Enjoy These Healthy Foods Without The Discomfort

These nutritious foods are good for you but eating them can have some nasty side effects, from nausea to bloating – here’s how you can counter those effects

Portrait of Tammy Strobel


With 4g of fibre per serving, and a high antioxidant as well as vitamin C content, apples are wholesome and filling. But they contain high levels of a natural sugar called fructose and relatively less glucose. This imbalance, says dietitian Derrick Ong, who is also the director and founder of Eat Right Nutrition Consultancy, can cause bloating and intestinal gas in some people. This happens when there’s not enough glucose to help the small intestine absorb the fructose. “It’s called fructose malabsorption,” he says. For most people, excess fructose is not an issue. However, in those with fructose malabsorption, it can cause bloating and gas, and possibly, abdominal pain or diarrhoea. Fructose that does not get absorbed by the small intestines passes through to the large intestine where bacteria breaks it down, a process called fermentation, producing gases that make you feel bloated. If you suffer from these problems after eating apples, choose another fruit like oranges or bananas, which have a more balanced proportion of fructose and glucose.


Green tea is loaded with polyphenols, which are said to prevent cell damage, and antioxidants, which help minimise the development of cancer. It has also been found to lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and improve brain function. But this calorie-free beverage is high in caffeine, which Susie Rucker, a nutritional therapist at Rucker Nutrition, says has a diuretic or dehydrating effect. “If all you drink is green tea, you will lose a lot of water. And if you don’t make up for the loss with plain water, you’ll get dehydrated and possibly feel dizzy and nauseous,” she says. To counter these effects, Susie suggests drinking no more than two cups of green tea a day and alternating each cup with a couple of glasses of water.


According to Claudia Correia, a dietitian at Icon Cancer Centre, some grains, such as wheat, rye and barley, contain fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and galactooligosaccharides (GOS). These are healthy fermentable carbohydrates that are recognised as fibre and prebiotics. But humans do not have the enzymes to break down such carbohydrates, so they pass through to the large intestine where bacteria breaks them down or ferments them. “Fermentation is a healthy process as it feeds good bacteria and contributes to gut health,” Claudia adds. “However, it also produces intestinal gases – including carbon dioxide, methane and hydrogen – that cause bloating. To reduce bloat, eat whole grains in small incremental amounts, and drink plenty of water.


With no cholesterol or saturated fat, almond milk is touted as a healthier alternative to dairy milk. It is also lactose-free and high in protein, vitamin E, iron, calcium, selenium, omega fatty acids, and flavonoids, which help lower bad cholesterol and protect against heart disease. But, if you experience a negative reaction to commercial almond milk, blame it on filler ingredients and flavourings. “Many products contain only a small percentage of almonds, and the rest is typically made up of thickening agents, sugars and oils, which can cause tummy upset. For instance, the thickening agent carrageenan, a seaweed extract, is associated with digestive problems,” says Susie. Some almond milk brands also use agave nectar, which can cause diarrhoea. When buying almond milk, Susie says to look for brands that do not use filler ingredients or added sweeteners.


Juices are an easy way to get your vitamins and minerals, but fruit juice contains fructose, and according to Derrick, drinking too much can lead to stomach upset and diarrhoea if you suffer from fructose malabsorption. Minimise tummy issues by diluting juice with water first, or mixing it with vegetable juice.


Broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale are rich sources of cancer-fighting antioxidants, fibre, vitamin C and folic acid. But they also contain a small amount of a type of complex carbohydrate called raffinose, which Claudia says cannot be digested by the human body. “Raffinose tends to draw fluid into the stomach, leading to abdominal distension, cramps and diarrhoea,” says Claudia. “In the large intestine, raffinose may be broken down by enzymes produced by local bacteria. This results in more water retention, and the sugars produced may be further broken down, causing gas to be produced.” To prevent these problems, you should lightly steam your cruciferous veggies before eating them, says Susie. This makes them easier to digest.


Beans are a great source of fibre that is essential for digestive health and weight maintenance. It is also rich in protein and high in antioxidants. But eating even a small amount of beans can make some feel bloated and gassy. This is because human beings do not have the digestive enzymes to break down the natural sugars in beans. “When these sugars are not digested in the stomach, they make their way down to the small intestine and then the large intestine,” says Derrick. “Here, intestinal bacteria feed on the sugars, a process that produces gas.” To prevent intestinal gas and bloating, soak dried beans overnight and discard the water before using. If cooking with canned beans, rinse them thoroughly beforehand. These measures will help to reduce some of the natural sugars in the beans.

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