Nutrition Articles

Common Foods That Could Be Hurting Your Belly

Avoid These Foods to Feel Better Fast

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,", accessed on December.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, "Food Allergies,", accessed on December.

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Member Comments

  • Thank you for the information
  • Some foods really can affect me.
  • sugar alcohols are a huge no-no for me
  • Thank you for posting your sources!
  • Really good information contained in this article.
  • I am lactose intolerant. I'm not worried about it giving me gas, but if I eat anything more than a few tablespoons of anything dairy rich it is going to clean me out in about 35 to 45 mins. I know from experience to really limit my samples of dairy rich food. At least I have no desire for big servings of ice cream, custard, frozen custard or cheesecake to fight even though I do like occasional small servings!
    Sugar alcohols can be VICIOUS to your intestinal tract!!!

    Wheat makes me bloat :-(
  • "Don't believe me, you can find it on the internet."

    I love it. Reminds me of the commercial that says "they can't put anything on the internet if it isn't true."

    I'm not knocking what RFSLDS is saying. However, the burden of proof is on him/her to provide a link to a credible source to back what they're saying, not tell people to find it themselves.

    I do agree with RFSLDS that this article fails to mention gluten intolerance and celiac disease. My son was diagnosed with celiac in 2014. Prior to his diagnosis he was sick for months. His symptoms included stomach cramps and vomiting.
  • I am surprised no mention of wheat. Gluten intolerant? They use Roundup before harvesting our wheat here in the U.S. That way they get a larger harvest by drying out the wheat. Don't believe me, you can find it on the internet. That is why I think you see a higher rate of gluten intolerance showing up. Ten years ago you really did not hear anything about it. Now it seems like so many people that I know have a problem with it. When a doctor diagnosed my husband and my daughter for this, and they eliminated the wheat from their diet, the symptoms stopped. My daughter is so bad, she will have to spend hours in the bathroom if she doesn't stay away from it. To show you how our government is poisoning us by letting this go on, we had always heard you don't have the problem in Europe, where they don't want our wheat. We just returned from a trip to the UK and Europe and my daughter went crazy eating wheat products (which scared me at first). But low and behold, she had no problems the three weeks she was there. But when she returned home to the U.S., the first sandwich she had sent her to the bathroom. Go figure.
  • Avoid These Foods to Feel Better Fast


  • I was surprised to find what was on this list titled "8 Foods that might be making you sick"
    I expected common foods that are basically unhealthy - like suflites, sugar alcohols, old leftovers.
    I wasn't expecting foods that are considered by some superfoods for their quality nutrients like beans, onions, cabbage, dairy, bananas, prunes, wheat germ.
    These are foods which cause problems with people who are allergic to them, not most people.
  • Soy really kicks my tummy!! I can't tolerate it. I turned to soymilk as a way to deal with my milk intolerance while I was pregnant. But after some time, I began to realize that the soy milk or foods containing soy proteins would just give me a tummy ache. Later, I found out from a friend who is about the same height/weight/bmi had soybean issues and I realized we both had the same symptoms. At some point, I will spend the money for "official documentation" at the doctor's office. For now, I use almond, coconut, hemp or similar nut milks and rotate around through them (I don't want to develop an allergy to any of those nut milks either.).
  • The one I avoid the most is leftovers. Too many people from earlier generations caused themselves great harm with shelf rather than refrigerated storage. Today's packaging helps by specifying which products need refrigeration after opening.
  • Yes! I've known for 30 years that my stomach, and head, and throat hate sulfites. In the days when it could be added to salad bars, I used to get so-o-o sick every time I went out to eat at a nice restaurant. One time I even broke out in a cold sweat and had to lay down on a bathroom floor to avoid falling! These days the worst foods for me are wine, vinegar, most shrimp, coconut, candied fruit, potatoes from a box or bag, and some baked goods. It's amazing how many doctors still don't understand about this! Thanks for posting this article. Maybe it will help someone figure out their "mysterious illness."
    I have learned (over and over) that some things can affect some people some of the time. My second lesson is that bodies change over time and what I could eat once I can not eat now.

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.

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