The worst foods for gut health

Bacteria and other microbes in the gut help the body digest food. These bacteria can also play an important role in helping the body fight off harmful bacteria, yeasts, and other microbes.

Foods that promote gut health can feed good bacteria or add more useful bacteria to the gut. Unhealthy foods can promote gastrointestinal problems or damage gut bacteria.

The effect of different foods on gut health depends on many factors, including a person’s overall diet and food sensitivities. A person sensitive to certain foods, for example, could suffer from gut health problems from a food that would otherwise be safe for the intestines.

In this article, learn about the worst foods for gut health, why they contribute to gastrointestinal issues, and more.

The following foods can affect the gut health of some people:

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If a person’s diet is high in animal protein, they have a higher risk of IBD.

Foods of animal origin, including meat, dairy products, and eggs, provide many health benefits. They are high in protein and other nutrients, like choline. However, people who eat a diet very high in animal protein can experience harmful changes in their gut microbiome.

Research suggests that people who consume a lot of protein, especially animal protein, have higher risks of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a chronic disease that may reflect poor gut health.

A 2010 study compared the intestinal bacteria of children in a rural area of ​​Burkina Faso in Africa to the intestinal bacteria of Italian children.

Italian children ate more meat, while children in Burkina Faso ate diets high in fiber, as well as more pea protein. The researchers found that children in Burkina Faso had more good gut bacteria that they associated with lower inflammation, while children in Italy had more bacteria associated with inflammation and disease.

A 2019 study suggested that red meat may be particularly useless because it increases trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) levels. TMAO is a by-product of intestinal bacteria. Researchers link high levels of TMAO to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.

Foods high in FODMAP are good for many people to eat, but can cause gastrointestinal problems in people with bowel problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

FODMAP stands for:

  • Fermentable
  • ohligosaccharide
  • Disaccharides
  • Monosaccharides
  • Polyols

Foods that are fermentable, those that contain simple sugars, and those that contain sugar alcohols can irritate the stomach. Some foods high in FODMAPs include:

  • processed foods containing high fructose corn syrup, sorbitol and other artificial sweeteners
  • Juice
  • agave, honey and many other sweeteners
  • condiments, such as jam, relish, and hummus

However, many highly nutritious foods, such as figs, apricots, and avocados, are also foods high in FODMAP.

People on a low FODMAP diet may wish to try an elimination diet. This process means slowly cutting out and then adding back potentially problematic foods to see which ones are causing gut problems.

Learn more about what to eat and what to avoid on a low FODMAP diet here.

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Some foods may contain antibiotics which can kill the good bacteria in the gut.

Farmers, especially those who operate large-scale farms, often treat animals with antibiotics to reduce the risk of serious infections.

The use of antibiotics remains controversial, and some European countries have strict regulations governing this practice.

Excessive exposure to antibiotics, especially in a person or animal that is not sick, can promote antibiotic resistance. This happens when bacteria that are repeatedly exposed to antibiotics evolve to resist the drugs.

Antibiotics not only kill bad bacteria, but can also kill helpful bacteria in the gut. Some people have chosen to take probiotics when using antibiotics to help prevent side effects.

Many people are aware of the risks of taking antibiotics unnecessarily, such as with a cold. However, approximately 80% antibiotics sold in the United States are used for animal husbandry.

Fried foods are more difficult for the body to digest. People often cook them in oils high in saturated and trans fats which can further irritate the stomach, causing diarrhea, gas, and stomach pain.

Fried foods can also promote the growth of harmful gut bacteria.

Plus, limiting fried foods reduces the risk of liver disease. Liver disease can cause a range of gastrointestinal problems and can adversely affect a person’s overall health. Doctors sometimes advise people with liver health problems to stop eating fried foods.

The complex colony of organisms that live in the gut can affect virtually every aspect of health. Researchers are only beginning to understand the profound effects of the gut microbiome.

When the body does not have the right balance of bacteria, some organisms can grow out of control, impacting fungal and other infections. For example, a person who takes antibiotics may experience changes in their gut bacteria that make them more susceptible to yeast infections.

So far, research suggests that gut health can play a role in:

Lots of nutritious foods can help promote gut health. Particularly useful food groups include prebiotics, which help feed good bacteria, and probiotics, which can add beneficial bacteria to the gut.

Prebiotic foods

Prebiotics are foods or food ingredients that the body cannot digest. Instead, the bacteria ferment them and use them for food.

All prebiotics are a type of fiber, but not all fiber is prebiotics. This helps explain why some forms of fiber may be better for gut health than others.

Some healthy prebiotic foods include:

  • Garlic
  • onions
  • corn
  • soy
  • Oats
  • artichoke
  • asparagus
  • leeks

Probiotic foods

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Kimchi and other fermented foods can help increase healthy bacteria in the gut.

Probiotics contain healthy bacteria. Here are some examples of probiotics:

  • cultured yogurt
  • cultured cottage cheese and other dairy products with bacterial cultures
  • fermented foods, such as kimchi, tempeh, miso, and sauerkraut

Some prebiotics and probiotics are foods high in FODMAP as well, so an individual may need to consider their dietary goals before deciding whether or not to consume each food.

No food is the magic key to good gut health. Certain fermented foods, which are often popular probiotic choices, can actually worsen gut health in people on a low FODMAP diet.

Other foods, such as red meat and fried foods, may be better to avoid or reduce to improve gut health.

People who want to improve their gut health can talk to their doctor or dietitian about their specific gut health goals. A trial and error approach often produces the best results.

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