Picture New York city on a Monday morning, the sidewalks crammed with people rushing to get to work. Now imagine it on a microscopic level and that’s pretty much what your microbiome looks like inside your body.
Your microbiome is made up of trillions of microorganisms (also called microbiota or microbes) from thousands of different species. These include not only bacteria but fungi, parasites, and viruses. In a healthy person, these bugs or bad bacteria coexist peacefully along the good ones, and can be found everywhere on the body. Still, the highest concentration of microbes is mostly found within the small and large intestines.
The microbiome is so important to your health that in recent years, medical experts have begun labelling it as a supporting organ. Besides stimulating your immune system, your microbiome also plays an important role in breaking down potentially toxic food compounds, and synthesizing certain vitamins and amino acids, such as vitamin B12 and vitamin K2.
When Bad Bacteria Take Over…
Unfortunately, when the balance between good and bad bacteria is broken, which can be cause by infections, unhealthy diets, or the prolonged use of antibiotics, it can lead to dysbiosis.
Dysbiosis is the scientific term used to describe an “imbalance” in the gut microbial community. When this happens, this imbalance can interfere with your microbiome’s functions and make your body more susceptible to disease.
Eating certain unhealthy foods regularly has been found to cause slow, long-term inflammation in the body. This is associated with higher risks of chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, arthritis and cancer.
That’s why it’s incredibly important to be selective about what you choose to eat. If you don’t feed your gut the right foods, you could be facing some major health concerns down the line.
Healthy foods like fermented vegetables, kefir, fruits and leafy greens, help promote the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut. These good microbes help prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacteria by competing for nutrients and attachment sites to the mucus membranes of your gut. Think of your mucus membrane as an intestinal barrier where the majority of immune activity and production of antimicrobial proteins occur.
In other words, the more good bacteria you have in your gut, the less “leaky your gut” becomes, which also means less inflammation and better overall health.
While indulging in your favorite snack or treat once in a blue moon is fine, since it won’t necessarily cause a dysbiosis, there are certain types of foods that should be avoided. Eating these foods daily can harm your gut by creating an unhealthy environment for your gut’s bacteria.
Number 1. Refined baked goods
Packaged and refined baked goods like store-bought pastries, white bread and bagels are one of the main things you should avoid if you want to keep your gut healthy.
And you’ll want to especially avoid those that contain high fructose corn syrup.
These foods are usually low in dietary fiber, which your gut bacteria require in order to transform them into molecules that help feed healthy colon cells and protect your body from obesity and diabetes.
If you can’t initially stop eating these foods, better options (in moderation) are baked goods that contain whole grains, and that do not have any added high fructose corn syrup in their ingredient list.
Getting 25 to 30 grams of dietary fiber per day in your diet is crucial for keeping the good bacteria in your gut fed. This is relatively easy to achieve if you eat plenty of vegetables and fruits.
When the bacteria in your gut aren’t being fed properly, a 2021 peer-reviewed study in Nutrients found that it can increase your risk for gut-related diseases, such inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
Number 2. Processed meats
Eating bacon, hot dogs, beef jerky and lunch meats too often is associated with a higher risk of colon cancer. That’s because the added additives turn into carcinogens, during the cooking process.
Some better alternatives that can be consumed in moderation is meat from the butcher, especially white meat or grass-fed meat that contain higher amounts of good fats.
Number 3. Sugary drinks
These aren’t just limited to sodas. Some juices and diet sodas can also harm your gut, especially if they contain high fructose corn syrup, saccharin, or sucralose.
These sugary drinks promote the growth of bad bacteria in your colon and can lead to diarrhea, as well as diabetes and obesity.
According to a recent 2022 review in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, both hyperglycemia (high blood glucose levels) and excessive sugar intake can increase gut permeability and can cause an imbalance of bacteria in the gut, which is detrimental to your overall health.
Healthier options include regular water as well as unsweetened teas and coffee. If you really feel like drinking something sweet, you can always make your own smoothie with tasty fruits or mix in a teaspoon of honey with your water or tea.