Suffering from even mild gut distress can be a real bummer. It can also be confusing. Is it your diet? Is it your lifestyle? Where to begin? To give you a solid lay of the land, here are some of the most common things that could be harming your gut:
The bad bacteria in our guts feed off of sugar, so it is best to consume the sweet stuff in moderation. The imbalance and inflammation caused by excess sugar consumption can lead to leaky gut and autoimmune disorders, along with insulin resistance, obesity and diabetes.
No, artificial sweeteners aren’t any better. Artificial sweeteners can actually cause insulin levels to spike, as real sugar does, which is pretty confusing for the body, especially since artificial sweeteners are not digestible. In fact, aspartame breaks down into formaldehyde, which is a well-known carcinogen. No one’s gut tolerates formaldehydewell.
Grains are loaded with potential issues, especially if your gut is already sensitive. Between lectins, phytic acid and gluten, grains can be a difficult food group to navigate for some. All grains and legumes (and nightshade veggies) contain lectins, which can cause digestive inflammation and leaky gut symptoms (similar to gluten). Luckily, if you presoak or sprout your grains, both lectins and phytic acid quantities are significantly reduced and the grains become far more digestible. But many grains, like wheat and bulgar, also contain gluten, which can further contribute to issues with leaky gut and inflammation in some. Also be very cautious beans and legumes, including soy consumption, too. Traditional Asian diets prepared and consumed soy in a way that broke down the lectins and phytic acid through fermentation. However, modern day soy milk and tofu are not prepared in this manner and are difficult to digest and potentially inflammatory. Take the time to prepare your grains and beans before eating them if you are concerned about your gut health.
Raw spinach and kale
Greens like spinach, kale, collards and chard and are full of oxalic acid, which binds to nutrients in your digestive system and prevents you from absorbing them during digestion, which can lead to deficiencies. If you are suffering from sluggish digestion or nutritional deficiencies, it is a good idea to lightly steam these greens before consuming, particularly if you consume them in large quantities.
For some, dairy consumption can cause an imbalance in gut flora. This can lead to inflammation and digestive issues, as well as a sluggish immune system. While some of us can tolerate dairy, many cannot. Luckily coconut milk exists, so ice cream, whipped cream, yogurt and creamy stews are still within reach. Dairy-free eating isn’t so bad after all.
Like sugar, processed foods can cause an imbalanced microbiome by feeding the wrong types of critters. The inflammation and insulin resistance that results can lead to obesity, diabetes and other diseases down the line. Just stop eating lots of processed foods. They’re bad news.
In pools and city water supplies, chlorine is used to demolish all bad bacteria. However, when you are drinking it, the chlorine may be doing damage by killing off important gut flora in your digestive system. In fact, there may even be a link between chlorinated water consumption and bladder cancer. If your tap water is chlorinated, invest in a reverse osmosis filter. These can remove all the chlorine from your drinking water, along with pesticides and other nasties.
Too much meat
The link between red meat and heart disease may be due to the breakdown of a compound known as carnitine. As gut microbes break carnitine down, they create compounds that may increase plaque buildup in the arteries. If you do consume meat, always opt for grass-fed and enjoy it as a garnish rather than the centerpiece of a meal.
It’s not just food that can harm your gut. Stress has an immediate impact on our gut function. It changes the composition of the microbiome (for the worse) while increases gut permeability, which can lead to leaky gut. Consistent stress can also lead to the development of food allergies, so finding good stress management techniques is so important for your health both mentally and physically.
Antibiotics & NSAID pain relievers
When we rely on drugs too much, we can do a lot of damage to our guts. For instance, antibiotics decimate the gut flora so as to kill all the bad bacteria present. And taking too many ibuprofen or the like for headaches can also do damage to the intestinal walls, so opt for natural remedies when you can. If you have to take antibiotics, as sometimes we all do, be sure to take an intensive course of probiotics during and after treatment. The microbiome rules our health. By wiping yours out, you are leaving yourself vulnerable to the growth of unwanted flora, imbalance and potential disease.
By no means do you have to cut all of these things out in order to have a healthy gut, but it is important to figure out which foods work best for you. If you are suffering from gut issues with unknown origins, do some testing by removing certain foods from your diet and addressing your lifestyle and see how you feel. And always, always consult a trusted medical professional for safety and support.