6 Worst foods for gut health, according to dietitians

Have you ever wondered how foods affect your gut? The answer basically revolves around your microbiome in the gut, which is home to trillions of microscopic organisms, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

Don’t get it wrong, though – the gut microbiome with the right balance of good and bad is not concerning. Some microorganisms can be associated with disease, but others are essential for gut health

Since your gut health depends on your microbiome, certain foods may negatively impact its composition when taken too much.

The foods you eat every day influence your gut health through the microbes that contribute to the unique function of your digestive system. 

What foods should I avoid for good gut health?

A healthy gut is essential for digestion, immunity, and overall well-being, but certain foods can disrupt this balance [1]. Dietitians point out six key offenders that might harm your gut health more than you realize. 

Here’s what you need to know about these foods and why you might want to consider them carefully before including them in your diet.

1. Red meat

Red meat, such as beef, pork, and lamb, might be a popular choice for its flavor and protein content, but it can also pose challenges to gut health when consumed in large amounts. 

Frequent intake of red meat has been linked with increased inflammation in the body and the gut. This inflammation can disturb the balance of gut bacteria and lead to digestive discomfort.

  • Impact on gut bacteria: High levels of certain bile acids produced from the digestion of red meat can harm beneficial gut bacteria.
  • Health concerns: Regular red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of colon cancer and other digestive issues.
  • Better alternatives: Incorporate more plant-based proteins or lean meats like poultry and fish into your diet. These can provide necessary nutrients with less risk to your gut health.

2. Fried foods 

Fried foods are typically cooked in oils at high temperatures, which can lead to the formation of harmful compounds that irritate the gut lining. 

The high fat content of fried foods slows the digestive process, causing discomfort and bloating.

  • Digestive impact: The fats in fried foods are harder for your stomach to break down, which can lead to sluggish digestion and increased feelings of fullness.
  • Risks: Regular consumption can exacerbate issues like heartburn and contribute to more serious gut disorders.
  • Healthier cooking options: Try air frying, baking, or grilling as alternatives to deep frying. These methods use less oil and are gentler on your digestive system.
Fried foods 

3. Processed foods 

Processed foods usually contain high levels of preservatives, sugars, and unhealthy fats that can disrupt the delicate balance of your gut flora. When these artificial ingredients flood your system, they can trigger inflammation and even lead to long-term digestive problems.

  • Key ingredients to avoid: Look out for items like high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, and various chemical additives.
  • Why it matters: These compounds can increase the number of ‘bad’ bacteria in your gut, overshadowing the beneficial ones that aid digestion and health [2].
  • Healthier choices: Opt for fresh or minimally processed foods whenever possible. If you’re buying packaged foods, choose those with shorter, recognizable ingredient lists and fewer added chemicals.
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4. Alcohol and other beverages

When consumed in excess, alcohol and other beverages can be harsh on gut health. It irritates the gut lining, disrupts the balance of beneficial gut bacteria, and can impair the body’s ability to absorb nutrients effectively. 

This can lead to inflammation and potentially exacerbate symptoms of gut-related disorders like gastritis or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

  • Alcohol can cause immediate discomfort, such as bloating and indigestion.
  • Regular heavy drinking can lead to more severe gut issues and overall health problems.
  • If you choose to drink, moderation is key. Opting for drinks with lower alcohol content and ensuring adequate hydration can help mitigate negative effects on your gut.

5. High-lactose dairy products

Lactose intolerance stems from the body’s inability to break down lactose, a sugar found in dairy [3]. 

Consuming these products can lead to uncomfortable symptoms like bloating, gas, and diarrhea, impacting gut health.

  • After consuming dairy, watch for digestive discomfort, which might indicate lactose intolerance.
  • The inability to digest lactose properly can disturb your gut flora, leading to symptoms.
  • Consider lactose-free dairy products or plant-based alternatives like almond, soy, or oat milk. These can offer similar textures and flavors without digestive distress.

6. Fructose

Fructose is the natural sugar of many fruits. When consumed frequently, it may also cause issues with your gut microbiota. It may increase gut permeability, which potentially allows toxins to leave the digestive tract and enter the bloodstream.  

Artificial sweeteners such as sucralose, saccharin and the compound family of polyols are found to modify the number and composition of bacterial colonies in the gut. These changes can cause an imbalanced gut and allow the bad bacteria to flourish, harming good gut bacteria colonies. 

In a research study about the impact of the gut microbiome on maternal fructose, it was found that unabsorbed fructose is converted into hydrogen, short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), methane and carbon dioxide by the gut microbiome.

Moreover, a high-fructose diet can change the gut microbiome, causing gut dysbiosis and microbial metabolite disorder [4]. 

What do I eat for my gut health?

Many research studies have shown that changes to the gut microbiome can contribute to obesity, diabetes and cancer. Thus, improving the makeup of our microbiome is essential in achieving a healthy gut.

But how do we help improve our gut health? Many experts and dietitians recommend eating the following foods. 

Banana

Regularly eating bananas can supply your gut with inulin, a fiber that nourishes good bacteria to grow. Bananas are a top-notch pick because of their high fiber and particular carbohydrate content, which feed good gut bacteria.

Bananas

Fermented foods

As much as you want to eat a lot of fiber to boost your metabolism, the bad news is that your body can’t break it down on its own. When you eat fiber and it reaches your large intestine, your gut bacteria start to work by fermenting it.

Then, fermentation creates acids that allow feeding cells in your intestines while helping protect your gut from harmful bacteria. Some fermented foods are also good sources of probiotics.

To promote fermentation and aid in digestion, you must eat the following:

  • Kefir
  • Apple cider 
  • Certain aged cheeses
  • Dry curd cottage cheese
  • Farmer’s cheese
  • Fermented cottage cheese
  • Fermented vegetables
  • Plain yogurt
  • Refrigerated miso 
  • Pickles with salt and not vinegar 
  • Sauerkraut 
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha with no sugar 
  • Gluten-free tempeh 
  • Other various cultured products [5
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Green tea and red wine

Green tea has polyphenols that may help fight excess bad bacteria like E. coli and manage the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and peptic ulcers. Polyphenols also promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut. 

On the other hand, a study published by King’s College London reveals that people who drank red wine showed increased gut microbiota diversity which is a sign of good gut health. It can be associated with lowered risk of obesity and bad cholesterol, this is in comparison to non-red wine drinkers [6]. 

Prebiotic foods

To diversify your gut microbes, you should eat prebiotic foods–refer to the compounds in food that induce the growth or activity of beneficial microbes. Prebiotics can significantly alter the makeup of microorganisms in the gut microbiome.

Some rich sources of prebiotics are:

  • Whole grains like oats, quinoa, barley and brown rice
  • Beans and lentils
  • Fruits such as berries, pomegranates, melon, apples, bananas and citrus fruits
  • Vegetables include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach, cauliflower, lettuce, kale and leeks

What gut bacteria are associated with longevity?

Immunity, digestion and metabolism are just a few of the responsibilities of the gut microbiome. When you look at it individually, each may seem quite basic; however, in the bigger picture, these three functions are essential for longevity.

With weak body immunity, you will become at a high risk of developing chronic diseases. Meanwhile, continuous indigestion and poor metabolism can lead to obesity, which is another culprit to fatal diseases. 

A research study found that healthy older adults have unique microbiome profiles, which can conclude that the gut microbiome may contribute to healthy longevity.

Increased diversity and enrichment in butyrate-producing bacteria are associated with healthy aging and longevity [7]. Hence, it is essential to diversify the food you eat and avoid the absolute worst foods for gut health. 

Did you know that the world’s centenarians are also found to have robust and diverse microbiome communities in their gut? Another research discovered that over 160 centenarians with an average age of 107 have higher levels of several bacterial species that release molecules called secondary bile acids.

The compounds are found to protect against any pathogenic species and regulate the body’s immune response. Thus, centenarians have stronger protection against diseases because of their diverse microbes.

Closing thoughts

Prioritizing gut health is essential for overall well-being, and one key factor influencing it is our diet. Avoiding or minimizing the consumption of these problematic foods can contribute to a healthier gut microbiome, improved digestion, and reduced inflammation. 

To support your gut health, strive for a balanced diet rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and probiotic-rich foods. Consulting with a registered dietitian can provide personalized guidance tailored to your dietary needs and sensitivities.

Ultimately, by making informed dietary choices and avoiding these six worst foods for gut health, you can take a proactive step toward nurturing your gut and promoting overall wellness.

FAQs

What are the 3 gut destroying foods?

The three gut-destroying foods typically include processed foods high in additives, sugary beverages, and excessive consumption of artificial sweeteners.

What are the 6 foods for gut health?

The six foods that promote gut health include fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, as well as whole grains and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish.

Are there any quick fixes to improve gut health?

While there are no instant remedies, starting to reduce processed foods and increase fiber intake can quickly benefit your gut health. Consistency is key in seeing significant improvements.

How does stress affect gut health?

Stress can negatively impact your gut by disrupting the microbial balance, leading to issues like increased inflammation and digestion problems. Managing stress through mindfulness or exercise can help alleviate these effects.

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[1] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/gut-microbiome-and-health
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4425030/
[3] https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/lactose-intolerance.htm
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4303825/
[5] https://www.umassmed.edu/nutrition/blog/blog-posts/2019/6/fermented-foods-for-gut-health/
[6] https://www.kcl.ac.uk/news/red-wine-benefits-linked-to-better-gut-health-study-finds
[7] https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/unique-gut-microbiome-patterns-linked-healthy-aging-increased-longevity

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