Diarrhea is the passage of a watery stool that lacks the firm consistency normally found in a healthy individual. In most situations, diarrhea is a symptom of some other problem and is not a disease in itself. However, certain foods can cause diarrhea to occur right after eating, and some foods can cause diarrhea to occur more frequently in people suffering from disorders like irritable bowel syndrome. Infrequent diarrhea in itself is not a medical emergency but it can let the individual know that something else is wrong. Frequent or extreme diarrhea is a medical emergency as it can quickly lead to dehydration. Long term or chronic diarrhea is also a medical emergency, both because it means something else is seriously wrong with the body, and also because it can cause malnutrition, especially vitamin and mineral deficiencies, as the stool is removed too quickly from the body before the nutrients can be properly absorbed.
Foods that can cause diarrhea
1. Artificial fats and sweeteners – As we learn more about the harmful effects of sugar and fat, artificial substitutes have become widely available. While these are in many cases a great thing because they reduce the risks of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, these artificial foods are also not able to be digested by the body and move through the body at a rapid pace. Because the body is not equipped to digest them, extra secretions are made by the small intestines that help propel these substances out of the body. This is not a medical problem if low amounts of these additives are eaten, but care must be taken as prolonged use of these foods can cause dehydration and/or irritation of the lining of the intestines.
2. Fat – Red meats contain a lot of fat that is slow to be digested. Once this fat hits the large intestines, it causes problems with the mobility of the stool. Often times this leads to a rapid exodus from the body. Eating a lot of fatty foods at the same time will definitely cause issues with the digestive tract.
3. Dairy products – In lactose intolerant people, any dairy product can cause rapid diarrhea soon after consuming the food.
Foods that make diarrhea worse in people with disorders that cause diarrhea
1. Caffeine – caffeine can greatly increase the rate at which the muscles that line the small intestines constrict. In normal people, this will not cause diarrhea, but in people with disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, this will greatly increase the chances of having diarrhea. Caffeine is also dangerous to people who already have diarrhea because both diarrhea and caffeine lead to dehydration.
2. Alcohol – Alcohol causes irritation to the lining of the small intestine when it is absorbed, this can lead to excess secretions by the small intestines which creates a watery stool. Similar to caffeine, alcohol is also dangerous because it causes dehydration to occur.
Diarrhea caused directly from food, and diarrhea caused by another condition but exacerbated by certain foods can be both unhealthy and stressful. If you have diarrhea that occurs frequently, get medical attention as it can be caused by something serious. If you have very occasional instances of diarrhea, try to document what you are eating and determine the offending food. Look at food labels for any artificial sweeteners or fats, as that may be the cause.