It may not be the most comfortable thing to talk about, but good digestion is crucial to maintaining the energy (and healthy body) we need. If you ever experience bloat or pain when eating certain foods, you’re not alone—more than 70 million people in the United States suffer from a digestive disorder. And even if you don't have a digestive ailment, you may still experience negative effects from certain foods.
"Many of my clients come to me thinking they have poor digestion and that's just the way their body works," says Carly Brawner, holistic nutritionist, health coach, and founder of Frolic and Flow. "Digestion fluctuates depending on diet, stress, exercise, and so many other factors—you don't have to be stuck with gas or heartburn your whole life." Each person's body is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to improving digestion. However, Brawner was able to zero in on the top common digestive disruptors she sees in her clients. With Brawner's help, we've rounded up some of the worst foods for digestion below—plus the simple swaps you can make every day.
"If you take your coffee with sugar, I beg you to reconsider, and if you take your coffee with artificial sweetener, that's not much better," Brawner says. Artificial sweeteners—"one of the worst foods for digestion"—contain ingredients like sucralose and aspartame that tend to cause indigestion and diarrhea. Brawner suggests reaching for coconut milk, coconut oil, or Nutpods to give your coffee a creamy hint and some natural sweetness.
Each individual has a certain amount of lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose in your small intestine—it's genetic. This is the reason certain people have a higher tolerance for dairy than others. "Many of my clients don't have to rule dairy out completely and are able to find an amount they are able to tolerate without any digestive issues," Brawner suggests. "For some people, the amount is none; for others, it's a few pieces of cheese or one cup of yogurt." If your body does well with dairy, opt for products from organic, pasture-raised animals. If dairy causes problems for you, Brawner likes nut alternatives like Coyo Coconut Milk Yogurt, Kite Hill Nut Cheese, and Malk Nut Milk.
"Many of my clients love hummus and legumes but notice that their digestion suffers when they eat them," says Brawner. Lentils, peas, chickpeas and other legumes contain oligosaccharides, a sugar the human body isn't equipped to break down on its own. Brawner recommends buying sprouted legume products, sprouting your own before cooking, and limiting legume consumption to twice a week (although some people's bodies don't tolerate them at all). If that's the case, leave them out of your diet altogether and use starchy vegetables as your main carbohydrates.
Be sure to read How to Boost Your Metabolism (Without Hitting the Gym).