If you’re someone who suffers from bouts of indigestion, which can include a whole slew of unpleasant symptoms (think: bloating, gas, and heartburn), you know full well the desire to avoid it at all costs. Unfortunately, as many as one in four Americans deal with it regularly, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases—and certain people are more prone to its pesky side effects than others.
“Those who smoke, are obese, take regular doses of antibiotics or pain relievers, consume unhealthy amounts of alcohol, and eat a Standard American Diet (SAD) are more prone to indigestion,” says functional nutritional therapy practitioner Tansy Rodgers, F.N.T.P. That last one is especially important to note, because changing up your eating style can be a simple strategy for reducing pesky indigestion.
If you’re dealing with stomach struggles, the following foods and drinks could be to blame.
If you love spices, you’re probably tempted to add them to nearly everything you eat—but they could be a trigger for indigestion. A chemical called capsaicin that is found in certain hot or spicy peppers can cause serious indigestion in those sensitive to spicy foods, warns Erin Palinski-Wade, R.D., C.D.E., dietitian and author of Belly Fat Diet for Dummies.
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“The spiciness can irritate the esophagus and trigger symptoms of GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, which is a common digestive disorder that causes your stomach contents to come back up through your esophagus,” she explains. “In addition, capsaicin slows down digestion, causing food to sit in the stomach longer, which may trigger irritation.” If you notice that spicy foods trigger indigestion, consider opting for sauces that use sweet peppers instead.
In addition to being high in calories and not particularly nutritious, fried foods like French fries, chicken cutlets, and donuts can cause serious indigestion. The trouble with fried foods, Rodgers explains, is that they tend to sit for longer periods of time in the digestive tract, causing symptoms of indigestion that include bloating and feeling overly full. Choosing foods that are grilled, baked, or air-fried whenever possible is a good idea, she notes.
Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit are rich in nutrients—especially vitamin C and fiber. However, they are also highly acidic so they can worsen indigestion symptoms, particularly reflux, warns Chicago-based gastroenterologist Andrew Moore, M.D. “Consuming citrus fruits can cause the epigastric pain or burning that is associated with indigestion,” he says. He recommends enjoying melons and bananas instead, as they are naturally low in acid and may be better tolerated.
Beloved by nearly every culture in the world, this American staple is undoubtedly delicious—and is unfortunately made up of a food combination that’s not kind to the stomach. “The acidic tomato sauce coupled with the fats and oil from the cheese make pizza a food that often triggers indigestion,” says Palinski-Wade. “The increase of acid in the stomach that occurs as the fat slows down how quickly food moves through the stomach is a recipe for discomfort.” If you’re really craving pizza, consider ordering a white pie, which is made without any red sauce and may be easier on your stomach.
If you’re lactose sensitive or intolerant, consuming dairy foods will lead to indigestion and sometimes even pain in the abdomen, warns Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., doctor of nutrition and owner of eatrightfitness. “If you lack enough lactase, the enzyme that breaks down the milk sugar lactose, then you will get swelling and water accumulation in the lumen (the opening inside the bowel), which can lead to cramps, diarrhea, and indigestion,” he says.
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He recommends switching to lactose-free dairy beverages, firmer cheeses (soft cheeses have more lactose), cottage cheese instead of yogurt, and plant-based milk substitutes.
A cup of joe might really get you going in the morning, but that energy isn’t always worthwhile if it comes with a side of indigestion. “Coffee can irritate your gut lining and cause pain and inflammation for some people,” says The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Rebekah Blakely. If you experience indigestion within a couple of hours of drinking your coffee, she recommends opting for caffeinated alternatives such as black, green, or herbal tea or even mushroom coffees (which still contain real coffee, but in lesser quantities).
Although they’re lower in calories than actual sugar, artificial sweeteners are not necessarily ideal for your digestive system. “Once they reach the large intestine, they can begin creating bloating and gas, increasing your likelihood of experiencing indigestion,” says Rodgers. “They can also break down the lining of your gut and cause an imbalance of healthy bacteria in the gut microbiome.” To avoid this, she recommends choosing products that use monk fruit, raw honey, or liquid stevia to add sweetness.