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Ever felt uncomfortably bloated after devouring a quarter of a pepperoni pizza? It’s not your imagination. What you choose to fuel your body with makes a huge difference in how you feel. Compare that discomfort with the gentle fullness you feel after eating a veggie-topped couscous bowl or the energy rush after a healthy green smoothie. Pay attention to body cues after a meal; mindful eating can guide you to healthier choices.
Robyn Youkilis, a certified wellness expert and author of the best-selling book Go with Your Gut, says the first step to gut health is to start checking in with yourself. Ask, “What feels intuitively good in your belly and what doesn’t?”
We all have different triggers for unpleasant digestive issues. Tune into your body. “Some people have suspected for years that dairy doesn’t make them feel great. For them, that food is worse for their gut than another food that might be on the border, like sugar,” Youkilis says. “Whereas some people can digest dairy just fine. For me, for example, I’ve tested dairy, I’m totally fine—no bloat or digestive issues.” (If you go dairy-free, try one of these dairy-free dinners tonight!)
Signs that you have trouble digesting something can include bloat, heartburn, acid reflux, excess burning and indigestion. Certain foods may mess with digestion, leading to diarrhea or constipation. Check in with your mental state, too: “Do you feel clear? Do you feel foggy? Do you feel tired? Do you feel energized? And all of that can be signs of something not being good for your gut,” Youkilis says.
Different ingredients have varied impacts on our guts. There are, however, certain foods are more likely to throw off your gut balance.
1. Processed Sugars
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Our guts are home to trillions and trillions of “good” and “bad” bacteria. A healthy balance of gut microbes is the foundation of our health. The good bacteria help digest and absorb nutrients from food. When you increase your processed sugar intake (over the recommended amount of six teaspoons of added sugar per day), you’re overloading the good bacteria. Youkilis explains, “Your good gut bacteria needs to eat. If you have too much sugar, your body gets confused and it can’t process the other good foods. You reduce the amount of good bacteria in your belly.” Why not try one of these low-sugar desserts?
2. Fried Foods
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“A lot of restaurants use processed vegetable oil that has been in the fryer forever. It’s not a question of whether you should or shouldn’t have French fries. It’s more like your body can’t process that oil that the French fries have been cooked in,” Youkilis says.
Another reason to stay away from fried foods: A high-fat diet can alter the composition of the gut microbiome, according to a scientific review published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology. Disrupting the “gut microbiota equilibrium” can cause a variety of gastrointestinal and systemic diseases, according to the authors of the review. This may be the perfect reason to hop on the air-fryer bandwagon.
3. Artificial Ingredients
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Stay away from artificial dyes, artificial sweeteners and preservatives. “It’s not food and your gut gets really confused. Your gut really doesn’t know how to handle those foods,” Youkilis says.
Recent studies have suggested that artificial sweeteners can enhance the type of bacteria in our gut that is really good at pulling energy from our food and turning it into energy or storing as fat.This same super-efficient bacteria is also naturally more abundant in genetically obese mice and researchers believe there’s also a correlation in humans.
4. Meat and Farmed Seafood Treated with Antibiotics
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In recent years, more antibiotics are ending up in our food. The sale of antibiotics for pigs, cows, chickens and seafood increased 20 percent between 2009 and 2013, according to the FDA. It’s a scary figure. Antibiotics are known to mess with the natural makeup of intestinal flora. Research isn’t conclusive yet—but there may be a link between the rise of antibiotics and the boom of obesity, according to Berkeley Wellness.
Pigs are treated with the highest concentrations of antibiotics. Farmed seafood, including shrimp and salmon, are also treated with medicated baths and food to prevent disease. To avoid indirectly consuming antibiotics, look for food labels that specify, “No Antibiotics or Raised Without Antibiotics.”
How to Nourish Your Gut
If you’ve had your fair share of French fries, farmed salmon and sugary sweets in the past (or last couple of days), don’t fret. You can load up on natural and nutritious foods to heal your gut. Our gut expert recommends homemade bone broth. “The collagen helps heal the gut lining,” Youkilis says. Then introduce a generous amount of plants into your diet. “Eat an abundance of vegetables, almost a ridiculous amount. Have a giant pile of steamed broccoli on a plate,” she says.
Don’t forget prebiotics. “Foods rich in prebiotics are really important for nourishing your gut. I like to think of them as like fertilizer for the garden,” she says. Prebiotics are the undigestible fiber that feed probiotics in your gut. Asparagus, oats, apples, bananas and legumes are rich in prebiotics. “Those are really good foods to incorporate and will help that good gut bacteria flourish and come back into effect.”
Youkilis recommends adding fermented foods to your diet to boost your probiotic levels. “Fermented foods like sauerkraut can help your body absorb the nutrients and minerals in the other foods that you’re consuming with them, so they help with vitamin absorption as well. If you need to get your good gut bacteria on track, then adding in fermented foods is going to make your belly very happy.”
Fight the bloat with less sugar.