When you think about the health effects of blueberries, upset stomach isn't likely the first thing to come to mind. However, berries can cause digestion troubles alongside their many health benefits. Learning about potential causes can allow you to enjoy these fruits without pain.
Always Wash Your Fruit
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, approximately one in every six Americans suffers from a foodborne illnesses in any given year. While some of these cases are relatively mild, hospitals admit about 128,000 people per year for food poisoning. Worst of all, approximately 3,000 Americans die annually from foodborne illness.
Several types of foods can spread foodborne illnesses, including both fresh and frozen berries. Some of the types of diseases you can get from berries include:
- Hemorrhagic colitis
- Hepatitis A
Each of these illnesses can cause abdominal pain and discomfort. If blueberries and upset stomach go hand-in-hand for you, food poisoning could be to blame. It's important to practice good food hygiene when it comes to your berries. The following precautions can help you avoid foodborne illnesses:
- Wash your hands frequently while cooking.
- Clean cutting boards and counter tops regularly.
- Wash all produce before preparing or eating it, including frozen berries.
- Cut off any damaged or bruised areas of berries before eating.
- Separate produce from raw meats in the refrigerator.
- Chill fruits at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler.
Moderate Your Sugar Intake
The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders reports on four types of naturally occurring sugars that can cause gas, including fructose. Although berries may have less fructose than other fruits, they still contain some of the sugar. If fruit, including blueberries, made your stomach hurt, it could be from too much fructose.
People absorb fructose differently. While most people tolerate it well, others live with fructose malabsorption. If you have fructose malabsorption, your body does not properly break down this sugar in the digestive system. It then reacts with the natural bacteria in the intestines to cause:
- Belly pain
If you experience stomach pain after eating plums, strawberries, blueberries, grapes or other berries, try enjoying these fruits in smaller portions. You should see a doctor if you think you may have fructose malabsorption. Your medical team can help you learn which other foods to avoid.
Consider Digestive Disorders as Culprits
Several gastrointestinal disorders can cause pain and discomfort after eating berries. For example, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases suggests that people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) follow a low-FODMAP diet. Several different types of foods contain FODMAPs, including some berries and fruit juices. As such, people with IBS may notice that blueberries and upset tummy go together for them.
People with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis may also have pain after eating certain types of berries. While trigger foods are different for everyone with these disorders, fruits with seeds can cause flare-ups. Therefore, some patients with these disorders have pain after eating strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and similar fruits.
If you have recently had gastrointestinal surgery, have a stomach bug or live with diverticulitis, you may need to be on a gastrointestinal soft diet. This protocol requires patients to avoid all fruits other than bananas and avocados for four to six weeks. This allows time for the digestive tract to heal.
If you believe a digestive disorder could be the reason berries cause abdominal pain and discomfort, consult your doctor soon. You may need additional testing and advice on how to avoid flare-ups. Because every case is different, it's important to get personalized advice from your medical team, which may also include a nutritionist or dietitian.
- Canadian Society of Intestinal Research: "Berries: Bursting With Health Benefits"
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "What You Need to Know about Foodborne Illnesses"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Fruit and Vegetable Safety"
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: "Foods That May Cause Gas"
- American Gastroenterological Association: "Fructose Malabsorption"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Irritable Bowel Syndrome"
- Crohn's and Colitis Foundation: "What Should I Eat?"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Gastrointestinal Soft Diet Overview"