I remember having a conversation with somebody once about which is the worst kind of pain -- a headache, toothache or stomach ache.
Obviously it wasn’t the most cerebral discussion I’ve ever had, but it was a question that actually sparked about a 10-minute conversation, and if I’m correct, I think my order of pain was toothaches, then stomach aches, then headaches -- but then again, I’ve never experienced a migraine before so I may have made my ranking a little too soon.
But what I have experienced along with many other people are stomach pains, and I’m not talking about a pain that comes after you pretended to be Adam Richman from Man v. Food, I’m talking about constant stomach pains, the kind that seem to follow you regardless of what you eat and what time of day it is.
To give some assistance to the folks that fall into this very painful category, we spoke to Kristi L. King, Clinical Instructor for Baylor College of Medicine, Senior Dietitian for Texas Children’s Hospital and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition Dietetics, about what foods you should consistently avoid if you have a sensitive stomach and how you can improve your condition by simply being more vigilant.
So what are some of the things you can do if you’re currently living with a stomach of a delicate nature?
“If one is experiencing diarrhea, bananas and white rice tend to be the winners, said King in an interview with ConsumerAffairs.
“Bananas have pectin which help form the stools and the white rice is easy to digest and helps to absorb extra fluid. If one is experiencing stomach cramps, try some peppermint or chamomile tea. Ginger has also been found to be helpful amongst many people. All of these are natural relaxants which will help relax the stomach and intestinal muscles and hopefully relieve some of the pain.”
King also says there are some good natural remedies for those with gas.
“If one is experiencing bloating or increased gassiness, it could be a result of bacteria overgrowth in the intestines,” she says. “Try some yogurt which has live probiotics (or good bacteria) in it to help get rid of the bad guys. Papaya is useful as some of the natural enzymes it has are helpful in digestion of our foods.”
But what are some of the things that people can do to avoid getting stomach pains in the first place? King says it requires a combination of common sense, discipline and proactiveness.
“Learn your triggers!" she said.
“What foods trigger discomfort for one, may not for someone else. Listen to your body. Keep a symptom journal, write down symptoms and the last meal/snack you ate. Eventually you might start to see a trend -- these are your trigger foods,” King said.
“Eat on a regular schedule,” King added. “Going long periods of time without eating can cause increased discomfort when you devour your entire next meal in five minutes. Eat 5-6 small meals throughout the day, smaller amounts are easier to tolerate.”
Among the many people that deal with perpetual stomach discomfort, which happens to be about 25 percent of the US population according to several national surveys, a lot of people add to their problem by the bad dietary choices they make.
And as King said before, different people will have different triggers that will cause stomach discomfort, but there are definitely certain foods that most people with stomach pains should always stay away from.
“Fried foods and high fat-containing foods,” said King in reference to the main foods people with stomach issues should be avoiding.
"Fat is the last thing that leaves the stomach, so ingesting large amounts can cause the food to sit around in the stomach for long periods of time, [and] caffeine -- this can lead to increased reflux, causing more discomfort," she said.
"Carbonated drinks are definitely going to cause increased gassiness, [and] onions and garlic -- these contain fructans which are a type of carbohydrate molecule which many people have difficulty digesting,” King said.
Another thing many people have difficulty with is constant gas, which can be painful, can slow you down and can be socially awkward.
People suffering from severe gas should be aware of what foods they should be avoiding and in some cases gas isn’t just a painful annoyance, it will sometimes require a visit to your doctor, says King.
“If someone is known to have increased gas, it might be best to avoid beans and cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts," she advises. “Some people may have increased gassiness from dairy products, in which case they could be lactose intolerant.”
“They should check with their physician about a lactose breath test for a true diagnosis," King adds.
"Removal of lactose-containing products should help if someone truly is lactase (the enzyme needed to digest lactose) deficient. Other people who have Celiac disease or a medical diagnosis of gluten intolerance may experience increased gassiness/bloating when consuming foods containing gluten."
But what about those everyday foods that are harder to avoid than others and tend to be very acidic? You know, those items like orange juice and marinara sauce. Do people with bad stomachs have to stay away from these foods forever?
“Any food that is higher in acidic content will decrease the pH balance of the stomach and thus cause increased discomfort,” King explains.
"I recommend consuming these types of foods in small amounts and spread them throughout the week so that the stomach doesn’t have to process a large volume of highly acidic foods at one time.”
King also says it may take a certain period of time for a person suffering from stomach discomforts to really know what’s ailing them and what foods they should ultimately avoid.
“What is important to remember is that what works for one person, may not necessarily work for someone else,” she emphasized.
“Each person is individual. Know your trigger foods. It may take a little trial and error to find what foods you need to avoid and what works for your discomfort. Be patient, getting anxious about it will only make the discomfort worse.
"Also, if stomach discomfort continues to be a problem, I recommend seeing a gastroenterologist who will be able to do an extensive workup to determine if there is an underlying medical condition,” King said.