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Foods that Can Cause Diarrhea

Some Foods Can Bring on Loose Stools For Just About Anyone


Updated May 27, 2014

Healthy adults experience diarrhea several times a year. People with inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) may have near constant diarrhea when the disease is flaring. Some foods can contribute to diarrhea, making it worse. For very sensitive people, these foods may even cause diarrhea. If you do have diarrhea, avoiding the foods listed below could be helpful in lessening its duration and severity.


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The sugar in milk, called lactose, can cause diarrhea in some people. This is called "lactose intolerance," and it’s very common. Symptoms of lactose intolerance can include gas, diarrhea, bloating, cramps, nausea and very bad breath. Avoiding milk products is generally the way to prevent diarrhea caused by lactose intolerance. There are, however, over-the-counter products that can help with the digestion of milk sugar. There are even milk products that have had the lactose in it already broken down, which makes it easier to digest. Lactose intolerance is not the same as a true milk allergy. People with an allergy should avoid all milk products.

Hot Peppers

Chili Pepper
Photo © Petr Kratochvil
Hot peppers are a frequent offender, but they often don’t cause diarrhea until several hours after they are eaten. There is a substance called "capsaicin" in certain kinds of peppers that can trigger diarrhea. Capsaicin is also used in ointments that treat arthritis. (Interestingly, casein, which is found in milk, can lessen the burning effect of capsaicin.) Aside from the capsaicin, some people may find the seeds and skin of the pepper are also difficult to pass.


Cup Of Coffee
Photo © anya-anya
Coffee, tea and soda are common places to find caffeine, which can also be found in chocolate, gum and even some bottled water. Caffeine speeds up the body systems, which includes digestion. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others, but too much caffeine can lead to diarrhea.

Artificial Fat

Potato Chips
Photo © Master isolated images

Olestra, a fat substitute, is well known for its association with “anal leakage” and diarrhea. It can be found in many products (most famously potato chips), especially those labeled “light,” “low fat,” or “fat free.” Olestra passes through the body without being absorbed. While the FDA concluded that olestra effects are “infrequent“ and “mild,” people with sensitive digestive tracts may experience diarrhea after eating it.

Sugar Substitutes

Photo © JadeGordon
These food additives, such as sorbitol and mannitol, can be found in a variety of foods, from candy to yogurt. Many of these sweeteners can be found in natural sources also, such as fruit and vegetables. They cause gas and bloating because they are not well absorbed by the intestine. Extra water gets pulled in to the intestine and bowel by these additives. In addition, bacteria in the bowel eat these sugars and produce even more gas.

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