Who has never had the unpleasant feeling of not being able to stay away from the bathroom? Diarrhea is a disorder of the digestive system that causes an increase in the number of bowel movements and a decrease in the consistency of the stool. Most of the time, symptoms last for a few days and go away without any treatment.
According to Marília Marques, gastroenterologist and professor at UFPB (Federal University of Paraíba), the causes of diarrhea vary a lot. “Usually, they happen due to changes in the motility of the intestine, inflammation, infections, imbalance in the intestinal microbiota or by substances that are not absorbed and attract water from the body to the intestine”, he says.
In addition, some foods, when ingested, provoke atypical reactions in the immune system: they are recognized as “enemies” that must be fought (food allergy) or are not properly digested by an alteration in the digestion and absorption processes (food intolerance). In both conditions, diarrhea can occur.
The problem also arises when consuming contaminated food. “Foods that have been improperly handled or have not been kept at the ideal temperature can be contaminated by fungi and bacteria. This causes a reaction in the body and gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea”, explains Amanda Viana, nutritionist at the HU-UFMA (University Hospital of the University Federal do Maranhão) of the Ebserh network.
However, eating specific foods also triggers the problem, due to some items found in its composition. Below are details of how diet causes gastrointestinal upset and what experts recommend consuming in this situation.
Foods that cause or worsen diarrhea
Consuming pepper and other spicy items can cause digestive symptoms such as diarrhea. Responsible for this is a substance called capsaicin. Once ingested, in more sensitive people, it exerts direct action on the stomach mucosa, causing a type of burning.
“In the small intestine, it causes an imbalance in the intestinal flora, triggering diarrhea that, in most cases, is self-limited, lasting from one to two days”, explains Ana Cristina de Sá Teixeira, gastroenterologist at the Specialized Center for Digestive System Hospital Alemão Oswaldo Cruz.
Sweeteners such as sorbitol cause diarrhea when consumed in large amounts. Symptoms such as gas and bloating also appear. “They alter the intestinal flora and unbalance the bacteria found in the organ, causing intestinal disorders”, completes Camila Gomes, nutritionist and professor at PUC-Campinas (Pontifical Catholic University of Campinas).
In large amounts, the drink increases bowel movements and reduces intestinal transit time. As a result, abdominal pain, flatulence and diarrhea appear. This is because coffee has caffeine and polyphenols. Drinking more than three cups a day is enough to have an intestinal disorder in some people.
Garlic and onion
Both garlic and onion are seasonings widely used in everyday food preparation. However, they contain high content of fermentable carbohydrates in their composition. “In more sensitive individuals, such as those with irritable bowel syndrome, the presence of fructans in the small intestine increases the amount of water in the organ, speeds up intestinal transit and triggers symptoms such as abdominal pain, flatulence and diarrhea”, highlights Marques.
Depending on the type of alcoholic beverage and the amount ingested, unwanted digestive symptoms may arise. Alcohol speeds up intestinal transit, as do the carbohydrates present in some alcoholic beverages. There is a process of fermentation in the organ, causing gas and diarrhea. In addition, in those who chronically consume alcoholic beverages, the malabsorption of vitamins and other nutrients worsens the diarrheal condition.
Animal milk contains lactose, which is a simple carbohydrate. To be absorbed by the body, carbohydrate needs to be transformed into simpler sugars. This process is carried out in the small intestine through the action of an enzyme (protein) called lactase. However, some people with lactose intolerance are deficient in this enzyme and do not digest it. Thus, there is a fermentation caused by intestinal bacteria, leading to the appearance of abdominal pain, flatulence and diarrhea. “In these cases, it is necessary to exclude milk and dairy products from the diet to end the symptoms. It is also possible to seek lactose-free foods so as not to compromise the quality of the diet”, adds Gomes.
For those who love sweets, especially those with a lot of sugar, it is important to know that it also causes diarrhea. This is because it has sucrose in its composition, a simple carbohydrate (sugar). And to be absorbed, it needs to be turned into smaller substances in the small intestine. “When there is a problem in this process, sucrose fermentation occurs inside the intestine, leading to abdominal pain and/or discomfort, in addition to diarrhea”, says Teixeira. The specialist also emphasizes that milk or white chocolate is rich in sugar and fat and when consumed in excess alters the intestinal flora and causes the problem.
Fatty and fried foods
These foods, although tasty, contain excess fat. It is common for them to cause diarrhea, as the body cannot easily digest fat. Therefore, the recommendation is to avoid consuming fast food as much as possible, such as French fries or hamburgers.
What to consume when having diarrhea?
Those with diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms tend to lose their appetite. However, it is essential to maintain a balanced diet with good hydration, increasing the intake of water, juices and teas. “In general, it is recommended to adopt a diet with low residue content and avoid fatty and spicy foods, chocolates, whole grains, meats rich in connective tissue and legumes”, says Marques.
Experts reinforce that it is important to seek medical help when you realize that diarrhea does not stop and is accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, dehydration, blood or mucus in the stool and a high number of daily bowel movements (more than six times a day). “In all cases, a medical evaluation is necessary for the correct diagnosis. It is necessary to establish the cause of the disorder and start the treatment relevant to each case”, says Marques.
What to consume:
- Meat, chicken or vegetable soups or broths without husks;
- Fruit juices (apple, guava and cashew);
- Herbal teas such as chamomile or lemon balm;
- Peelless fruit;
- Boiled vegetables;
- Mashed potatoes or boiled potatoes;
- White rice;
- Coconut Water;
- Boiled eggs;
- fruit popsicles;
- Bread or toast.
how to prevent
In some cases, diarrhea can be avoided, particularly by minimizing the risk of food contamination. Therefore, it is essential to always maintain good hygiene habits when preparing meals.
The main tip is to wash your hands well before preparing the food. It is also important to keep an eye on the expiration date of food. To avoid cross contamination, use separate boards and plates for raw meat, poultry and seafood.
In addition, perishable foods must be kept in the refrigerator. And defrost food safely in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave, never in the sink.
Finally, don’t forget to properly sanitize green leaves, vegetables and fruits before consumption.