Good gut health affects so much more than just digestion. In fact, it’s estimated that approximately 80 percent of your immune system lies in the gut, and that’s not all. A healthy gastrointestinal tract also plays a major role in proper brain function, clear skin, and even your good mood. With so much at stake, you might want to know more about the little gut bugs that call your digestive system home. They include some “bad” strains, like E. Coli and Streptococcus pneumoniae, as well as “good” strains, like L. acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis.
How to Stop “Bad” Bacteria
While all types of bacterial strains are needed to maintain good gut health, when the “bad” bacteria takes over, your health can go bad right along with it. So, stop feeding the “bad” bugs the foods they thrive on most.
Here are five of the absolute worst foods for gut health:
1. Processed Foods
Most of the brightly colored packaged foods found on grocery store shelves today contain some very low-quality ingredients. These include refined carbohydrates, added sugars, preservatives, artificial coloring, trans fats and even chemicals – all ingredients known to feed those “bad” gut bug strains. Additionally, all of these ingredients are known to trigger inflammation, further leading to an imbalanced microbiome (gut).
2. Tap Water
If you are drinking plain tap water – stop immediately. Even if you are in an area where the tap water is considered safe to drink, in all areas public water supplies will contain chlorine (while the amounts may vary). This chemical is added to tap water to kill microscopic organisms that can harm your health. When you consume tap water, the chlorine does its job … inside your body. And to you, that means it will kill off all types of gut bugs, including the “good” ones you need to stay healthy. Always use a filter on your tap, and try to drink filtered water whenever possible.
3. Artificial Sweeteners
You may want to save yourself a few calories by going nonfat, or low-fat, but if you are consuming foods that boast “low-fat” on the label, you are probably also eating and drinking artificial sweeteners. These include Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet, NatraTaste Blue), Sucralose (Splenda), Saccharin (Sweet’N Low, Sweet Twin), and Acesulfame K (ACE K, Sunette, Equal Spoonful, Sweet One).
If you see any of these sweeteners listed on an ingredients label, know that the food you are considering will most likely harm the balance of your healthy microbiome.1,2
4. Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs)
Genetically modified organisms are plants or animals that have been altered by humans using gene splicing technology. Many companies splice pesticides into fruit and vegetable DNA strands in order to increase yields. Thus, the resulting produce contains these pesticides within the food, and they cannot be washed off.
Many people are aware that food companies have genetically spliced pesticides into foods using this method, but they may not realize the dangers of consuming them. Animal studies confirm that GMOs have been linked to microbiome imbalance, as they kill off “good” gut bacteria.3
5. Meats & Cheeses
Food-producing animals are given antibiotics in their feed in order to reduce the risk of animal illness, and to fatten the farmer’s bottom line. However, today you can find lingering antibiotic residue at your dinner table. Unfortunately, this has helped to give rise to antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” in people.
What are superbugs? They are the pathogenic bacteria that do not respond to the antibiotics your doctor prescribes when you get sick. Scientists have confirmed that cuts of meat, including chicken, pork, beef, and veal, contain the highest amounts of antibiotic residue. When you eat these foods, be aware that they may not only weaken your immunity, they may also kill off both the “good” and “bad” gut bacteria living in your digestive system.4
Focusing on what’s best for your health is always a good idea. But sometimes, you also need to keep an eye on what could be harming your health. In this case, as you set out into our fast-paced world filled with confusing food choices, simply aim to avoid these five absolute worst foods for gut health.
1. Suez J, Korem T. Non-caloric artificial sweeteners and the microbiome: findings and challenges. Gut Microbes. 2015;6(2):149-55.
2. Dhurandhar NV, Geurts. Harnessing the beneficial properties of adipogenic microbes for improving human health. 12 May 2013.
3. Monika Krüger, Awad Ali Shehata. Glyphosate suppresses the antagonistic effect of Enterococcus spp. on Clostridium botulinum. Anaerobe. 2013 Feb 6. Epub 2013 Feb 6.
4. Sang-Hee Jeong, Daejin Kang. Risk Assessment of Growth Hormones and Antimicrobial Residues in Meat. Toxicol Res. 2010 Dec; 26(4): 301–313.