Plus, how to improve your gut health with a few dietary supplements.
If you’re trying to improve your gut health, the first step is to take stock of your diet. What you eat can affect the amount of good and bad bacteria in the gut microbiota, and when there’s an imbalance it can lead to a wide range of health issues.
To learn more about how diet impacts the gut and what the number one food to avoid is, we asked the experts for their thoughts. Here’s what they had to say.
How Your Eating Habits Affect Gut Health
The foods an individual eats directly affect their gut microbiota, which is responsible for a wide variety of functions including immunity, digestion, and metabolism, among many other processes. An imbalance of healthy gut microbes can contribute to poor metabolism, poor digestion, and weight gain, among other negative health consequences. Mary Wirtz, MS, RDN, CSSD, nutrition consultant at Mom Loves Best, explains.
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“The intestinal microbiota is a complex ecosystem present in our intestine. It varies greatly from one individual to another, but dietary habits may be responsible [for] up to 20-50% of these microbiota variations,” says Dr. Seifeldin Hakim, MD, a gastroenterologist at Memorial Hermann in Houston.
It is important to maintain a balance between good intestinal bacteria and bad intestinal bacteria to have a healthy intestine and to avoid the proliferation of bad bacteria. Eating yogurt helps provide good bacteria and it is considered a good source of good bacteria and acts as a probiotic.
Besides the microbiota, eating spicy foods can lead to problems with hyperacidity and heartburn, adds Dr. Hakim. Drinking soda can increase acid reflux and cause excessive bloating and burping which can lead to upper abdominal discomfort. High fiber foods such as vegetables and fruits tend to help with constipation and promote bowel movement as well as promote the growth of good bacteria.
The worst food for your gut
So what is the worst food for gut health? Fried foods such as French fries and other treats, including donuts, are very harmful to gut health.
“These foods are extremely high in fat, most often contain trans-saturated fats, and offer very few redeemable nutritional qualities that promote health, such as vitamins and minerals,” says Wirtz. “Trans-saturated fats are linked to inflammatory markers and are not beneficial for promoting gut health.”
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Foods to eat instead
For a healthy gut microbiome, Wirtz recommends sticking to prebiotic and probiotic foods.
Food sources rich in prebiotics include:
Beans and lentils
Whole grains like oats, quinoa, barley, and brown rice
Fruits, including berries, pomegranates, melon, apples, bananas, and citrus fruits
Vegetables, including lettuce, spinach, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and leeks.
These listed foods are high in dietary fiber and are essentially the foods on which the “good” gut bacteria thrive.
Food sources rich in probiotics include fermented foods such as:
The above foods all have beneficial microbiota (microorganisms) that improve an individual’s microbiome.
“A whole diet of foods rich in fiber, probiotics and essential nutrients is optimal for the gut. Specifically, high fiber foods like chickpeas and lentils contain a type of fiber called prebiotics that help stimulate the growth of healthy microorganisms in the gut,” says Beata Rydyger, BSc, RHNa licensed nutritionist based in Los Angeles.
Legumes in general are also rich in B vitamins, which play a crucial role in shaping microbiome diversity.
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