Digestion can completely rule how you feel each day. There’s nothing worse than bloating and other not-so-lovely digestive woes to get in the way of life’s to-do’s and social events. Most of us doing our best to choose foods that support our health, digestion included. However, if we’re not careful, sneaky food labels can make us think we’re choosing healthy options for our menus, but they may in fact be contributing to the digestive problems that we’re having.
Even some seemingly natural foods that have health benefits (or advertise themselves to) can still cause digestive problems due to the way they digest, the natural starches and sugars they contain, or possible fillers and additives used to make these foods. A person with impaired digestion may also be more sensitive to these foods than other people. So while it might not be fun to watch your co-workers scarf down a greasy taco or rich, sweet piece of cake, those foods likely won’t serve you well over the long-haul. Along with those obvious not-so-healthy junk foods and fast foods, be sure you look out for these less commonly known foods to cause digestion problems too:
1. Most Commercial Yogurts
Yogurts are a food that everyone thinks are healthy and whether they’re vegan or dairy-based, commercial yogurts can still come with digestive problems. For one, cow’s milk contains lactose and casein, which easily trigger digestive problems for most people. Many commercial vegan yogurts and dairy-based sweetened yogurts also contain more additives than you can count on one hand, many of which you likely don’t even recognize. Some of these include refined starches and sweeteners, or commonly used emulsifiers that are added to thicken products. The better option is to take a vegan, probiotic supplement or make your own yogurt at home that contains no additives. These might not have as much protein as commercial products, but they’re definitely more natural. You can also obtain your protein from other whole plant-based foods without worry. Try it out in this raw coconut yogurt based breakfast!
2. Some Non-Dairy Milks
Using non-dairy milk is a great step towards moving away from cow’s, milk, but many non-dairy milks contain both emulsifiers and carrageenan, additives used to thicken recipes and create a perfect consistency to foods. Both have been linked to digestive problems, which you might be surprised to find out. Silk is one brand that contains no carrageenan, and little to no gums compared to most brands. So Delicious Dairy-Free is also working to remove carrageenan from their products and have already done so for many of them. Always read ingredient labels and try to only choose these products in a pinch. It’s much better to make your own and keep a batch in the fridge for the whole week. See our homemade plant-based milk recipes here!
3. Sprouted Beans and Legumes
Another tricky food that seems so healthy (and certainly can be) are raw sprouted beans and legumes. The idea of sprouting is to release the enzymes in these foods, making them easier to digest. However, beans and legumes contain natural sugars and starches that can cause fermentation (and bloating and gas as a result) in the digestive tract. Sprouted beans may also contain unhealthy levels of bacteria if not cared for and stored carefully since they’re prone to mold. Some people with testy tummies may find them to cause digestive uproar, due to the way they “activate” the digestive tract much more aggressively than cooked beans do. If you don’t tolerate sprouted beans and legumes well, the best option is to choose other sources of protein, or to cook your beans more thoroughly, making them easier to tolerate. On the flip side, if sprouted beans and legumes are easy for you to digest, then great! Just be sure to consider them if you’re consuming them regularly and having digestive problems.
4. Heavily Processed Veggie Burgers
Check the ingredients on your favorite brand of veggie burgers. Do you recognize them all? If you can’t, then there’s a good chance that these unrecognizable ingredients could be upsetting your digestion. Soy isolates, TVP, gums, starches, and heavy oils might not be the best options for supporting your digestion because they’re heavily processed additives that slow down digestion and may cause inflammation. Purchase veggie burgers from brands that contain easy to read ingredients. These are usually organic and non-GMO options that contain whole food ingredients that you could easily replicate at home.
5. Most Protein Bars and Powders
This is a toughie – for one, these foods are very convenient and many of us use them on a regular basis. Not all protein bars and powders are created equal though. Many are incredibly processed and contain additives such as whey, egg whites, gums, starches, artificial sweeteners, oils and other not-so-great ingredients that can all disrupt digestion. Soy isolates or soy crisps, and processed forms of ogliosaccharides, chicory root and inulin are all commonly used ingredients to watch out that have been linked to digestive issues such as gas and bloating. Choose raw vegan nut, seed and fruit bars, make your own protein bars, and choose raw, unprocessed non-GMO based protein powders (or make your own in just minutes).
Your digestion is incredibly important to your overall health. The rule of thumb is that the more natural and alkaline the food, the easier it is for your body to digest. But some options (like raw veggies, grains, nuts, seeds, and sprouted foods) will differ person to person. Eat a balance of raw and cooked foods, listen to your body, and overall, eat seasonally when possible, and try to choose organic when you can. These simple steps will support not just your digestion, but also your overall approach to a balanced, plant-based lifestyle.
Also see important nutrients you need for digestion and a 5 Step Guide to Building and Maintaining Healthy Gut for more digestion tips and information.
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