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What Foods To Avoid To Improve Gut Health
The good, the bad, the ugly of the Western diet includes fruit and vegetables (good), refined sugars and high fructose corn syrup (bad), and processed foods and artificial sweeteners (ugly).
If your gut is rumbling and roaring and causing you discomfort, the first place to look for relief is with your food. Even if you don’t have bloating and gas but are experiencing fuzzy-brain, restless sleep and a lot of stress, look at the food you are eating and remove the ‘bad and ugly’ to help improve your gut and overall health.
To help improve your gut health, and to help restore balance to the bacteria in your gut (which play such an important role in digestion and overall health), you can avoid or limit the amount you eat of the following foods:
Processed foods: Often packed with sugars, preservatives, additives, coloring, chemicals, and a lot of empty calories that can lead to an unbalanced gut microbiome.
Chlorinated water: Chlorine is often added to tap water to help kill bacteria or harmful substances that are in the water. However, too much chlorine can kill the good bacteria in your gut.
Meat: High levels of meat intake have been linked with increases in higher numbers of less desirable species of gut bacteria in some individuals. However, high quality grass-fed meats are an excellent source of nutrients if your gut is able to handle it!
Refined Sugar: A food source for bacteria, eating too much of it can cause an imbalance in the normal bacterial levels in the gut.
There are both good and bad types of gut bacteria: Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, and they feed on prebiotics, which are plant-based fibers from whole foods like apples, onions, garlic, bananas, and oats.
Then there is the ‘bad’ gut bacteria and they love to eat sugar. When you eat refined sugar, these bad gut bacteria thrive and grow out of control, outworking the good bacteria.
The results are diseases and disorders like obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD).
High fructose corn syrup: Found in much of the junk food and beverages we consume today, high fructose corn syrup is linked to diabetes, fatty liver disease, and other inflammatory conditions these conditions often begin in the gut microbiome.
Artificial sweeteners: Known for causing blood sugar and insulin levels to spike, increasing your risk of insulin resistance and weight gain.
Gluten: A protein found in grains such as wheat, gluten can trigger the production of zonulin, a protein that opens up the tight junctions of your intestinal wall. This can lead to leaky gut syndrome.
Gluten is probably the most famous member of a family of proteins called lectins found in grains like wheat, rye, spelt and barley.
Lectins are a part of a plant’s immune system, lectins go on the attack when a plant is stressed or damaged.
They are natural insecticides produced by plants.
So when a grasshopper starts chewing away at a leaf, the plant can stop it in its track with its lectins.
Lectins are so effective that crops are genetically modified to express higher concentrations to better ward off pests. Unfortunately these lectins also attack humans and can cause serious damage in sensitive individuals (especially those with genetic markers for celiac disease).
It really isn’t much of a coincidence that we have seen a drastic rise in celiac disease since the introduction of GMO crops.
Dairy: A common cause of bloating and abdominal discomfort, dairy can be responsible for an imbalance of gut flora in some individuals.
Soy: Often considered a milk and/or meat substitute, soy can be bad for the human gut as it can be extremely difficult to digest and is one of the most common GMO crops. However, if properly prepared and fermented as they do in Asian cultures, soy may be a tolerable option for some people.
What foods to add in to your diet for a healthy gut
- Eat a wide range of plant-based foods. A healthy gut has a diverse community of microbes, and in their diversity they like a variety of food sources.
- Eat more fibre. Most people eat less than they should. Fruit, vegetables, pulses, and nuts help feed healthy bacteria.
- Probiotic foods, such as live yoghurt, might encourage more microbes to grow. Eat them if you enjoy them.
- Choose extra-virgin olive oil over other fats when you can. It contains the highest number of microbe-friendly polyphenols.
- If you eat meat then choose high quality grass fed meats and fresh caught fish and seafood (not farmed).
The Role Of Fermented Foods In Gut Health
Fermentation is a traditional way to preserve foods and dates back thousands of years, with most countries of the world having traditional foods that they ferment.
The purpose of eating fermented foods is to restore your gut bacteria to a good balance so that your digestion improves, which means you are absorbing more nutrients from the foods you eat and you are improving your overall mental and physical health.
Please note that if your gut health is compromised, eating fermented foods can have negative side effects. In particular if you are suffering with histamine intolerance you can react badly to fermented foods. Always introduce them slowly and if you have a reaction then stop! You may have to do other repair work before you will be able to tolerate ferments.
What are fermented foods?
Fermented foods are foods that have been through a process of lactofermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food creating lactic acid. This process preserves the food and creates beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and probiotics.
Allowing bacteria to form in a sealed jar of vegetables over a few months might not seem like the most appealing way to create a meal or side-dish, but fermentation plays an important role in balancing the bacteria in your gut.
There are two ways to ferment foods:
- Fermenting sugar with yeast to produce sugar alcohols; OR
- Using lactic acid-based bacteria (e.g. Lactobacillus) to act on dairy products or vegetables, which aids in their preservation and increases their good probiotic content. (In the case of Candida, this second method is particularly useful).
When talking about eating fermented foods for a healthy microbiome and gut, the lactic acid-based bacterium is the process to look for. And, it isn’t necessary for you to learn how to ferment your own food as there are many options available to you in your local grocery store.
Another note of caution: Not all fermented foods are good for restoring balance to your gut bacteria. Many mass-produced fermented foods, unfortunately, have little actual fermentation left in them (i.e. lacto-acidic beneficial bacteria). This is because of the added sugars, preservatives, colorings, or cheap vinegar used.
These additives are used in place of a real fermentation process. Typical examples are the sauerkraut, kimchi, and olives that you find in your local supermarket. But, there is no need to panic. Educate yourself by reading the labels of these products and you will find that there are, indeed, options at the grocery market that fit your need for fermented foods.
Consider the following tips as guidelines for helping you choose and consume healthy, fermented foods:
Look for foods with no sugar added. Fermented foods will typically have some residual sweetness from the natural sugars that remain in the food, so there should be no need to sweeten them further.
Look for organic ingredients. Great fermented food options that can be certified organic include:
- Yogurt (dairy and non-dairy)
- Kefir (milk and coconut)
Go unpasteurized. Processes like pasteurization and sterilization kill the beneficial bacteria. Even if bacteria are added back in and cultured after pasteurization, remember the enzymes in the food are still destroyed by pasteurizing. Those enzymes help you to digest foods more easily.
Consume your fermented foods with fatty and protein-rich foods. Fatty and protein-rich foods tend to inhibit the natural production of beneficial lactobacillus bacteria in the gut. To offset this, it makes sense to eat a small portion of fermented foods at the same time.
Fermented foods can help provide balance to your gut bacteria. Foods like pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso soup, apple cider vinegar, and dark chocolate feed the good gut bacteria. Add these to your diet, while removing refined sugars and reducing gluten and you will be on your way to a healthy, happy balance of gut bacteria.
The information on this site has not been evaluated by the FDA or the TGA and is not to be taken as medical advice. I am not a doctor and only offer up the personal experience of myself and my family. All material on this website is provided for information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this website, instead, readers should consult with the appropriate health professional in any matter relating to their health and well-being. Readers who fail to consult with the appropriate health professional assume the risk of any injuries.