Think about how many diets today promise that you can “have your cake and eat it too”. Weight Watchers makes you give up more points, but ultimately still be able to eat whatever you want; “If It Fits Your Macros”, or IIFYM, has become a health trend with bodybuilders and weightlifters promising that a carb is a carb no matter what, giving the green light on donuts and white bread if that’s how you want to spend your precious carbohydrates.
But what about when it’s not about calories, macronutrients, or restriction?
What about those of us whose bodies actually don’t have the right mechanisms we need to be able to indulge in our favorite things? For people who don’t feel so well after they eat certain foods, it may be that they lack a certain enzyme, have low stomach acid levels, or reduced mechanical function to break food down properly, making them less able to process them. Then there are foods that have been greatly altered over the years or doused in chemical substances that make them unrecognizable to the body, thus leading to digestive complications.
Whichever way you look at it, humans today are having greater digestive issues than ever before (in fact, one in every five Americans has a digestive disorder today), and the following five foods are most often causing the biggest problems.
This one is usually a doozy and can be one of the hardest food items to give up, especially since many arguments can be made about the health benefits of natural fats and proteins. However, much research shows, as far back as the New York Times in 1982, that through evolution, our bodies are making less and less of the enzyme needed to break down dairy’s sugar particles once we reach a certain age. That’s because as we get older, breastfeeding naturally stops and we no longer require it as a food source.
This enzyme, called lactase, is designed to break down the components of dairy products so that they can be absorbed through the intestinal wall during digestion. So, if you have a lactase deficiency and consume large amounts of lactose-containing items, like milk, cheese, or ice cream, much of the sugars pass through the stomach and into the intestines without being broken down. These large particles then absorb water and become food for intestinal bacteria that form gases and acids. This often results in abdominal bloating, flatulence, cramps, loose stools and diarrhea. Removing dairy can help to alleviate this.
Eat these foods instead
Non-dairy milk like almond milk and cheese alternatives like nutritional yeast.
2. Gluten-Containing Grains
Gluten sensitivity today is highly underrated because many don’t realize that how they feel is actually a result of consuming gluten. Gluten is the protein found in many grains that binds them together, but it’s hard for some people to break down and process, which causes a host of digestive issues such as bloating, gas, heartburn, intestinal permeability (leaky gut), malnutrition, anemia, malabsorption, and inflammation. Especially if gluten gets into your circulatory system, it can spread inflammation throughout the body.
Equally important to acknowledge is that most grains today are soaked in the chemical herbicide, glyphosate, which is in RoundUp that is sprayed on most crops today. Glyphosate has been studied and linked to digestive issues like leaky gut and Celiac disease, among other big health issues. That’s because it can have a detrimental effect on our beneficial bacteria levels, chelation of key minerals, enzymatic activity, and more, which can alter the digestive ecosystem and cause it to become permeable, or “leaky”.
Those who are sensitive to grains often feel fatigued throughout the day, have trouble sleeping, and have inflammation in the gut, joints, and thyroid, as well as experience unexplained weight gain or difficulty losing weight. So, while you may not feel awful the moment you bite into a gluten-full burger, it doesn’t mean your body is tolerating it well, you just might not know.
To find out if this is the case, people can either try cutting it out of their diets for a month to see how they feel, or run a food sensitivity test to find out if this sensitivity is present, how strong it is, and if there are any other food sensitivities present (more often than not, there is).
In particular, gluten-containing grains to avoid are: barley, bran, farro, kamut, oats, rye, seitan and spelt, as some examples.
Eat these foods instead:
Grains like amaranth, arrowroot, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum, and tapioca or spiralize veggies like cucumber, zucchini, carrots and sweet potatoes.
Once touted as a healthy superfood protein, we now know that soy can, in fact, cause many health issues. Not only is the soybean one of the most difficult beans to digest, but the type of soy we consume in foods like commercial soy milk, soy meat, and soy ice cream is highly processed today. One of the most genetically engineered crops, many of us end up eating a highly altered form of soy that the body simply cannot recognize and therefore cannot digest.
Another potential issue with soy is that it’s a phytoestrogen, which can cause estrogen levels to become elevated. This is concerning for both men women and in some cases, can be highly symptomatic.
Eat these foods instead:
Generally speaking, gluten-free soy sauce and verified organic soy products like miso and tempeh are the best options, or to avoid soy altogether, you can have coconut aminos instead of soy sauce and meat, bean or legume-based proteins instead of tofu.
It’s no secret refined sugar is addictive — we’ve all felt it at one point. In fact, some studies say it’s up to six times more addictive than cocaine. The biggest issue with refined sugar today is that it’s in everything — not just the obvious foods like ice cream and cookies, but condiments like ketchup, store-bought tea blends, spice rubs on meat, and much more. The next time you are at the grocery store, look at a few ingredient labels and chances are you’ll find a form of sugar on there (hint: they end in “-ose” like lactose or fructose.
Sugar is problematic for a number of reasons. First off, when we consume sugar, dopamine levels in our brain surge, which creates a release of serotonin, the “happy hormone”, into our bloodstream. This leads to a rise in insulin, which is supposed to bring blood sugar levels back in range, but also creates a sugar crash. To avoid the effects of this sugar crash, our brains convince us to have more to avoid that awful feeling. And so, the cycle continues.
When it comes to gut health, if you have dysbiotic (or bad) bacteria present, sugar is food to them, so this can proliferate gut issues and lead to serious infections if unaddressed. The fructose in sugar can also interfere with our appetite hormone, leptin, which causes us to overeat sugar, eventually leading to obesity.
Eat these foods instead:
Make or buy products that use honey, date sugar, monkfruit or raw maple syrup instead of regular table sugar. You can also blend together 1 frozen banana with 1 cup of frozen berries and some full-fat coconut milk for a delicious, sugar-free, fruity ice cream bowl.
5. Processed foods
Generally speaking, most processed foods (or foods that are store-bought in a box or can) contain one or more of the above foods, plus other offensive ingredients like canola oil, “natural flavors”, casein, and more. While convenient, processed foods can cause a great deal of systemic inflammation as well as digestive issues.
Eat these foods instead:
As much as you can, opt for whole, natural foods. When grocery shopping, stick to the perimeter aisles by purchasing produce and organic, pasture-raised meats.
The Best “Whole” Foods to Eat
Thankfully, there are a number of incredibly healing superfoods with anti-inflammatory properties to help repair damage from any of the above foods and help to heal the gut and the body. These include:
- Bone broth
- Aloe juice
- Fermented foods like sauerkraut or kombucha
As you begin to remove the five food categories above and eat more whole food options like greens, legumes, and fruit, be sure to consume one or more of these foods every day to help your body recover and thrive again.
An Example Anti-Inflammatory Diet
If this post has you wondering what you can even eat anymore, not to worry! Below is a sampling of foods you can eat to nourish your body, give you incredible energy, improve sleep, and more.
- Breakfast: Chia pudding, a green smoothie, or grainless trail mix
- Snacks: Green grapes, mixed berries, sliced cucumbers or carrots
- Lunch: Salad with organic greens, fresh veggies and topped with grilled, free-range chicken or wild-caught salmon
- Afternoon snack: A handful of macadamia nuts, almonds or plantain chips
- Dinner: A meat dish such as chicken, pork or fish with a side of veggies like asparagus, broccoli or a seasonal squash.
- After Dinner/Dessert: Semi-sweet teas like chamomile, licorice root (great for gut healing) or lavender.
Bringing Your Body Back into Balance
Eating clean, whole foods straight from the ground to your plate is the best way to bring your body back to good health by giving it the nutrients it was born to utilize. Today, it’s not easy to avoid the foods covered in this post since they are everywhere, but being an informed consumer and knowing what food items to watch out for will help you better navigate the grocery store aisles, restaurant menus, and even the holidays.
Begin by perusing your kitchen to see what foods you may want to remove, then head the grocery store and focus on getting as much colorful fruits and vegetables from the produce section as you can. Before long, you’ll have a fresh new perspective on food and nutrition and may even see a difference in your energy, mood, sleep, skin, weight, and more.