The following foods, beverages and nutrients can be stimulating to the GI tract, causing unwanted GI symptoms for some people. Your dietitian may ask you to reduce your intake of these foods as part of your nutrition care plan. 

  • Caffeine, found in items such as coffee (and coffee flavored products), tea, chocolate, energy drinks, and many varieties of sodas 
    • Caffeine is known to increase gut motility (the contraction of muscles that move contents of the GI tract along) 
    • Coffee contains chlorogenic acid, a cholinergic (colon stimulating) compound 
  • Alcoholic Beverages 
    • Alcohol can decrease colonic water reabsorption, resulting in altered bowel habits
    • Alcoholic beverages may also contain malabsorbed carbs, which can result in water being attracted into the GI tract and fermentation of the malabsorbed carbs, possibly contributing to gas, bloating and/or diarrhea. 
  • Sugar alcohols (aka sugar-free foods), such as sorbitol, erythritol, xylitol, maltitol, isomalt (look for words that end in “-ol” on an ingredient label)  
    • Because polyols are absorbed slowly, excess sugar alcohol molecules remain in the small intestine, attracting water. This increase in water content results in distension and potential diarrhea. 
    • Sugar alcohols that escape absorption in the small intestine enter the large intestine where they are fermented by colonic bacteria, resulting in gas production and bloating.

Foods high in Salt, added Sugar and Fat 

  • Salt and added sugar can have hyperosmolar effects on the GI tract, meaning that the increased concentration of salt and/or sugar in the GI tract attracts water into the intestines. This buildup of excess water can lead to bloating, distention and/or diarrhea. (think of this as having a “flushing” effect in your GI tract) 
    • Salt: A good rule of thumb to follow when checking labels is that any food that contains 300 mg (or more) of sodium per serving should be considered high in sodium 
    • Added sugar: Commonly found in baked goods, sweets, soft drinks, etc. The American Heart Association recommends that women limit their added sugar intake to no more than 25 grams per day, and men no more than 36 grams per day. 
  • Fat: Fat may increase small intestinal motility and slow intestinal gas transport, causing prolonged distention and bloating. Dietary fat may also increase visceral hypersensitivity, which can increase sensations of GI pain or discomfort. 

Packaged, processed and fast foods are frequently high in one or more of these GI stimulating ingredients. It is recommended that these types of foods are limited/avoided. 

Lastly, insoluble fiber, often found in foods such as whole wheat products, popcorn, the skins of fruits, vegetables and leafy greens may speed the passage of foods through the GI tract and act as an irritant to the GI tract. However, for many patients, increasing fiber intake is an important part of improving GI health.

Work with your Dietitian & Health Coach to understand how the different types of fiber may impact your body, and whether or not insoluble fiber may be stimulating your GI tract in an adverse way.