5 Foods to Avoid For a Happier and Healthier Gut
A healthy gut forms the robust foundation for a healthy body. When your gut’s microbiome is well-balanced, nearly every other area of your body benefits from it. Similarly, the result can be ravaging when your gut is characterized by unbalanced gut flora and fueled by inflammatory foods. Fortunately (and unfortunately), the foods we eat contribute significantly to our gut health, for better or for worse. However, there are so many foods that can be detrimental to gut health, that more often than not, it is unrealistic to completely eliminate them from your diet. Thus, the most important thing to remember is that moderation is key! Here are 5 foods to avoid for a happier and healthier gut (and in turn, a healthier body!)
- A healthy gut is a result of having a microbiome that is balanced in beneficial and harmful bacteria.
- Foods to avoid for a happier and healthier gut include sugar, alcoholic beverages, dairy, gluten, and red meat.
- Foods that support a healthy gut include high-fiber foods, fermented foods, and organic foods.
Why care about gut health?
The term ‘gut health’ is thrown around in TikToks, glorified in health trends, and used by influencers and marketers incessantly, but what does the ever-so-vague term even mean? A healthy gut is a result of having a great balance between good bacteria (beneficial bacteria) and bad bacteria (potentially damaging bacteria) in your digestive system.
Oftentimes, we simply ingest our food without really thinking about it. It’s easy to forget about the long-term consequences of fueling ourselves with food that is nourishing our sense of hunger, but not really nourishing our bodies. While we may think this doesn’t really have an effect on us, our bodies prove otherswise – and it’s time we start to trust our guts and listen to our bodies a bit more.
The gut is often referred to as the body’s “second brain” meaning that if your gut health is struggling, it is likely that your body is on the struggle bus too.
Research shows that the relationship between mood, digestion, and overall physical and mental health with gut health is getting stronger every single day. So why does the gut have such a tremendous impact on our health?
The gut is the happy home to well over 100 trillion bacteria. Despite getting a bad rap, not all of these bacteria are the criminals we’ve made them out to be. Good bacteria play a key role in our metabolism and health by breaking down fiber and helping to make vitamins B and K.
Furthermore, over 80% of our immune systems live comfortably in the gut, along with a vast majority of serotonin. Thus, an unhealthy gut that is unable to dispose of toxins and metabolic waste can result in a decline in mental and physical health.
Poor gut health can cause an extensive array of issues, including fatigue, inflammation, and a plethora of chronic illnesses that express themselves in symptoms such as constipation, gas, joint pain, and diarrhea (just to name a few). Factors that contribute to an unbalanced gut (and, as a result, the laundry list of symptoms that come with it) are stress, long-term use of antibiotics, and poor nutrition.
That being said, if you experience these symptoms regularly, know that it isn’t impossible to heal your gut. By managing stress levels, getting sufficient sleep, practicing mindfulness, exercising, and being mindful of the foods you eat, your microbiome can be transformed, ultimately supporting your immune system and sky-rocketing your serotonin production.
5 foods to avoid
I’m sure this one comes as a surprise to *absolutely nobody.* While refined white sugar (and all added sugars) have a particularly bad reputation, research done on the effect of sugar on digestion found that high-sugar diets resulted in higher reports of constipation and poor overall gut health.
Additionally, diets that are high in sugar and other processed foods arouse inflammation throughout the body, unbalancing the good and bad bacteria in your stomach, and negatively impacting how your body processes healthier foods.
Remember– sugar is fine in small doses, especially if you’re fueling up on fruits, veggies, and nutrient-dense meals. Whole foods that are rich in macro and micronutrients facilitate an ideal, balanced microbiome, keeping things running nice and smoothly.
2. Alcoholic beverages
Research published in 2020 suggested that consuming alcohol in excessive amounts is linked to dysbiosis, which occurs when your microbiome becomes unbalanced. Health concerns associated with dysbiosis include cramps, constipation, acid reflux, anxiety, food intolerance, and constipation, among many others.
Additionally, alcohol consumption impedes the production of enzymes critical to healthy digestion. This hampering makes it challenging for the body to break down, digest, and absorb nutrients from the food you eat.
If you choose to imbibe, alternate with glasses of water, eat a meal beforehand, and be mindful of your food choices the next day (no matter how tempting your go-to hangover meal might be) and choose to nourish your body instead!
It is estimated that up to 68% of the world’s population suffers from lactose intolerance. Even if you don’t identify with that statistic, dairy may not be your stomach’s best friend. Studies have revealed that dairy consumption alters the bacterial composition of the gut, facilitating the flourishing of bad bacteria that are linked to intestinal diseases and inflammation.
The most common protein found in dairy is casein. Despite being a popular protein supplement for many gym-goers, studies have linked casein to inflammation and digestive discomfort.
Fortunately, we live in a world chock-full of dairy and milk alternatives that provide plenty of options for those of us all too familiar with the digestive discomfort of dairy. Either way, dairy isn’t inherently bad. The USDA recommends adults should consume two to three servings of dairy per day. Everything in moderation!
Gluten is a protein found in a variety of grains including wheat and barley. In recent years, it’s received a pretty bad rap for unfortunately good reason. While those diagnosed with Celiac disease are especially susceptible to the effects of gluten, additional research notes that even in those without the disease, stomach pain, bloating, and fatigue are common side effects.
Further research indicates that the removal of gluten from the diet minimizes insulin resistance, risk of weight gain and obesity, and inflammation throughout the body.
5. Red meat
Higher red meat consumption has been associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer and inflammatory bowel disease (IBS). Studies show that diets high in red meat have unfavorable consequences for the microbiome. Red meat invigorates the growth of bacteria that has an adverse effect on weight, immune function, and mental health. Specifically, a chemical compounded widely present in red meat, L-carnitine, alters the composition of the gut and increases the risk of heart disease.
If you’re a steak and potatoes kind of guy or gal, don’t fret! It is recommended to limit your red meat intake to six ounces each week, which equates to one to two servings.
Foods that support gut health
Realizing the wide array of foods to avoid for a happier and healthier gut is overwhelming. It’s important to remember that avoiding all of these foods and ingredients forever is nearly impossible, especially if you prefer to relish the goodness of a full meal of tacos, pizza, or ice cream every once in a while. However, being aware of the impact that these foods have on your health, and thus taking small steps to minimize the consumption of these foods when possible is the first priority.
Adding a daily probiotic supplement to your morning routine is a great idea to prioritize your gut health. Probiotics aid in the preservation of the good gut bacteria, creating a happy and healthy microbiome. Additionally, there are plenty of foods that support gut health to help keep the foundation of your body a strong and healthy one.
Specifically, high-fiber foods are excellent for gut health and they contribute nourishment for probiotic bacteria in the form of prebiotic fibers. Additionally, foods that are high in inulin (a prebiotic fiber) encourage healthy gut flora. High-fiber foods include chickpeas, edamame, berries, beans, and brown rice. Foods that are high in inulin include garlic, onions, asparagus, and jicama.
Fermented foods are fantastic for your friendly gut flora as well. These foods include kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, and tempeh. All of these foods are loaded with probiotics as a result of the fermentation process, boosting microbiome diversity and accelerating immune responses. Even more, consuming more organic foods is aligned with a healthier gut as they abstain from pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and herbicides that can all be detrimental to your microbiome and overall health.
If you’re guilty of regularly eating some of the “off-limits” foods to avoid for a happier and healthier, don’t stress. Gradually starting to eliminate or minimize these foods from your diet is the first (and most important) step to take when caring for your gut health. It’s incredibly unrealistic to get rid of them all completely, especially all at once, but it’s time we start to understand the importance of a healthy gut and the impact this has on our mental and physical health. Prioritizing your health starts with caring for your gut!
Written by Morgan Taylor
- Photo by Dev Benjamin on Unsplash