Normalizing gut function is the most important protocol in taking back your health. And the number one way to normalize gut function you may ask? Avoid foods that feed the bad gut bacteria.
The emergence of research on the human microbiome and how it interacts to create health or disease shows the importance of gut flora and gut microbial life as the primary controller of digestion, metabolism, inflammation, absorption and immune function.
For example, good bacteria can reduce inflammation, beat depression and contribute to weight loss though promoting a healthy metabolism. Bad bacteria however can promote allergies, increase skin breakouts, reduce metabolic function, prevent weight loss and even reduce cognitive function.
This post is simply about what to avoid when grocery shopping. Healthy gut’s begin with what we put in our grocery cart. This I believe is the foremost root cause solution to the many chronic diseases that we see today. If the following don’t make it in your grocery cart, then they won’t make it in your gut either. And that is the pivotal factor in reclaiming your health!
- Avoid Alcohol. Excessive alcohol (or even a small amount) feeds the bad bacterial overgrowth in the gut. Research shows that alcohol consumption increases gut permeability, which allows toxins to leak into the blood stream causing inflammation in the body and reduction of essential vitamins and minerals. Alcohol also impairs the livers detox pathways contributing to hormone imbalance, stress, fatigue and metabolic dysfunction.
- Avoid overly processed foods. If the label has a paragraph of ingredients that you have never heard of or can barely pronounce, these have come straight from a lab and not from nature. Processed foods also contain high amounts of added sugar, sodium and fat. Studies have linked processed foods to the destruction of brain cells, increased risk of heart attack, diabetes, renal failure, depression and all cause mortality. Meaning, if you eat processed foods, your health will suffer. Processed foods include cereals, fast foods, hotdogs, chips, microwave ready meals, microwave popcorn, instant noodles, cereal bars, granola bars, deli meats, juice drinks, frozen chicken tenders, Kraft cheese, Velveeta, canned and bottled sauces, bacon, cheez-its, Ritz crackers etc. Basically all processed foods are the center aisles in grocery stores. Shop the perimeter for whole, fresh foods and limit your items from the center aisles.
- Avoid added sugars. High fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, fructose, dextrose, stevia, and malt syrup have been linked to fatty liver, metabolic syndrome, endocrine disruption, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Added sugars are everywhere including salad dressings, granola bars, cereals, marinades, fruit snacks, yogurts, pasta sauces, canned and boxed soups and bottled teas, soda’s and lemonades. Sugar consumption contributes to memory and cognitive dysfunction, dementia in adults and non verbal intelligence in children. Sugar promotes addictive behaviors, encourages overeating, depression and psychiatric illness.
- Avoid fruit juice: Minute Maid, Welch’s, Tropicana and Dole products like orange juice, lemonade, cran-apple and grape juices are all swimming in hidden sugars. Bottled smoothies from Naked Juice and Odwalla contain synthetic ingredients and are under a law suit for misleading marketing with labeling that says “All Natural” and “100% Juice.” Take time to look at the label and you will find artificial sweeteners even when the label reads sugar free. Juices contain artificial colorings and added flavors which are synthetic ingredients banned in other countries. Not all fruit juice is created equal! Look for brands that have 100% fruit juice like POM Pomegranate Juice, R.W. Knudsen Tart Cherry Juice and Bolthouse Farms Organic Juices. For a more in depth look at juices, click here. Bottom line, boxed and bottled juice is junk food. The Heart and Stroke Association recommends that adults reduce intake of sugar (from all sources) to less than 5% of their total calories and no more than 36 grams of sugar per day. On average, an 12oz cup of orange juice is 20-30g of sugar.
- Avoid low fat foods: this is a marketing scheme that has been debunked over and over yet the amount of people I see with fat free items in their cart is alarming. Low fat foods contain artificial flavoring agents and excessive sugar. For an interesting New York Times read on how the sugar industry paid scientists to blame heart disease on fat, click here. P.S. it’s the sugar’s fault. Be aware of teas and sports drinks claiming sugar free and fat free. These items contain artificial sugars and sweeteners, which in accordance with food regulations can be labeled marketed as sugar free. Labels suggesting fat free are replaced with larger amounts of refined carbohydrates, which increase the risk of metabolic diseases. Studies show that diets rich in carbohydrates and low in unsaturated fat can increase cardiovascular risks.
- Avoid vegetable oils: corn oil, soy oil, palm oil, sunflower oil, canola oil are all polyunsaturated oils which are a major contributing factor to the epidemic of chronic disease and inflammation. These oils create inflammation in the blood vessels and in the gut, contributing to heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease and obesity. These oils are commonly found in salad dressings, steak and chicken marinades, ketchup and BBQ sauce and are even found in plant based milks. Always choose animal-based sources of oils like ghee, grass fed butter or an organic olive or avocado oil. Make your own salad dressings with simple ingredients: lemon, olive oil, apple cider vinegar and kitchen spices.
- Avoid corn meal and grain cereals. Cereals spike blood glucose levels and contain the highest concentrations of glyphosate, the chemical in roundup that is responsible for a wide range of diseases in America. SOY, CORN, WHEAT, OATS; look for the organic label. If there isn’t an organic label then rest assured you are getting heavy doses of chemical fertilizers that are sprayed on the grains just days before harvest. Recent glyphosate studies show that the carcinogenicity of glyphosate, as reviewed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, has sufficient data to establish a link between glyphosate and cancer in animal studies. Not only is this applicable to humans, but lets pause here and consider what is in your pets food? That’s a whole topic that I will write about (because wow), but for now just know that your pets food contains “filler” which contain corn, wheat, rice and other “bulking” agents that are heavily glyphosated.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “What the heck can I eat?” Rest assured that prior to the industrialization of our food system, our ancestors ate foods that were not packaged and processed, and so can we. For more information on cleaning up the gut, and why it is essential for metabolic health, check out my previous post on dysbiosis.
My favorite go to resource on eating whole and understanding food is Functional Medicine physician, Dr. Mark Hyman. Check out his book Food; What the Heck Should I Eat or his podcast, Nature’s Farmacy.
And stay tuned for a complete list of items to include in your grocery shopping cart for a healthy gut!
Fuhrman J. (2018). The Hidden Dangers of Fast and Processed Food. American journal of lifestyle medicine, 12(5), 375–381. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827618766483
Pagliai, G., Dinu, M., Madarena, M. P., Bonaccio, M., Iacoviello, L., & Sofi, F. (2021). Consumption of ultra-processed foods and health status: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The British journal of nutrition, 125(3), 308–318. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114520002688
Freeman, C. R., Zehra, A., Ramirez, V., Wiers, C. E., Volkow, N. D., & Wang, G. J. (2018). Impact of sugar on the body, brain, and behavior. Frontiers in bioscience (Landmark edition), 23(12), 2255–2266. https://doi.org/10.2741/4704
Knüppel, A., Shipley, M. J., Llewellyn, C. H., & Brunner, E. J. (2017). Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study. Scientific reports, 7(1), 6287. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-05649-7
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