Foods that Can Cause Diarrhea

Some Foods Can Bring on Loose Stools For Just About Anyone

Healthy adults may experience diarrhea several times a year, usually without knowing what caused the loose stools. People with inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) may have near constant diarrhea when the disease is active and inflammation is present in the intestinal tract. Some foods can contribute to diarrhea, potentially making it worse. People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and especially those who have the diarrhea-predominant type (IBS-D) may also find that certain foods aggravate symptoms. For people who have very sensitive digestive systems, these foods may even cause an episode of diarrhea, without any other underlying problems. If you are having diarrhea, avoiding the foods listed below could be helpful in lessening the severity, as well as how long the loose stools last. 

More About Diarrhea: 

  • Foods To Eat When You Have Diarrhea
  • Keeping Clean After Diarrhea
  • Which Antibiotics Can Cause Diarrhea?


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The sugar that is found naturally in milk, which is called lactose, can cause diarrhea in some people. This condition is called lactose intolerance, and it’s very common in people over the age of 2. Symptoms of lactose intolerance can include gas, diarrhea, bloating, cramps, nausea and very bad breath. Avoiding milk products is generally the way to prevent the 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 a milk allergy should avoid all milk products, even those that are lactose-free, because it is not the sugar in milk that causes an allergy, but the protein.

Hot Peppers

Chili Pepper
Chili peppers are great, but they can cause diarrhea.. 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 (including bell peppers, jalapeño peppers, cayenne peppers, and some chili peppers). that can trigger diarrhea. Capsaicin is also used in ointments that treat arthritis. (Interestingly, casein, which is a protein 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
Cup Of Coffee. Photo © anya-anya

Coffee, tea and soda are common places to find caffeine. Other, lesser-known caffeine sources include chocolate, gum, and even some  flavors of 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. Coffee may make some people have a bowel movement, but this is thought to be less related to the caffeine content and more from other substances coffee contains.

Artificial Fat

Potato Chips
Potato Chips. Photo © Master isolated images

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

Sugar Substitutes

Sugar. Photo © JadeGordon

These food additives, such as sorbitol and mannitol, can be found in a variety of foods, everything from candy to yogurt. Even so-called healthy foods which are often touted as "sugar-free" may contain these additives, so reading nutrition labels on foods is going to be the key to avoiding them.

Many of these sweeteners can be found in natural sources also, such as fruit and vegetables. Foods that contain these types of sugars may be high on the FODMAP scale. FODMAPs are fermentable oligo-, di- and mono-saccharides, and polyols, and limiting them may be helpful for some people with digestive problems, namely irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 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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