Food has a lot to do with our GI tract and the health of the gut. The body will digest just about anything we put in our mouth, but that doesn’t mean the GI tract will react well to everything we eat, nor does it mean we can easily digest all foods. We already know that highly processed foods, foods high in sugar and fat as well as fried foods can all spell trouble for our gut. We also know that fiber-rich foods and foods high in prebiotics and probiotics can benefit our gut. There isn’t just one diet or one food that is the cure-all for our gut and gut issues; the key is to eat foods that nourish healthy gut bacteria and avoid foods that sustain harmful gut bacteria or harm the good bacteria. We will discuss some of these foods to give you an idea of foods to include and foods to avoid.
05 Foods to Avoid
It is essential to know which foods affect you and your health the most and to ensure you avoid those foods. The following are some foods, beverages, and ingredients that can generally wreak havoc on your gut and digestive process and ones you should avoid whether you already have known digestive issues or not.
1. White bread
White bread is made with refined, white flour. Refined grains and the foods made with them white bread, English muffins, bagels, white rice, and white pastas are broken down rapidly into sugar in the digestive system. Sugar is damaging to the gut as it tends to destroy the bacteria. In addition, white bread has almost no fiber, which can lead to constipation in people who don’t consume enough fiber daily. Eating too much white bread can actually lead to obesity, which in turn can lead to an unhealthy gut. Your best bet is choosing whole-wheat or whole-grain breads to boost your gut health and your overall health.
Regular excessive intake of alcoholic beverages can have many negative health effects, including chronic acid reflux, liver damage, heart disease, insulin resistance, esophageal cancer, poor nutritional intake, and gastric ulcers from increased acid production. More immediate symptoms can include heartburn, diarrhea, headache, constipation, and vomiting. Prolonged and heavy use of alcohol can wreak havoc all over your body by increasing the production of cytokines and other pro-inflammatory markers. It can disturb the intestinal absorption of nutrients, including many vitamins as well as sodium, potassium, and water. Dehydration causes your body to work overtime to recover fluids and electrolytes from anywhere it can get them, including your GI tract. This can cause constipation along with a nasty headache the next day. Excessive alcohol intake can lead to bleeding and injury to the walls of the intestines and an overgrowth of bacteria. The damage done to the inside walls of the digestive tract allows bacterial toxins to enter the blood, increasing the liver’s exposure to toxins and thus increasing the risk of liver disease. Because heavy drinkers usually have higher levels of the stress-response hormone cortisol in their body than non-drinkers, they are more susceptible to depression, other addictions, and frequent mood changes. Moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men’s may have a few health benefits. But if you feel you are drinking too much, too often, see your doctor to start discussing ways you can take back control of your life and your health.
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Your Nutrition Solution Tidbit: One drink is equal to one 12-ounce beer, one 8-ounce glass of malt liquor, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor.
Coffee is very much a part of many people’s everyday routine. However, that coffee contains oils, acids, and caffeine that can irritate the lining of your stomach and small intestine. Consuming coffee causes an overproduction of hydrochloric acid (HCL) in your stomach, which can cause irritation, especially in someone who already suffers from a GI disorder. Coffee can exacerbate acid reflux and heartburn. For those suffering from IBS, gastritis, Crohn’s disease, colitis, or ulcers, coffee can be a potent irritant. The specific type of acid content in coffee can actually create perfect conditions for H. pylori to flourish, which can lead to ulcers. Switching to decaf won’t help, because it isn’t the caffeine but rather the acids and enzymes in the coffee beans that cause the issues. Caffeine acts as a diuretic, which can lead to the loss of essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, and even dehydration. Coffee doesn’t need to be completely off the table if you suffer from GI disorders (unless, of course, you have been told by your doctor not to drink it). However, it should be consumed in moderation. Opting for water is always the safer and healthier route.
4. Fast food
Fast food can be detrimental to anyone’s diet, but when it comes to gut health, these foods are toxic. They can make the digestive system sluggish, causing constipation and aggravating other GI disorders; or, they can move too quickly through the GI system, causing diarrhea. Additionally, they can cause indigestion, heartburn, bloating, and a feeling of over-fullness. Not only do most fast food meals contain loads of calories, which can lead to weight gain, but they are also loaded with sodium, cholesterol, trans fat, saturated fat, and refined grains. As well, they lack the fiber and essential nutrients that are so important to good gut health and healthy gut flora. Unhealthy and dangerous trans fats have been connected to esophageal disease and should be extremely limited in any diet. The problem is that most of us are busy people and eating on the run is a convenient option. If you find yourself in this situation, the key is to make healthier choices and to not let yourself be tempted by the foods you know you should not have. Stay away from super-sizing and take a look at nutritional information, which all fast food places now provide, before you order. Avoid foods that are high in calories, bad fats, refined grains, sodium, and sugar, and chose healthier options such as fresh salad, fruit, grilled chicken, and anything made with whole grains. If you know you are going to be out and about, carry food with you and/or choose a fast food establishment where you know you can get healthier options. Fast food on occasion is one thing but making it a regular habit can definitely lead to a host of health issues, including an unhealthy gut.
5. Red meat
Who doesn’t love a juicy burger or sizzling steak? Unfortunately, a diet heavy in red meat has long been tied to the increased risk for atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. A study at the Cleveland Clinic found that a diet that includes red meat and carnitine (a compound found in red meat) can shift the composition of bacteria in our gut toward those that are more prone to promoting heart disease. Eating a diet that includes a lot of red meat can also increase your risk for colon cancer, because red meat is high in saturated fat. The solution is to decrease your intake of red meat as much as possible. Stick with chicken, poultry, fish/seafood, and lean cuts of pork, and eat leaner cuts of red meat only on occasion. Try other sources of protein, too, including soy, legumes/beans, lentils, egg whites, and peanut butter. Nothing wrong with making that juicy burger out of ground turkey breast or even a Portobello mushroom, or substituting that sizzling steak with a chunk of marinated salmon on the grill. Your gut and your heart will thank you for it!
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