Plus, how to improve your gut health with a few food additions.
If you’re trying to improve your gut health, the first step is to take inventory of your diet. What you eat can affect the amount of good and bad bacteria in the gut microbiome—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 the number one food to avoid, we asked experts to weigh in. Here’s what they had to say.
How Your Eating Habits Affect Gut Health
The foods that an individual eats directly affect their gut microbiome, which is responsible for a wide variety of functions, including immunity, digestion and metabolism, among many other processes. An imbalance of healthy gut microbes may contribute to poor metabolism, poor digestion and weight gain, among other negative health consequences, Mary Wirtz, MS, RDN, CSSD, nutritional consultant at Mom Loves Best, explains.
Related: Trying to Improve your Gut Health And Nothing Is Working? Here’s How to Start Restoring It
“Gut microbiota is a complex ecosystem found in our intestine. It is highly variable from one individual to another, but dietary habits can be responsible [for] up to 20-50% of these microbiota variations,” says Dr. Seifeldin Hakim, MD, a gastroenterologist with Memorial Hermann in Houston.
It is important to keep a balance between good gut bacteria and bad gut bacteria to have a healthy gut and to avoid overgrowth of the bad bacteria. Eating yogurt helps to provide good bacteria and it is considered a good source of good bacteria and acts as a probiotic.
Apart from microbiota, eating spicy food can lead to hyperacidity and heartburn problems, Dr. Hakim adds. Drinking soda can increase acid reflux, and cause bloating and excessive burping which may lead to upper abdominal discomfort. High-fiber foods such as vegetables and fruits tend to help constipation and promote bowel movement as well as promote the growth of good bacteria.
The Worst Food For Your Gut
So, what’s the absolute worst food for gut health? Deep-fried foods such as French fries and other deep-fried indulgences—including donuts—are very harmful when it comes to gut health.
“These foods are extremely high in fat, most often contain trans-saturated fat, and offer very few redeemable nutrition qualities that are health-promoting, such as vitamins and minerals,” says Wirtz. “Trans-saturated fat is linked to inflammatory markers and is not beneficial for promoting gut health.”
Related: Eat Your Way to a Healthier Gut—Here’s What You Need to Know About Gut Health and Diet
Foods To Eat Instead
For a healthy gut microbiome, Wirtz recommends sticking to prebiotic and probiotic foods.
Prebiotic-rich food sources include:
Beans and lentils
Whole grains such as 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 foods listed are rich in dietary fiber and are essentially the food that “good” gut bacteria thrive on.
Probiotic-rich food sources include fermented foods such as:
The above foods all have beneficial microbiota (microorganisms) that enhance an individual’s microbiome.
“A whole food-based diet that is rich in fiber, probiotics, and essential nutrients is optimal for the gut. Specifically, fiber-rich foods like chickpeas and lentils contain a type of fiber called prebiotics which helps stimulate the growth of healthy microorganisms in the gut,” says Beata Rydyger, BSc, RHN, a registered nutritionist based in Los Angeles.
Legumes in general are also rich in B vitamins, which play a crucial role in shaping the diversity of the microbiome.
Next up: The One Food Experts Swear By for Better Gut Health