How Healthy is Your Gut?
How Healthy is Your Gut?
Gut bacteria—the trillions of microorganisms living in your digestive tract is a hot topic in the health world lately. And for good reason; research has brought to light how your gut microbiome plays a role in almost every aspect of health, including digestion, immunity, fat storage, and heart health.
Studies suggest a healthy gut may even help clear up skin conditions, such as eczema and acne, and may make you less susceptible to stress, anxiety, and depression. The fact that 70% of the immune system is located in our gut, is an indicator of how important it is to try and maintain as healthy a gut as possible to help promote positive health benefits.
Like most things in life, it’s all about balance: You want the “good” bacteria (like lactobacillus) to outweigh the “bad” bacteria. If this balance is thrown off, it can lead to a compromised immune system, inflammation, more fat storage, and other adverse effects.
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as simply letting the good bacteria flourish. There’s a lot out of your control that affects your microbiome—such as where you live, where you were raised, and personal lifestyle there is one major way to influence your gut health that is by looking into what you eat.
Certainly, there are foods that we know boost gut health such as probiotic and fermented foods including; yogurt, kefir, kimchi or sauerkraut etc. But there’s another important piece of the puzzle: Cutting back on particular foods is also crucial to ensure a happy homeostasis for your gut. Here are some areas to consider..
1. Conventional Meats and Poultry
At some point, we’ve all taken a course of antibiotics, which are designed to do pretty much what it sounds like: kill bacteria. But antibiotics don’t discriminate—they go after good and bad bacteria alike. While you shouldn’t refuse the meds your doctor prescribes, research shows consuming antibiotics when unnecessary can actually cause damage to your gut microbiome.
If you’re eating meat from livestock that’s been treated with antibiotics, you may be exposed to extra antibiotics without realising it, studies suggest. While the use of some antimicrobial drugs in livestock to treat certain diseases, concerns arise when they’re used to help animals gain weight or when drugs intended for human consumption are given to animals, which has been linked to antibiotic resistance in humans.
The best way to avoid antibiotic-raised meat is to buy organic where possible. It is pricier than the conventional kind, but you can make it easier on your wallet by going to a local butcher or farmer’s market (also brilliant to be supporting local businesses and buying locally from an environmental standpoint!), or buying in bulk and freezing leftovers for later.
2. Artificial Sweeteners
If you thought sweeteners were a miracle sent from up above, think again. Research suggests that sucralose, which is the main ingredient in artificial sweeteners can significantly alter the balance of bacteria in the microbiome. In one small study, after consuming artificial sweeteners for just one week, many of the participants began to develop a glucose intolerance. This, over a prolonged period of time, may put you a risk of high Blood Pressure, obesity, diabetes, and a host of other health issues.
The bad bacteria in our guts also feed off processed (refined) sugars and a diet high in these sugars has also been linked to an off-balance microbiome, so you’ll still want to avoid overdoing it with the processed sweet stuff.
3. GM Soy
While fermented soy is good for you, it may be wise to cut back on soy products that have been genetically modified and if you’re eating them, they most likely have been, as over 90% of soybeans are GM. This type of food is a point of contention during many health conversations, but that’s another story altogether. Research has shown that herbicides such as Roundup used on GMO crops have been shown to kill off many species of beneficial gut bacteria in animals (but not enough evidence conclusively shows the same for humans). While research in this area is still ongoing, there aren’t many good reasons to choose to eat GM soy. It also contains phytic acid, which can also mess with digestion and has been linked to gastric issues, such as gas and bloating.
The Bottom Line
Don’t stress! Consuming the above isn’t the worst thing you can do for your health. But if you’ve been experiencing digestive issues such as gas or bloating or fatigue, this could be an indicator that your gut isn’t as healthy as it could be. You can help to maintain homeostasis in your gut by cutting back on the above items and adding in more gut-beneficial foods for your gut such as good natural sources of fibre from fruits and vegetables, and consuming fermented foods and probiotics. Encouraging healthy sleep habits and managing stress levels effectively can also have a positive influence on your gut health.