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Common Foods That Could Be Hurting Your Belly

It can be as frustrating as it is familiar: the achy tightness in your abdomen after you eat, or the sharp pain, bloating and distension you feel after a large meal--or any meal. With so many foods now composed of a multitude of ingredients, it can be tricky to figure out which foods are helping and which are hurting.  

Any food that causes a pain in the gut after you eat it needs to be further investigated to determine the appropriate course of action, whether the pain is from gas, indigestion, diarrhea or constipation. To learn more about common foods and food groups that can cause gastrointestinal pain and distress, check out the list below.

You don't have to be allergic to dairy products to be lactose intolerant, which means that your body can't completely digest a type of naturally occurring sugar (lactose) found in milk. People who are lactose intolerant often experience lower abdominal pain and bloating. Because this intolerance is so common, affecting about 10% of people, it's among the first things you should test. Learn more about dairy intolerance here.

When you buy products whose packaging proclaims high fiber or good source of fiber, you're often buying a product containing inulin, a type of fiber often from chicory root. There's nothing inherently wrong with inulin, but it can cause digestive upset in some people who are more sensitive to the ingredient. While adding more fiber to your diet prevents constipation and colon cancer, adding too much fiber (or adding fiber too fast) can cause gas and bloating. If you're experiencing pain after consuming high-fiber products, try backing off for a few days, then slowly adding these foods back to your diet.

You've probably heard of these pesky preservatives, but did you know that they can cause abdominal pain, along with a range of other symptoms? Studies have shown that you can become newly sensitive to sulfites through your 40s and 50s, and symptoms of sensitivity include cramping and diarrhea.
It's worth noting that people with asthma are indirectly affected by sulfites, so if you keep your inhaler nearby and have been having tummy trouble, try cutting this out first. Sulfites are found in some processed meats, alcoholic beverages, dried fruits, condiments, soup mixes and even some baked goods.

Sugar Alcohols
Your dentist might thank you for choosing sugarless gum and candy that use artificial sweeteners, which haven't been shown to negatively impact dental health the way sugar can. But so-called sugar alcohols such as xylitol, sorbitol and others can cause stomach upset and even lead to diarrhea, especially if consumed in large quantities.

Large Meals
Chowing down might feel good in the moment, but consuming a huge meal in a single sitting can cause pain, gas, bloating and more. Your best bet, at least for your digestive health, is to eat in moderation—never to the point of extreme fullness. Some people find they feel full longer if they space out their meals at regular intervals throughout the day. Starving yourself and then overeating later often leads to abdominal pressure and pain.

We've all been guilty of eyeballing the carton of yogurt that sat on the counter all morning or nibbling at tempting leftovers in the office break room, but one sure way to trigger digestive pain is to expose yourself to harmful bacteria that multiply when food isn't properly stored. Save yourself the pain and discomfort of food poisoning: If you're not sure how long it's been sitting out, toss it.

Beans & Other Musical Fruits
There's a short list of foods that are known to trigger gas and bloating for many people: beans, cabbage, onions, apricots, prunes, bananas and wheat germ. Figuring out if these foods are linked to your belly pain might help you alleviate it. Before cutting these healthy foods from your diet completely, experiment to see if different cooking methods can help make them more digestible. For example, rinsing canned beans several times before cooking helps cut down on the amount of gas they produce when eaten.  

Your Favorite Foods
You might think that the foods that cause you discomfort are the kinds of foods you hardly ever eat—or naturally have an aversion to. Unfortunately, you're just as likely to develop an intolerance or an allergy to foods that you crave and eat often. Don't cross a food favorite off your list of suspects just because you've always eaten it--or because you like it. It's important to be objective when determining which foods could be causing issues.

The best way to determine if a specific food is causing you digestive distress is to keep a daily food journal and work with a doctor or allergist to design an elimination diet to pinpoint the culprits. And once you have a list of what to avoid, closely examine all food labels for the suspects!

This article has been reviewed and approved by Becky Hand, M.Ed., Licensed and Registered Dietitian.

Eastern Carolina University, "Do You Suffer from Gas and Bloating," www.ecu.edu, accessed on December.

International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, "Understanding Bloating and Distension," www.iffgd.org, accessed on December 6, 2013.

Mayo Clinic, "Food Allergy," www.mayoclinic.com, accessed on December 6, 2013.

Mayo Clinic, "Lactose Intolerance: Risk Factors," www.mayoclinic.com, accessed on December 6, 2013.

Rush University Medical Center, "Food Allergy or Food Intolerance," health.rush.edu, accessed on December 6, 2013.

San Francisco State University, "Getting Rid of Excess Gas and Bloating," health.sfsu.edu, accessed on December 6, 2013.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration, "Food Allergies: What You Need to Know," www.fda.gov, accessed on December 6, 2013.

University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, "Simple Elimination Diet," www.uccs.edu, accessed on December 6, 2013.

University of Florida, "Sulfites: Separating Fact from Fiction," edis.ifas.ufl.edu, accessed on December 6, 2013.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, "Food Allergies," food.unl.edu, accessed on December.
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Member Comments

Good info! Many of these things people never think about. Report
Thanks Report
Thank you for the info Report
Thank you for sharing! Report
So far I've been lucky in that most foods don't give a problem. Starting slowly with a new food or more fiber helps. Report
Interesting. I find soaking and throwing away the soak water and using fresh to cook works well. Report
good info, thanks. Report
I guess I'm really lucky: the only food that's ever given me trouble is red meat (I have the tickbite-induced alpha-gal " red meat allergy) -- but I don't like meat anyway! Report
Thank you Report
thanks Report
Those Metamucil bars they like to advertise on here, can cause a lot of misery to many people, because of the psyllium and inulin in them. Be aware! Report
Thank you Report
Good to know. Report
One rule of thumb with leftovers is that they should be refrigerated within two hours after having been cooked or brought out of the fridge. And in the summer, if it's really hot where you are, it can be a good idea to refrigerate things sooner. The sooner the better!

Very elucidating, thank you! I'm really glad you mentioned sulfites, most articles about allergies don't mention that one, but it can kill you! I'm allergic to that. Everyone has been saying that if you got sick with a drug, it's not like the kind in food, but this article you've used as a source says it is the same. So that's food for thought. I'm going to be reading about that, since I got really sick with sulfite antibiotics. I lost a lot of weight in only 10 days! I've already eliminated dairy and soy, but I'm still sick, so sulfites might be the next to go. I just need to feel well enough to sleep through the night without being kept up or being woke up repeatedly in the night. This article is SO USEFUL! Please write more like this! Report
I've been trying to watch what I take in (been given a list of "do's & don'ts for food). However I broke all the guidelines tonight with a slice of bread, 2 eggs, shredded cheese, chocolate bar, & ice cream. No excuse, but it's been an insane 24 hrs! Sigh....... Report
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About The Author

Robin Donovan
Robin Donovan
Robin Donovan is a Cincinnati-based freelance writer and magazine journalist with experience covering health, medicine, science, business, technology and design.