Why Starchy and Fatty Foods Are Hard to Digest

Did you know that your gut contains 500 species of bacteria and that altogether, they weigh about three pounds? These bacteria play a critical role in digestion and other important health-related functions. Eating the wrong foods can throw off the delicate balance of good and bad bacteria and cause a host of digestive (and other) health problems.

Two food groups in particular are difficult to digest: starches and fatty foods.


Bread, grains, cereal, and pasta are examples of starchy foods. They have little or no water content, which is partly why they are hard to digest. When you eat starchy foods, the body breaks the food into simpler molecules, which are absorbed into our blood stream and help provide energy.

As you digest starches, the food is fermented in the gut, producing alcohol and vinegar. According to David Klein, PhD, Director of the Colitis & Crohn's Health Recovery Center in Maui, Hawaii, and the author of Self Healing Colitis & Crohn's, these can ravage the bowel tissues and cause painful ulcerations. Furthermore, starchy foods can create an environment where bad bacteria take over and can cause bloating.

Whole grain starches are healthier than their white counterparts, easier to digest, and provides necessary nutrients such as carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Fatty Foods

High fat meals make you feel fuller, but also make you sluggish. Fats digest slowly and cause the stomach to secrete and retain a lot of acid. This can cause the stomach and intestines to become inflamed and ulcerated. It can also cause the entrance from the stomach to the duodenum (the first section of the small intestine) to swell shut. This can produce fermentation and putrefaction, gastroesophogeal reflux disease (GERD), vomiting, pain, and chronic inflammation. Fatty foods also contain many calories and can lead to obesity.

Mark Hyman, MD, a physician who practices functional medicine, says digestive problems are linked to a long list of health problems including:

  • Allergies
  • Arthritis
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Rashes
  • Acne
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Mood disorders
  • Autism
  • Dementia
  • Cancer

He says gut health determines what nutrients you absorb and what toxins are kept out of the body.

According to raw food advocates, it's not just what you eat, but how you eat it. Protein needs higher acidic levels in the gut for proper digestion, which is why eating starches in combination with protein (think meat and potatoes) can make it difficult for your digestion to break down both forms of food. This can cause indigestion, bloating, gas, fatigue, high cholesterol, and weight gain. Furthermore, neither is properly absorbed, so it can impede your digestion's ability to ingest the necessary nutrients.

To promote optimum digestion, Dr. Klein says avoid animal-derived foods and eat raw, fresh, organic, whole, vegan foods.




Raw Food Explained.com. "Lesson 22 - The Principles Of Digestive Physiology Which Decree Correct Food Combining." Web. http://www.rawfoodexplained.com/digestive-physiology-and-food-combining/food-combining-rules.html

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. "Your Digestive System and How It Works." Web. April 2008. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/yrdd/

Klein, David, Ph.D. "Is Your Food Digesting or Rotting in Your Gut?" Blog posting. Web. 25 January 2010. http://davidkleinphd.wordpress.com/2010/01/25/is-your-food-digesting-or-rotting-in-your-gut/

Hyman, Mark, MD. "5 Simple Steps to Cure IBS without Drugs." Web. http://drhyman.com/5-simple-steps-to-cure-ibs-without-drugs-2226/

Hyman, Mark, MD. "Is Your Digestive System Making You Sick, and Fat?" Web. http://drhyman.com/is-your-digestive-system-making-you-sick-582/

Jordan, Jo. "Digesting Proteins and Starches." Web. http://www.puristat.com/bloating/proteinsandstarches.aspx