These 8 Healthy Foods & Drinks Might Actually Be Sabotaging Your Digestion

Photo: Nadine Greeff

For anyone who’s struggled with digestive issues, you know that it can be hard to tell if what you’re eating is helping or hurting your belly. And to add to the confusion, oftentimes foods that we think are healthy can actually be the cause of tummy troubles!

I want to debunk some of the most common healthy food beliefs that may actually be sabotaging your digestion. To be clear: These are foods I'd consider healthy. However, if you suffer from digestive issues like acid reflux, bloating, or constipation, you may want to experiment with limiting or removing some of them from your daily eats:

1. Smoothies

Drinking a cold smoothie in the morning can slow your digestion and back you up for the day, especially if your digestion is more sluggish to begin with. I recommend starting your day with room temperature or warming liquids and foods. That being said, there are a few ways you can upgrade any smoothie to make it more digestion-friendly. One way is to add warming spices like ginger and cinnamon. You can also use cooked vegetables liked steamed and then frozen zucchini and cauliflower instead of raw veggies like kale (which is a little tougher on your gut).

How well you can digest a smoothie also depends on the season. Some of my clients can do smoothies OK in the summer but not in the colder months.

2. Water

I can hear you already: "But how could water be bad for me??" It’s not the water itself but the way you may be consuming it that could be causing you digestive woes. In my practice, I've found that drinking water with meals dilutes your gastric juices and messes with how your body digests your food. When you can, stick to water before and after meals—I try to give myself a 30-minute buffer on either side. If you must have something with the meal itself, try sipping a little hot water with lemon, hot tea, or room-temperature water.

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3. Quinoa

Some bellies simply do not do well with grains! Even though quinoa is gluten-free (and technically not a grain but a pseudo grain), it still contains lectins, saponins, and phytic acid like most grains—all compounds that can mess with your gut. Lectins can damage the gut lining leading to leaky gut and other disorders. Lectins also cause leptin resistance, which means that your hunger signal is suppressed and that you’ll be hungry even when your body has had more than enough calories.

Saponins are another problematic element of pseudo grains and seeds—like lectins, these compounds are designed to protect the seed so it can survive to pass on the plant’s genetic line. Like lectins, saponins also contribute to leaky gut syndrome by damaging the enterocytes, the cells that line your gut and control what passes in and out of it. If you’ve ever thought quinoa tastes soapy, it is: In South America, the saponin residue is used as detergent!

Phytic acid is a compound that humans can’t digest: Essentially, it binds to the minerals in the food and prevents us from absorbing them. No matter how impressive a food’s nutrition facts panel looks, none of those nutrients will do you any good if the phytic acid in the food is preventing your body from using them. Phytic acid can also interfere with digestive enzymes and otherwise irritate your gut.

Soaking and rinsing your grains (and pseudo grains) can help remove some of these compounds, but if you struggle with serious digestive issues, you may want to consider eliminating grains altogether and see how you feel.

4. Mint

Photo: Francesca Hutchin

Isn’t mint supposed to be great for soothing upset stomachs? Well, yes, mint is cooling, which is good for anyone with indigestion, or excess heat in the body. But if you feel you have sluggish digestion, you’ll want to stick with the more warming spices like ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom, which are touted in Ayurveda as better for the digestive system.

Additionally, if you experience pain higher up in the digestive tract, such as heartburn, peppermint might not be such a good idea. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, peppermint can actually relax the sphincter muscle, which closes off the stomach from the esophagus. This can cause stomach acid to pour back into the esophagus and make heartburn or GERD worse.

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5. Nuts

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Nuts aren’t popcorn! Incredibly nutrient dense, nuts were designed by nature to be consumed in small quantities. Since already shelled nuts and nut butters are so readily available, we often eat way more than a recommended serving in one sitting (FYI, one serving of nuts is 1 ounce or ¼ cup—about 23 almonds, 14 walnut halves, or just six Brazil nuts). Reach for pistachios in the shell to slow down your consumption, or swap nuts for something just as crunchy but not as dense like raw celery, fennel, and radishes. Phytic acid (discussed above) is also found in nuts.

6. Raw salads

Raw foods can be hard for many people to digest and are usually not as satisfying or grounding as cooked foods. In my book, Thin From Within, I recommend that every meal contains a cooked vegetable, which is much easier on digestion.

7. Kombucha

Yes, this bubbly drink is packed with good-for-your-gut probiotics, but it can also be high in sugar, and many people drink too much in one sitting, which can lead to bloating and burping. This is a food you’ll need to "go with your gut" on; one serving is about 4 to 6 ounces, so you can play around with what works for you (if any). If you find kombucha isn’t your friend, there are other fermented drinks you can try out, like beet kvass or coconut water kefir.

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8. Low-fat yogurt

So many of us are still scared of fat, so we reach for low-fat or nonfat dairy, which, unfortunately, usually has way more sugar and isn’t as satisfying. I recommend going with a full-fat variety (have a little less if it’s too rich for you to start!). You can also experiment with goat’s or sheep’s milk yogurt if you have trouble digesting dairy. I rotate between higher-fat dairy and goat’s and sheep’s milk yogurt in my Power Parfaits.

The most important thing to remember.

Listen to your intuition when it comes to the specific foods that may be hard on your digestive system. Even if something is "healthy," it might not be healthy for your unique and individual system. If one or two of the foods in this article stood out to you, experiment with eliminating that food and see how it goes for you. I recommend keeping a food diary to track your progress and symptoms or working with someone like a health coach or dietitian to help you get to the bottom of your gut issues.

Want to see what a gut-healing morning routine looks like? Check it out here.

And do you want to learn more about four diet & lifestyle changes you can make TODAY to eliminate chronic inflammation? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Dr. Vincent Pedre.

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