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Common Foods that May Be Wreaking Havoc on Your Gut

You've heard that gut health plays an important role in your overall health, but what does that even mean? Find out which foods commonly lead to poor gut health and which can actually improve it.


"Gut health" has been a buzzword and gaining popularity in the health world. The concept of promoting gut health seems rationale considering everything we eat or drink passes through the gut and the gastrointestinal (GI) system. The entirety of the GI tract is filled with millions of helpful and harmful bacteria that all work together to support and limit health. Gut bacteria can be dictated by health choices; an improved metabolism with the prevention of gastrointestinal-related conditions when following a nutritious lifestyle or an increased risk of inflammation and chronic disease due to a diet high in sugar, fat, and processed food. Improve overall health by limiting harmful foods and introducing helpful bacteria.

Foods that Hurt Your Gut

When it comes to a healthful diet, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins are encouraged. A diet filled with an abundance of nutrients leaves little room for sugary, fatty, and processed foods. When those unhealthy patterns are adopted, though, gut health can be compromised. A diet high in fat and sugar, especially from desserts and sweet treats, has been linked to obesity as well as its comorbidities such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Additionally, excess fat and sugar can induce inflammation in the gut and contribute to chronic disease. A study at Oregon State University indicates the changes in gut bacteria, when following a high-fat and high-sugar diet, reduces "cognitive flexibility," or the ability to adapt and adjust to changing situations. A diet filled with high-sugar was said to have the greatest impairment on short-term and long-term memory.

Processed and red meats ignited health concerns last year when the World Health Organization (WHO) claimed their linkage to cancer. Additionally, those with a red meat-rich diet have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease related to the high amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol. However, recent research suggests other meat components, specifically carnitine, can influence gut health. Carnitine contains a trimethylamine structure, one of the small compounds formed following meat consumption. Trimethylamine is further digested to form trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO), which has associations with plaque build-up in arteries known as atherosclerosis. Researchers suggest gut bacteria aids in the production of TMAO from carnitine, making steak lovers more prone in the development of atherosclerosis.

Furthermore, new research conducted in mice suggested "yo-yo" dieting can lead to poor gut health. Yo-yo dieting is an eating pattern when healthful eating is steady over a span of time followed by bouts of junk food bingeing. The study suggests intermittent exposure to junk food is equivalent to a consistent diet of unhealthful foods. In both cases, the diversity and composition of beneficial bacteria are reduced. Although further research should be conducted, these new findings highlight consequences of extreme "cheat days" and how they can undo hard work throughout the week.

Gut Health Promoters

Probiotics and prebiotics are the most notorious contributors when it comes to good gut health. Probiotics are live bacteria and occur naturally in the body or in food products and supplement. Fermented foods contain probiotics including yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, and pickles just to name a few. Probiotics can be identified under the ingredient label commonly as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Their use can restore and replenish lost bacteria and maintain good digestive health. Similarly, prebiotics act as a food source for probiotics. Prebiotics are found in fiber-rich foods such as grains and legumes. With their presence, probiotics can sustain themselves and thrive in the gut.


Fat, sugar cause bacterial changes that may relate to loss of cognitive function. Oregon State University. Available at:

Nakamura YK, Omaye ST. Metabolic diseases and pro- and pre-biotics: Mechanistic insights. Nutrition & Metabolism. 2012;9(60).

Red Meat-Heart Disease Link Involves Gut Microbes. National Institutes of Health. Available at:

Written By Sarah Asay, RDN. Published on February 19, 2016. Updated on February 19, 2016.


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