Diarrhea, though not the sexiest of topics, is an ongoing problem for a large majority of Americans.
I work with individuals who are terrified of leaving their homes without Imodium for fear that they won’t make it to a bathroom in time.
Some people, especially those with severe inflammatory bowel disease, may not be able to eat or drink anything without having to rush to the nearest bathroom.
However, many people with diarrhea can manage it with a few simple dietary modifications.
Here is a list of a few common triggers for diarrhea:
Fatty Foods: Fatty foods, especially animal fat (e.g. creamy soups, milk shakes, burgers) as well as fried foods, often contribute to fecal urgency and/or abdominal cramping soon after eating. Also, certain gastrointestinal conditions, such as Crohn’s of the ileum and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, cause fat malabsorption which results in fatty diarrhea.
Nashville Hot Chicken: See “Fatty Foods.” I’m in Nashville this week; just take my word for it.
Caffeine: Caffeinated beverages can have a laxative effect. Choose herbal teas or hot water with lemon and ginger, but take note that any hot beverage can stimulate a bowel movement.
Sugar: Highly concentrated sweets (e.g. cookies, candy) and sugary drinks (e.g. soda, iced tea, Gatorade) can cause diarrhea and worsen inflammation. Dilute juice with water and try to keep added sugar to less than 30 grams/day. Beware of hidden sources of added sugar, like granola bars, cereals, and flavored yogurts.
Sugar Substitutes: That’s right, I hate to break it to you, but those little yellow and pink packets aren’t any friendlier on the gut. Steer clear of artificial sweeteners, like aspartame and sucralose, as well as sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol or xylitol. Check ingredients of processed foods, especially if they’re advertised as “sugar-free” or “light.”
Spicy foods: Ouch.
Alcohol: Including wine, beer, and liquor, alcohol aggravates the GI tract and often results in nutrient malabsorption, especially fat malabsorption. Anyone who has indulged in one too many beers with a bucket of wings has been there.
Lactose: Lactose is the natural sugar found in milk. People with lactose intolerance can experience gas, bloating, pain and/or diarrhea shortly after eating milk products, particularly milk or ice cream. The good news is that hard aged cheeses, like Swiss and cheddar, as well as plain yogurts tend to be low in lactose.
Wheat/gluten: Some people experience diarrhea from wheat because of the gluten while others can’t tolerate the carbohydrates. Whatever the reason, there are lots of wheat-free grains to explore, including rice, wild rice, buckwheat, oats, and millet.
FODMAPs: An acronym for fermentable (gas-producing), oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides (short-chain carbohydrates) and polyols that are poorly absorbed and therefore contribute to diarrhea via osmosis. A few FODMAP containing foods are listed above, including lactose, wheat and sugar alcohols, but see this week’s post for more information.