Smart Food Swaps for Better Digestive Health
In this article:
- Why it’s important to give your digestive tract a break from gas forming foods.
- Smart food swaps you can make for better health and digestion.
- A popular style of eating that automatically avoids the majority of foods that cause bloating and excessive gas.
Giving Your Digestive System Time to Heal
The previous articles on beans and legumes, gas causing vegetables, dairy products, high fructose foods, sugar alcohols, and fructan and gluten rich grains cover some of the most common causes of digestive problems.
This article will summarize all of these into an easy to reference list of food swaps that you can make to minimize gastrointestinal upsets and give your body time to heal itself.
While some of the foods on this list are unhealthy and best avoided, others, like certain vegetables and fruits, are very healthy and it would be a shame to never eat them again.
In future you can reintroduce these foods to test your own individual reaction to them. Often simply taking a break from most gas producing foods and then reintroducing them slowly can greatly improve your tolerance level.
However, at the outset of finding a permanent solution to intestinal gas problems, it’s best to eliminate as many of the common causes as possible. This gives your digestive system time to recover from the strain it has been under for so long.
Sometimes outright restriction is needed, such as with highly offensive substances like high fructose corn syrup or artificial sugar alcohols. The most effective method for making dietary changes though is usually replacement.
By making as many of these simple food swaps as you can, you’ll be greatly reducing the ‘fuel’ you’ve been giving to your intestinal bacteria for bloating your tummy and increasing flatulence. Set aside a weekend to have a big shop for the foods and drinks you need to make these important changes.
7 Smart Food Swaps for Better Digestive Health
1. Cruciferous Vegetables
Broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables are some of the healthiest foods around. They are also some of the most gas producing. The aim will be to reintroduce them in future, but for now it’s best to swap them for low gas vegetables in your meals.
Leafy greens like spinach, Swiss chard, parsley and dandelion greens have a similarly potent nutritional profile without the gas. Zucchini and eggplant are other healthy alternatives.
2. High Fructan Vegetables
Artichokes, asparagus, onions, leeks and mushrooms are high vegetable sources of fructans. Artichokes are usually a particularly bad gas producer and best avoided. Asparagus can also be quite bad for some. Fortunately, both of these foods aren’t regular editions to most people’s diets.
Onions and mushrooms are more commonly eaten but are usually not quite as gassy in moderation. Most people find they can reintroduce these vegetables in smaller amounts after a break and slowly build up their tolerance levels.
Good low gas vegetables to choose instead include carrots, celery, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, olives, potatoes and butternut squash.
3. Beans and Legumes
There are no low gas beans unfortunately. Soaking them overnight can reduce but not completely eliminate their galactan content. As beans aren’t usually a daily food, a bottle of Bean-zyme can be kept beside them in the pantry and used whenever you decide to eat them.
Two particularly healthy alternatives for beans in a meal are quinoa and wild rice. Both are full of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients without the gassy after effects.
4. Dairy and Other High Lactose Foods
Milk is actually quite easy to replace. There are a variety of milk alternatives available, including almond milk, hazelnut milk, oat and rice milk, hemp milk and my personal favorite, this rich coconut milk (diluted with at least half water) .
Bodybuilders can also replace whey protein powder with low gas hemp protein powder when the flatulence gets to be too much.
Supermarket ice cream is likely to give problems to anyone sensitive to either lactose or fructose. Coconut milk-based ice cream alternatives are available for the occasional treat. You can also blend up frozen bananas and other low lactose fruit for a homemade alternative.
Most commercial yogurt is full of both lactase and fructose, but real, unflavored and cultured Greek yogurt should have much less lactose and no fructose. You can flavor it yourself with stevia or add low fructose fruit.
With cheeses, the softer and younger the cheese, the more likely it is to have lactose. Feta, mozzarella and cottage cheese are usually higher in milk sugar, while processed cheeses and cheese spreads are some of the worst offenders. Hard aged cheeses like Parmesan, Swiss and cheddar are generally much lower in lactose.
Swap cream-based soups for vegetable ones like tomato. Check sauce and condiment bottles for milk products as well. Avocado oil, balsamic vinegar, real mustard, guacamole and herbs and spices are healthier and safer options.
Most packaged desserts, sweets and sugary snacks are a big source of both lactose and fructose. As well as causing digestive problems, they are also destroying people’s health as eating them regularly dramatically increases your risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Wean yourself off these by replacing sweets with low gas fruits or healthy dark chocolate.
A mixture of nuts and seeds makes a great replacement for savory snacks. Especially limit cheese flavored products which are generally full of lactose.
If you want to have dairy products occasionally, without the bloating, intestinal pain and gas, then lactase capsules taken at the same time can help to break down milk sugar. The more potent the better, like these ones I use, and you can keep them in the fridge next to the food and drinks you are most likely to need them for.
5. Sources of Fructose
If you eat a lot of packaged supermarket foods and drinks then high fructose corn syrup will be the biggest source of fructose in your diet. Once you start reading labels, it’s amazing just how many products contain this harmful ingredient.
Sweetened beverages like soda, bottled fruit juice, sports drinks and iced teas are absolutely loaded with HFCS. Not only do they cause digestive problems, they are also some of the most fattening and disease causing products available.
These drinks are priority number one to replace for better health and improving your digestive function. Make your own fresh juices, try the wide range of delicious herbal teas available, enjoy sparkling water and a splash of fresh citrus juice or low sugar cordials, and try coconut water (by far the most effective sports drink for electrolyte replacement).
Addictive soda is often difficult for people to let go of, but this page has an effective replacement plan with a similar tasting but much healthier alternative.
Stevia is a great replacement sweetener for HFCS, sugar, agave and honey and just a drop or two of this stevia glycerite will sweeten most beverages and foods. Look out for stevia sweetened alternatives to high fructose foods and drinks too as they are becoming much more popular.
Cutting right back on foods that contain fructose usually means rejecting a packaged food diet in favor of real food. The simplest way to do this is by following a paleo or primal-based eating plan.
Avoid the middle aisles of the supermarket, where the high profit, no nutrition junk food is kept and focus on much healthier meals. These should be made with quality protein sources, like free range meats and wild caught seafood, nutritious vegetables and beneficial fats like coconut oil, avocado, olive oil and grass fed butter.
Eating in this way is much more satisfying than the blood sugar spikes and crashes of high fructose foods. Most people also find their weight decreasing and energy levels rising when they switch out the bright packages for real food. As a bonus, most of the common causes of bloating and flatulence will be heavily reduced in your diet.
With a much lower intake of high fructose corn syrup, most people can easily enjoy fruits that are higher in fructose like apples, grapes, pears, watermelon and cherries from time to time without digestive problems.
Until you’ve largely ditched HFCS from your diet though, it’s best to limit these fruits for a while. Great tasting and low gas replacements include papaya, strawberries, pineapple, cantaloupe, bananas and all citrus fruits.
6. Artificial Sweeteners and Sugar Alcohols
There is no good reason to be using gas causing sugar alcohol sweeteners that end with ‘tol’, or any other questionable artificial sweetener. Stevia is superior and won’t cause digestive problems like sugar alcohols.
The same high fructose fruits are often also highest in sugar alcohols so stay with the low fructose alternatives above.
7. High Fructan and Gluten Grain Foods
While barley and rye also contain both gluten and fructans, wheat is by far the biggest source in most people’s diets. Wheat products are also added to a wide variety of processed foods.
If you can’t bear the thought of giving up bread, then sourdough breads or sprouted grain Ezekiel bread is usually reported to be much less gas forming than supermarket loaves.
Quinoa, wild rice and buckwheat are all healthy replacements for wheat-based foods like pasta, noodles and couscous. Gluten-free oats and millet can also be used instead of wheat-based cereal.
Like reducing fructose though, avoiding the gas causing fructans and disruptive gluten in grains like wheat is much easier when you move away from a processed food diet. All paleo or primal recipes will be free of gluten from grains and usually lactose, fructose and the galactans from beans as well.
There’s been a huge explosion in the popularity of this type of eating. This is largely due to the ease with which people usually lose weight and the increase in energy they feel once their blood sugar is under control. The only challenge with it is how to make up your meals.
A good paleo recipe book could also be considered a guide to avoiding most of the common causes of bloating and excessive flatulence. This free Paleo recipes book by a trained chef is highly recommended.
Making the Food Swaps to Improve Your Digestion
The 7 smart food swaps above are an effective way to greatly reduce the most likely causes of bloating, intestinal pain, excessive gas and other digestive issues due to your diet.
Admittedly, some of the replacements will be easier than others. But surely it’s worth trying a short period without these gas causing foods to see how much better you feel.
After a break from them, to give your digestive system time to heal, you can reintroduce them and pinpoint which foods you can tolerate well and which cause you the most problems.
The foods and drinks on this page and in the previous articles are the most common causes of digestive problems, but if your digestive function isn’t working properly then virtually any food can arrive only partially digested in the lower intestine and cause gas problems.
The final set of articles are on improving your digestive function and intestinal environment. This will not only prevent bloating and excessive flatulence, it can also greatly improve your overall health and energy levels as you start really absorbing all of the nutrition from your food.
- Go through these smart food swaps and see where you can make some changes. Even just a temporary break from gas producing foods and intestinal irritators like gluten can bring noticeable benefits.
- Make a shopping list of all the new foods you need and throw out or hide gas causing foods while you start this healthier type of eating.
- Paleo or primal recipe books are good resources for making up healthy meals that avoid foods that cause digestive problems.
Photo credit: Ewan Munro