How to Avoid Foods That Hurt Your Gut
The human gut, also known as the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, is the structure within your body that food moves through. At various points it digests food, extracts nutrients, and forms waste. Because people consume such a wide variety of foods, they sometimes meet foods that aggravate or hurt their gut. Ultimately, by staying away from harmful foods, focusing on good foods, and identifying foods that may aggravate existing problems, you can better avoid foods that hurt your gut.
Cutting Out Allergens and Unhealthy Foods
Stay away from highly processed foods.Processed foods contain additives and preservatives that may cause trouble in your digestive system.By avoiding processed foods, you’ll not only help ensure a healthy digestive system, but you’ll probably feel better. Common processed foods include:
- Cold cuts
- Microwavable meals
- Processed meats, like sausages, hot dogs, and deli meats, which contain nitrates and nitrites
Reduce consumption of foods that contain trans fats or saturated fats.These foods may upset the bacterial balance in your gut and undermine your digestive health, damage your gut lining, and increase the chance of cancer in your digestive tract.
- Avoid or limit your consumption of foods that contain trans fats and saturated fats like fried food or dairy products.
- Focus on foods that contain monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. Some examples of these foods include fish, walnuts, soybeans, and spinach.
Look out for contaminated food.Inappropriately prepared foods that have been contaminated can also cause problems for your digestive and gut health. Without proper preparation, you might introduce harmful bacteria to your gut and develop potentially problematic conditions like bacterial gastroenteritis (food poisoning). Make sure to:
- Avoid poultry that has been improperly handled or stored. For instance, avoid chicken if it has not been stored in air-tight containers and refrigerated at 40°F or lower (4.4°C).
- Adhere to “use by” dates for foods.
- Stay away from food prepared in unsanitary conditions. For instance, a kitchen may be unsanitary if cutting knives, cutting boards, and similar objects are not washed with soap and hot water after use.
Cook meat properly.Improperly cooked meat can introduce dangerous bacteria to your gut. Because of this, always make sure to avoid undercooked meat.
- Beef, veal and lamb should be cooked to at least 145°F (63°C)
- Pork should be cooked to 160°F (71°C)
- Ground meat should be cooked to 160°F (71°C)
- Poultry should be cooked to 165°F (74°C)
- Fish should be cooked to 158°F (70°C)
- Shellfish must be cooked to 165°F (74°C)
Reduce consumption of alcohol.Alcohol negatively impacts the digestive and gastrointestinal tract in a variety of ways. Not only can it reduce the effectiveness of the lower esophageal sphincter (the opening that separates your stomach and esophagus), but it helps increase the levels of acid in your stomach.
- An improperly functioning lower esophageal sphincter can allow acids and foods back up into your esophagus, causing heartburn and acid reflux, or GERD.
- Most adults should not consume more than one or two alcoholic beverages per day.
- Abstain from alcohol completely if you have a serious digestive disease or disorder.
Abstain from food that may contain mercury.Mercury is a toxin that can hurt the digestive tract and cause other serious health problems. Unfortunately, mercury is relatively widespread because of industrial pollution. When trying to avoid mercury, remember that:
- Mercury can inhibit the production of important enzymes that help your digestive system, and your body, function normally.
- Mercury may kill or undermine the ability of good bacteria to grow in your gut.
- Consumption of mercury may result in abdominal pain, IBD, ulcers, diarrhea, and indigestion.
- Foods that contain mercury include: seafood, duck eggs, protein powder, and fish oil.
Avoid lactose, if you are intolerant.Lactose is a sugar commonly found in dairy products. People who are lactose intolerant have digestive systems that are unable to break it down. As a result, lactose moves on to the colon where it causes a variety of problems. If you are lactose intolerant:
- Stay away from dairy products like milk and butter.
- Consider taking medicine that helps your body deal with lactose and your symptoms. One common product is Lactaid.
- Embrace a dairy-free diet, if possible.
- Consult your doctor if you have questions about lactose and your digestive health.
Stay away from gluten, if you are gluten intolerant or have celiac disease.Gluten is another allergen that causes digestive problems for people who are allergic to it. If you are gluten intolerant, gluten may damage your small intestines.
- Common symptoms of celiac disease or gluten intolerance include diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, and fatigue.
- Gluten is found in many grains, such as wheat, barley, rye, and oats.
- Eat gluten-free grains and starches such as rice, corn, soy and potato.
- Focus on fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy.
- Look for foods labeled "gluten free" or "gluten friendly."
Focus on fresh fruits and vegetables.Some of the best foods you can eat are fresh foods that help you maintain a balance of bacteria in your gut. By eating fresh foods that are free from preservatives, added salt, and added sugar, you’ll keep a balanced and healthy gut. Focus on:
- Fresh food that is high in fiber. This is important because fiber helps in digestion. When choosing fresh food high in fiber, consider spinach, cauliflower, carrots, apples, or broccoli.
- Green and yellow vegetables. These vegetables contain things like beta-carotene, flavonoids, lycopene and more nutrients that promote digestive health.
- Fresh fruit juices free from added sugar or sweeteners.
Consume probiotics.Probiotics are good bacteria that help keep your gut healthy and balanced. Without probiotics, your gut won’t function well, won’t be able to break down food, and will be a place where bad bacteria can thrive. Common sources of probiotics include:
- Aged cheese
Eat a lot of prebiotics.Prebiotics are a type of carbohydrates that promote the growth of good bacteria in your gut. By consuming prebiotics, you will give good bacteria fuel to grow and help create a balanced and healthy gut. Some foods containing prebiotics include:Image:Avoid Foods That Hurt Your Gut Step 12.jpg|center
Identifying Problems and Addressing Medical Concerns
Keep a journal of what you eat.By writing down what you eat and how you feel afterward, you’ll be able to narrow down which foods hurt your gut. Without knowing which foods negatively impact your digestive system, you won’t be able to take steps to increase your digestive health.
- Write down what you eat every meal.
- Make a log of when you have negative effects after eating, such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, nausea, indigestion, or stomach pain.
- Examine your journal for trends. For instance, make a note if you get indigestion or other problems that reflect poor gut health after consuming tomato products or citrus.
Consult with your physician.Your doctor will help you discover exactly what types of foods might be damaging for your gut and digestive tract. Without talking with a medical professional, you won’t be working with all the information you need.
- Consider seeing a gastroenterologist or other digestive health specialist if you have concerns about your health and diet. You may also want to see a physician who specializes in Functional Medicine, which focuses on discovering the underlying cause of a disease.
- Your doctor will examine you and ask you questions about your symptoms. For instance, let them know if you feel nauseous or frequently have stomach pain.
- If they suspect you have serious digestive problems, they might run diagnostics like an upper endoscopy – a procedure that allows a doctor to view your upper digestive system.
- The doctor might run blood work to get an idea of your general health.
- People who have been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, colitis, or similar digestive problems should be especially careful around foods that upset their digestive tract.
Talk to a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN).There are a variety of professionals who specialize in nutritional and digestive health who will be able to offer you guidance, but an RDN or physician is able to make you a specific meal plan, whereas a nutritionist cannot. An RDN has also been accredited by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. By speaking with a professional, you’ll draw on the substantial experience of someone who has dedicated their life to nutritional health.
- A dietitian will be able to assess your overall health and diet. For instance, they will ask you about symptoms associated with digestive problems such as indigestion, stomach pain, or diarrhea. They will also gather basic information like your height, weight, and body fat index.
- They will put together a dietary or nutritional plan for you to follow. For example, they may compile a list of foods you should eat and a list of foods you should avoid.
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