest (1) and so can trigger irritable bowel syndrome or cause diarrhoea. It is recommended that for a healthy gut, you avoid eating deep-fried foods regularly and instead opt for baked versions. Kubba also contain wheat, which causes problems for anyone with coeliac disease or a sensitivity to gluten. This leads to symptoms such as bloating, pain and diarrhoea when wheat containing food is eaten. An easy way to make kubba gluten free is to try mashed rice or potatoes to form the outside layer instead of bulgar wheat. Try it and see if you can feel the difference!

Spicy Food

You may notice that after eating a particularly spicy meal, you find yourself needing to go to the bathroom or even suffering from diarrhoea. This is the body’s response to something called capsaicin (2), a natural irritant found in chilli peppers. This can affect the lining of the stomach and small intestine, causing digestive problems (3). Not everyone reacts in this way to spicy foods but if you are struggling with diarrhoea after meals then it is worth thinking about cutting down on the chilli or combining spicy foods with a diary product to help to neutralise the effects of capsaicin.

Geymar & Dairy

However, dairy is not always good for your gut! Dairy products like milk, cheese and geymar contain a type of sugar called lactose which in some people can cause stomach pain, diarrhoea and bloating when eaten. In Iraq, the number of people who are lactose intolerant is thought to be higher than in other parts of the world, due to a lower consumption of dairy products than other places. Although small, one study found that 85% of Iraqi people living in urban areas had some form of lactose intolerance! (4) If you find that you have these symptoms after consuming dairy products, it is recommended that you follow a lactose-free diet instead. This involves either cutting out dairy products or finding non-dairy alternatives instead.


Even healthy, traditional meals can wreak havoc on your bowels. Take a common home-cooked stew such as one containing white beans, meat and onions for example. This is a nutritious, hearty meal that has been eaten for hundreds of years. The problem lies in a group of carbohydrates called fermentable oligosaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, or FODMAP for short. These FODMAPs are found in lots of foods (5), such as:

· Beans
· Lentils
· Garlic
· Onions
· Dairy products

You can see from the list above that such a stew would contain a high amount of FODMAPs. These carbohydrates can turn a simple stew into a trigger for gas, stomach pain and bloating in some people. It is difficult to follow a diet low in FODMAPs as they are in so many common foods. However, if you notice a type of food that gives you particularly bad bowel problems, avoiding this is a good place to start.

White Rice

Bowel problems can take many forms, including constipation as well as diarrhoea. This can be very uncomfortable and affect a person’s daily life. A common reason that people get constipated is because they do not eat enough fibre. Often, rice is one of the best opportunities to get fibre into the body on a daily basis as it is eaten so frequently. However, white rice has been through a refining process and has lost a lot of its fibre content along the way. That is not to say that it is bad for you, but there are higher fibre alternatives that may help to ease constipation. This includes brown rice and other foods made with unprocessed whole wheat flour. If you suffer with constipation, try swapping out white rice for brown.

Of course, everybody is different and what works for one person may not work for someone else. The goal is to help your body and bowels to function normally by thinking about what you eat and making healthy changes to improve gut health.

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  1. nhs.uk. (2019). Good foods to help your digestion. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/good-foods-to-help-your-digestion/ [Accessed 30 Jan. 2020].
  2. gonlachanvit, s., mahayosnond, a. and kullavanijaya, p. (2009). Effects of chili on postprandial gastrointestinal symptoms in diarrhoea predominant irritable bowel syndrome: evidence for capsaicin-sensitive visceral nociception hypersensitivity. Neurogastroenterology & Motility, 21(1), pp.23-32.
  3. Frias, B. and Merighi, A. (2016). Capsaicin, Nociception and Pain. Molecules, 21(6), p.797.
  4. Kassir, Z. and Kellow, A. (1978). Lactose intolerance in Iraq. Journal of the Faculty of Medicine, Baghdad, 20(2), pp.245-249.
  5. Theibsnetwork.org. (2020). FODMAPS | The IBS Network. [online] Available at: https://www.theibsnetwork.org/diet/fodmaps/ [Accessed 30 Jan. 2020].
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