10 Surprisingly Common Foods That Harm Your Gut
The scholar Hippocrates once said, “All disease begins in the gut.”
And he was right. Your gut health is imperative to your well-being, so much so that some people call the digestive system the body’s “second brain”!
That’s because your microbiome — the microscopic world of bacteria that lives inside you — has a HUGE impact on your overall health. Restoring good gut bacteria and avoiding the growth of bad gut bacteria has a variety of benefits: It can improve your metabolism, boost weight loss, bolster your immune system, and even improve your mood!
Study after study has shown that eating the right foods is a foolproof way to improve the health of your microbiome.
On the other hand, eating the wrong foods can be absolutely devastating to your gut health — poor nutrition kills off the good bacteria and feeds the bad.
Unfortunately, many of the worst foods for our gut are also the most common, which makes it especially hard to figure out what you should be trying to avoid.
Are You Destroying Your Gut with These 10 Foods?
We all know we could benefit from a little less sugar. But if you have a sweet tooth, you know it’s not that easy to give up. However, most people are not aware of exactly how much sugar they are eating every day. The food industry is not required to list the percentage of your daily value of added sugar on any nutrition facts labels, making it even more difficult.
Sugar is sneakily packed into just about every food you could think of, from salad dressing to potato chips. Just drinking one soda can fill your sugar limit for the day! On average, Americans consume approximately 66 pounds of added sugar each year.1
Another reason to avoid the stuff is how it breeds bad gut bacteria. While some foods “feed” good bacteria in your gut, sugar “feeds” the bad stuff. Sugar has inflammatory properties, causing your immune system to change the balance of your microbiome. This can affect your digestive health, mood, and energy levels.2
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 grams of added sugars a day for women and less than 38 grams for men.3 The easiest way to control your sugar consumption is to switch from processed and pre-prepared foods to whole food sources.
You may have heard of gluten-free diets, but do you know what gluten is? Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley. It is the substance that makes bread fluffy, soft, and palatable.
However, some people don’t respond well to gluten. Depending on how severe their reaction is, they can be either gluten-sensitive or have full-blown celiac disease. Those who are gluten-sensitive suffer from chronic diarrhea, malnutrition, and other symptoms of irritable bowel disease.4
However, even those who do not have a clinical gluten sensitivity or allergy should probably try giving it up. Studies have shown that a short-term gluten-free diet can have a very positive impact on your gut flora. Give it a try — there is a gluten-free version of just about everything you can think of!
Do you know anyone who is lactose-intolerant? Lactose is a sugar present in dairy products, such as your favorite yogurt and ice cream. Those who are lactose-intolerant do not possess the necessary enzymes to digest lactose. This leads to uncomfortable digestive symptoms, such as excess gas, diarrhea, and indigestion.
However, lactose is not the only irritant in dairy. The danger dairy poses to your gut health is the chance of antibiotic exposure. Although the FDA has attempted to control the amount of antibiotic use in industrial farming, antibiotics still continuously show up in our milk supply. These traces of antibiotics harm the balance of healthy gut bacteria.5
If you love dairy products, try getting your next gallon of milk from a local farm or farmer’s market. Look for organic, grass-fed dairy products or try dairy alternatives such as nut milks and butters to avoid exposure to harmful antibiotics.
Similar to dairy, consuming eggs increases your chances of ingesting traces of harmful antibiotics. Despite the risks to the public, factory farmers continue to feed livestock, including egg-producing poultry, chicken feed laced with antibiotics that eliminate healthy bacteria from your gut.6
However, if you love having a hard-boiled egg as a snack or having daily scrambled eggs, then you’re in luck. It’s easier than ever to find antibiotic-free, free-range, organic eggs from ethical farms. Also, when you buy eggs from farmers near you, you support local agriculture!
Soy is widely considered a health food, but in most cases, it could actually be doing more harm than good — especially when it comes to your gut.
Soybeans are one of the crops most heavily sprayed with pesticides, and foods made with processed and genetically modified soy, such as soy protein isolate in protein powders and nutrition powders, have been found to contain chemicals that can have adverse effects on your gut health.7
Studies have shown that high-soy diets have negative effects on healthy gut bacteria, eliminating important strains such as lactobacillus and bifidobacteria.8
#6: Fried and Processed Foods
You may already know that reducing the amount of fried and processed foods in your diet is essential to your health. Beyond the heart health, mood, hormonal, and other benefits, cutting out these culprits also improves your healthy gut bacteria.
Why? Just like sugar, fried and processed foods feed the bad bacteria in your gut, setting your microbiome out of balance.
One landmark study revealed that a Western diet is associated with the development of chronic illness, including obesity and irritable bowel syndrome. The researchers concluded: “[Western] diet-induced changes to the gut microbiota may contribute to the development of inflammatory bowel disease.”9
The easiest way to avoid these foods is to focus on eating a whole-food diet. For example, if you’re craving something fried, instead of ordering some French fries, try roasting your own potatoes at home and using oils with non-genetically modified ingredients, such as coconut oil in place of canola or vegetable oil.
#7: GMO Foods
GMO foods are a modern creation, a result of the industrialization of the agriculture industry. GMO stands for “genetically modified organism,” which is a living being that has had its genetic code modified in some way.10 For example, the DNA of yellow squash has been modified to make it insect resistant, thus making it cheaper, easier, and more convenient to farm.
Research has shown that GMOs directly affect the function of bacteria in the gut. DNA from genetically modified plant cells has been found ingested in the gut completely intact.11 This plant cell DNA ultimately changes the way gut bacteria works, keeping it from functioning properly. This scary discovery is just another reason to avoid foods high in GMOs, such as processed, prepackaged foods high in chemicals and hard-to-pronounce ingredients.
Some of the most common GMO foods include corn, soy, dairy, the artificial sweetener aspartame, canola, rice, tomatoes, beets, and potatoes. Consider either avoiding these foods or getting them from organic sources.
#8: Farmed Fish
Fish is considered part of a healthy diet and a great lean source of protein for those looking for alternatives to beef and poultry. However, there are secret risks to consuming fish from industrialized farming sources. Ask yourself: Where do you usually buy your fish? Did you know that prepackaged fish are farmed, similar to the beef and poultry industries? Although we all want to think our fish is wild-caught off the side of a boat, most commercially available fish is sourced from less than ideal conditions.
Conventionally farmed fish are raised in close quarters and fed unnatural diets, such as corn laced with growth hormones and antibiotics.
As you’ve already learned, any trace of antibiotics or GMOs in your diet will wreak havoc on your digestive system. Farmed fish can contain traces of harmful antibiotics, and some types even have mercury in their skin. Mercury has been found to disrupt your microbiome, encouraging the growth of harmful bacteria such as Candida. The damaging chemical can also harm your gut lining, leading to chronic conditions such as leaky gut syndrome.12
To avoid mercury and antibiotic exposure, make sure the fish you consume is wild-caught or a species that is less likely to be contaminated.
#9: Conventionally Farmed Red Meat
While grass-fed and pasture-raised beef has a number of health benefits, conventionally farmed red meat can be dangerous to your health.
That’s because conventionally raised cattle are fed diets rich in harmful chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and hormones. Beef is one of the most profitable meats in the industry, and farmers discovered years ago that feeding their cows a small amount of antibiotics a day would increase weight gain by 3% more than they otherwise would.13 In an industry where profit is measured by price per pound, this was a revolutionary discovery.
Antibiotics have been present in meat ever since. These antibiotics will quickly deplete your levels of healthy gut bacteria. Not only that, but industrial agriculture farms feed their cows diets rich in GMO soy and corn in order to fatten them up even more. However, the pro-inflammatory compounds in the feed get transferred to you when you eat the meat.
In order to avoid unnecessary exposure to harmful antibiotics, chemicals, and inflammation-causing compounds, avoid red meat and find responsible sources for your beef. Look for organic, grass-fed beef when possible. It is not only safer for your health, but it tastes better, too!
#10: Tap Water
You may already be staying hydrated and cutting out sugary culprits such as fruit juice and soft drinks as part of a healthy diet. But have you ever considered the purity of your water as it affects your health?
It turns out unfiltered tap water is treated with a number of harmful chemicals, especially chlorine. Research has shown that chronic low-level exposure to chlorine not only affects your metabolism but also causes an autoimmune response that can cause your body to attack the healthy bacteria in your gut.14
An easy way to reduce this risk is to invest in a home water filter that you can keep in the fridge or put on your faucet.
Damage Control for Your Gut Health
Eliminating the risks of these 10 common foods is an easy way to improve your gut health and repair your digestive system. In our society, it can be almost impossible to avoid traces of harmful chemicals and antibiotics in our foods all the time. So don’t worry if you decide to go out for ice cream with your kids or to drink a glass of tap water before bed. Having occasional exposure to these environmental contaminants does not doom you to an unhealthy gut microbiome.
Instead, making small changes, such as buying meat and dairy from a local source and changing your cooking oil to something with less GMOs, gives your gut the support it needs to improve your overall health.
Having a healthy, happy gut is imperative to your well-being, and the science of the microbiome is one of the most exciting new frontiers in medicine. Healing your gut has been shown to improve immune system function, brain function, stress and anxiety management, metabolic disorders, and weight management for obese patients.15
So don’t wait — start making small changes for the health of your gut today. Your body deserves it!
To your health, Annalise May
Contributing Editor, Clear Health Now
To your health,