The 15 Worst Foods for Your Stomach

These "belly bullies" are most likely to upset your digestive system, throw your gut bacteria out of whack, cause inflammation, and make you pack on the pounds.

Carb-dense foods

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This may change the way you look at “good carbs” and “bad carbs” forever. Carb-dense foods can alter the balance of our gut flora, triggering inflammation. Foods are considered carb-dense if they have a high ratio of carb grams relative to their weight. A small potato, which many consider a bad carb, weighs 170 grams, but it’s mostly water; only about 23 percent of it is carbohydrate. A plain rice cake, by contrast, weighs only nine grams, but almost 80 percent of it is carbohydrate!

Found in: Bagels, bread (including whole-grain breads), crackers, pasta, cereals, white rice, pretzels.

Unhealthy fats

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Three types of dietary fat are linked to inflammation and thus contribute to excess belly fat: Trans fats, saturated fats, and omega-6 fats. Many different foods that cause belly fat do so because they contain these unhealthy fats.

Found in: Packaged foods (trans fats); processed and high-fat cuts of meat, full-fat dairy, some candy (saturated fat); corn oil, grape-seed oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil (omega-6 fats).

Processed meat

Valerio Pardi/Shutterstock

Processed meats are very high in calories and saturated fats. It’s not only bad for your stomach, but it can also lead to heart disease and stroke. “Processed meats are very difficult for many people to digest. They can sit in the intestines for longer because they are difficult to break down,” says Julie Rothenberg, MS, RD, LDN. They don’t contain any fiber, so they aren’t good for digestion.  

Found in: Cold cuts, hot dogs, ground meats. Check out some surprising home remedies for belly fat to consider trying.

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Fried foods

Christian-Fischer/Shutterstock

Fried food tends to overwhelm the stomach, resulting in acid reflux and heartburn. Rothenberg says that fried foods sit in your stomach similarly to processed foods. It takes the body much longer to digest fried foods due to their high fat content, making them foods that cause belly fat.

Milk and high-lactose dairy foods

Illia Iovenko/Shutterstock

A key component to keeping your tummy happy is the avoidance of FODMAPs, or rapidly fermentable carbohydrates that can aggravate your gut. Some people aren’t sensitive to any FODMAPs, some experience symptoms after eating only certain ones, and other people develop gradually worsening effects with each exposure. Lactose, found in all animal milks, is the best-known FODMAP. Lactose is broken down in the small intestine by an enzyme called lactase. Our bodies produce less lactase as we get older (since its main purpose is to help babies digest breast milk), which means dairy foods that contain lactose can torment our tummies over time even if they didn’t before.

Found in: Milk, regular (non-Greek) yogurt, soft cheeses, dairy-based desserts.

Excess fructose (in apples, honey, asparagus)

Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Foods with a lot of fructose (another FODMAP) compared with glucose can contribute to gas, bloating, and diarrhea. A 2008 study in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology found that patients with IBS who followed a non-fructose diet had fewer symptoms.

Found in: Certain fruits (apples, mangoes, watermelons); certain vegetables (asparagus, sugar snap peas); sweeteners (high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, honey).

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Garlic, onions, and high-fiber cousins

Hemera/Thinkstock

The body’s inability to digest a kind of fiber, called fructan, in these foods can cause flatulence. This fiber (another FODMAP) seems to cause more symptoms than some other kinds, but that may simply be because we eat so much of it.

Found in: Grains (barley, wheat); vegetables (artichokes, onions, garlic); legumes (black beans, kidney beans, soybeans); additives (inulin). Don’t miss these 9 ways to blast belly fat in a single day.

Beans and nuts

iStock/Thinkstock

We lack the enzyme to break down a FODMAP in these foods, so our gut bacteria must digest them, which produces gas.

Found in: Most beans and some nuts (cashews, pistachios).

Natural and artificial sweeteners

iStock/Thinkstock

Sugar alcohols, low-carb sweeteners naturally found in some foods and added to others, are another FODMAP. Foods that contain them, therefore, are among the foods that cause belly fat that you should consider avoiding. FODMAPs don’t easily pass through our cell walls, so gut bacteria digest them, which can cause gas and bloating.

Found in: Some fruits (apples, blackberries, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums); vegetables (cauliflower, mushrooms, snow peas); artificial sweeteners (isomalt, mannitol, polydextrose); sugar-free foods. Don’t miss these other reasons you might be experiencing belly bloat.

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Fat-free foods

Sunny Forest/Shutterstock

Many people think that choosing the fat-free option makes it healthier. But in reality, fat-free foods are very bad for your stomach. “Fat-free foods contain a lot of artificial preservatives and chemicals. This confuses your brain,” says Hillary Lewis Murray, Founder & CEO of Lumi. “Your body isn’t made to digest artificial ingredients. This buildup of bad ingredients leads to bloating and fatigue. Stick with 100 percent real ingredients.”

Alcohols

Africa Studio/Shutterstock

It’s not just your liver that suffers the aftereffects of a night out drinking. Alcohol carries a lot of empty calories with it, and drinking a lot of it can also slow down your body’s fat-burning processes. (Hey, they don”t call it a “beer belly” for nothing.) A drink or two—after you’ve eaten, of course—is harmless, but if you make a habit of having more than a few drinks at a time, you might start to see the effects on your midsection. 

Fructose-sweetened beverages

Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Just like foods containing too much of this FODMAP are foods that cause belly fat, fructose-packed drinks are not friends to your tummy either. You might already know that soda can have averse effects on your health, but be aware of more sneaky culprits like fruit juice and sweet tea too. And according to Heathline, fructose-sweetened drinks might actually be more dangerous than their food counterparts in terms of belly fat risk, since they make it easier to consume more fructose in a shorter period of time. Learn more of the worst habits for belly fat.

Content continues below ad

Breakfast pastries

Brandon Bourdages/Shutterstock

Muffins or scones may have little bits of blueberries in them, but don’t assume that they’re actually a healthy option. They’re still processed and packaged, so they’re still culprits for trans fats and, of course, artificial sugars. Some brands of packaged muffins even contain up to 50 percent of your daily value of sugar. So rather than making them a breakfast staple, save these goodies for rare treats. Check out these 23 ways to lose belly fat without exercising.

To-go salads

Jaengpeng/Shutterstock

Not even salad is safe?! you’re probably wondering. But don’t worry, it’s not the salad itself that causes belly fat. But when you get a pre-packaged salad from a gas station or cafe, it usually comes with a little—or not-so-little—cup of thick dressing that can pretty much counteract the nutritional value of the salad. Next time you eat your greens, opt for vinaigrette or olive oil instead of a ranch or Thousand Island, dressings that contain lots of trans fat. Not to mention that to-go salads are also often topped off with processed cheese toppings and carbo-loaded croutons, which are also foods that cause belly fat.

Salty snacks

Ja-oo/Shutterstock

Salt in any form is a major culprit for belly fat, mostly because it causes your body to retain lots of water, which leads to bloating and weight gain. Salty snacks like potato chips and cheese puffs also contain lots of hydrogenated oils, and hydrogenated oils mean bad fats. Next, find out which foods can actually combat belly fat.

Carb-dense foods

mattburchell/Shutterstock

This may change the way you look at “good carbs” and “bad carbs” forever. Carb-dense foods can alter the balance of our gut flora, triggering inflammation. Foods are considered carb-dense if they have a high ratio of carb grams relative to their weight. A small potato, which many consider a bad carb, weighs 170 grams, but it’s mostly water; only about 23 percent of it is carbohydrate. A plain rice cake, by contrast, weighs only nine grams, but almost 80 percent of it is carbohydrate!

Found in: Bagels, bread (including whole-grain breads), crackers, pasta, cereals, white rice, pretzels.

Unhealthy fats

iStock/Thinkstock

Three types of dietary fat are linked to inflammation and thus contribute to excess belly fat: Trans fats, saturated fats, and omega-6 fats. Many different foods that cause belly fat do so because they contain these unhealthy fats.

Found in: Packaged foods (trans fats); processed and high-fat cuts of meat, full-fat dairy, some candy (saturated fat); corn oil, grape-seed oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil (omega-6 fats).

Processed meat

Valerio Pardi/Shutterstock

Processed meats are very high in calories and saturated fats. It’s not only bad for your stomach, but it can also lead to heart disease and stroke. “Processed meats are very difficult for many people to digest. They can sit in the intestines for longer because they are difficult to break down,” says Julie Rothenberg, MS, RD, LDN. They don’t contain any fiber, so they aren’t good for digestion.  

Found in: Cold cuts, hot dogs, ground meats. Check out some surprising home remedies for belly fat to consider trying.

Content continues below ad

Fried foods

Christian-Fischer/Shutterstock

Fried food tends to overwhelm the stomach, resulting in acid reflux and heartburn. Rothenberg says that fried foods sit in your stomach similarly to processed foods. It takes the body much longer to digest fried foods due to their high fat content, making them foods that cause belly fat.

Milk and high-lactose dairy foods

Illia Iovenko/Shutterstock

A key component to keeping your tummy happy is the avoidance of FODMAPs, or rapidly fermentable carbohydrates that can aggravate your gut. Some people aren’t sensitive to any FODMAPs, some experience symptoms after eating only certain ones, and other people develop gradually worsening effects with each exposure. Lactose, found in all animal milks, is the best-known FODMAP. Lactose is broken down in the small intestine by an enzyme called lactase. Our bodies produce less lactase as we get older (since its main purpose is to help babies digest breast milk), which means dairy foods that contain lactose can torment our tummies over time even if they didn’t before.

Found in: Milk, regular (non-Greek) yogurt, soft cheeses, dairy-based desserts.

Excess fructose (in apples, honey, asparagus)

Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Foods with a lot of fructose (another FODMAP) compared with glucose can contribute to gas, bloating, and diarrhea. A 2008 study in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology found that patients with IBS who followed a non-fructose diet had fewer symptoms.

Found in: Certain fruits (apples, mangoes, watermelons); certain vegetables (asparagus, sugar snap peas); sweeteners (high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, honey).

Content continues below ad

Garlic, onions, and high-fiber cousins

Hemera/Thinkstock

The body’s inability to digest a kind of fiber, called fructan, in these foods can cause flatulence. This fiber (another FODMAP) seems to cause more symptoms than some other kinds, but that may simply be because we eat so much of it.

Found in: Grains (barley, wheat); vegetables (artichokes, onions, garlic); legumes (black beans, kidney beans, soybeans); additives (inulin). Don’t miss these 9 ways to blast belly fat in a single day.

Beans and nuts

iStock/Thinkstock

We lack the enzyme to break down a FODMAP in these foods, so our gut bacteria must digest them, which produces gas.

Found in: Most beans and some nuts (cashews, pistachios).

Natural and artificial sweeteners

iStock/Thinkstock

Sugar alcohols, low-carb sweeteners naturally found in some foods and added to others, are another FODMAP. Foods that contain them, therefore, are among the foods that cause belly fat that you should consider avoiding. FODMAPs don’t easily pass through our cell walls, so gut bacteria digest them, which can cause gas and bloating.

Found in: Some fruits (apples, blackberries, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums); vegetables (cauliflower, mushrooms, snow peas); artificial sweeteners (isomalt, mannitol, polydextrose); sugar-free foods. Don’t miss these other reasons you might be experiencing belly bloat.

Content continues below ad

Fat-free foods

Sunny Forest/Shutterstock

Many people think that choosing the fat-free option makes it healthier. But in reality, fat-free foods are very bad for your stomach. “Fat-free foods contain a lot of artificial preservatives and chemicals. This confuses your brain,” says Hillary Lewis Murray, Founder & CEO of Lumi. “Your body isn’t made to digest artificial ingredients. This buildup of bad ingredients leads to bloating and fatigue. Stick with 100 percent real ingredients.”

Alcohols

Africa Studio/Shutterstock

It’s not just your liver that suffers the aftereffects of a night out drinking. Alcohol carries a lot of empty calories with it, and drinking a lot of it can also slow down your body’s fat-burning processes. (Hey, they don”t call it a “beer belly” for nothing.) A drink or two—after you’ve eaten, of course—is harmless, but if you make a habit of having more than a few drinks at a time, you might start to see the effects on your midsection. 

Fructose-sweetened beverages

Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Just like foods containing too much of this FODMAP are foods that cause belly fat, fructose-packed drinks are not friends to your tummy either. You might already know that soda can have averse effects on your health, but be aware of more sneaky culprits like fruit juice and sweet tea too. And according to Heathline, fructose-sweetened drinks might actually be more dangerous than their food counterparts in terms of belly fat risk, since they make it easier to consume more fructose in a shorter period of time. Learn more of the worst habits for belly fat.

Content continues below ad

Breakfast pastries

Brandon Bourdages/Shutterstock

Muffins or scones may have little bits of blueberries in them, but don’t assume that they’re actually a healthy option. They’re still processed and packaged, so they’re still culprits for trans fats and, of course, artificial sugars. Some brands of packaged muffins even contain up to 50 percent of your daily value of sugar. So rather than making them a breakfast staple, save these goodies for rare treats. Check out these 23 ways to lose belly fat without exercising.

To-go salads

Jaengpeng/Shutterstock

Not even salad is safe?! you’re probably wondering. But don’t worry, it’s not the salad itself that causes belly fat. But when you get a pre-packaged salad from a gas station or cafe, it usually comes with a little—or not-so-little—cup of thick dressing that can pretty much counteract the nutritional value of the salad. Next time you eat your greens, opt for vinaigrette or olive oil instead of a ranch or Thousand Island, dressings that contain lots of trans fat. Not to mention that to-go salads are also often topped off with processed cheese toppings and carbo-loaded croutons, which are also foods that cause belly fat.

Salty snacks

Ja-oo/Shutterstock

Salt in any form is a major culprit for belly fat, mostly because it causes your body to retain lots of water, which leads to bloating and weight gain. Salty snacks like potato chips and cheese puffs also contain lots of hydrogenated oils, and hydrogenated oils mean bad fats. Next, find out which foods can actually combat belly fat.

Originally Published on Readers Digest