Helps Optimize Gut Health & Aids in Weight Management
Optimizing gut health is largely dependent upon the health of your small intestines. Based on this whatever solution(s) work best for promoting small intestines health should also be the best for promoting the overall health of the entire digestive tract. As I went over last week one important concept to understand is that an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestines is not a good thing.1 Therefore, starving bacteria or just not providing substance for bacteria to feed on is often better than feeding the overgrowth further. Although this is not always the case as we all have very unique (different) guts.
Two of the Best Diet Strategies for Creating a Healthy Gut Environment
All right, this is all great, but how do actually go about optimizing gut health whether that means promoting the right type of bacteria to grow or decreasing a possible overgrowth? What are the best diet strategies to create a healthy environment for your gut bacteria to thrive? There are two strategies that have best shown to promote ideal balance. One, eating to control inflammation and two eating to control blood sugar. Combining both methods will result in the greatest benefit and this shouldn’t be difficult since most of the principles of eating to control inflammation and blood sugar are the same, or very similar.
Controlling and/or Reducing Inflammation
Avoid Consuming Foods You are Allergic or Intolerant To
The most effective diet strategy to reduce inflammation is quite obvious but is often not understood fully, avoid exposure to foods that you are allergic or intolerant to. It is obvious that we shouldn’t eat foods we are allergic to, but foods we are intolerant of often go unnoticed or are disregarded. Gluten, I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of it, is commonly one of these foods that many are intolerant of, but it doesn’t cause as severe a reaction as let’s say peanuts, for someone that is allergic, so it isn’t very concerning – or at least not at first. As a response to ingesting a food that you’re allergic or intolerant to the immune system reacts with inflammation, but to a greater degree with the former. Accordingly, this inflammation creates an environment in your gut that is favorable for bad bacteria to proliferate. When bad bacteria (pathogens) proliferate they push out the good bacteria resulting in an imbalance of gut bacteria that is known as dysbiosis.2
Most Common Problematic Foods
Foods that you or other’s may be allergic (intolerant) to are going to vary by person, but there are foods that are commonly problematic. The foods that are most problematic for the general population are gluten-containing grains, dairy, soy, beans or legumes, and nuts. The best method to determine if you’re allergic to any of these is to eliminate these foods from your diet, then reintroduce these foods later. Following a paleo diet is a great option here as it eliminates most of the problematic foods already mentioned. It would be best to follow this eating strategy for 2-3 weeks before you start to reintroduce any possibly problematic foods back into your diet.
Further Dietary Modifications
If you try or have tried the paleo diet and don’t see any improvements, then you may need to add some additional modifications. There are two sets of modification you can add; one is the autoimmune paleo diet and the other is the low-FODMAP diet.
Autoimmune Paleo Diet
The autoimmune paleo diet3 removes some of the less common food allergens that may be a hidden source of inflammation. To be more specific the AIP diet restricts the following, in addition to the standard Paleo diet restrictions: eggs, nuts, seeds (including coffee), nightshades, and alcohol. These additional restrictions serve to restrict even more food allergens that could be causing inflammation.
FODMAP stands for Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, And Polyols. A low-FODMAP diet4 essentially restricts many foods (mainly carbohydrates) that are high in FODMAPs can feed bacteria, thus helping to reduce any possible bacterial overgrowth.5 Common foods to avoid on a low-FODMAP diet include: garlic, mushrooms, apples, cherries, cow’s milk, most legumes, grain products (wheat, rye, barley, etc.), and cashews or pistachios. These are just a few of the common high-FODMAP foods you can find many more comprehensive lists online.
An Important Connection Between Carbohydrate Malabsorption & Bacterial Overgrowth
An important concept to understand why a low-FODMAP diet is beneficial is carbohydrate malabsorption and its connection to bacterial overgrowth. Carbohydrate malabsorption6 means you can’t digest certain carbs and when you eat them, you have a negative reaction. This dysfunction is often caused by a bacterial overgrowth that damages the area of the intestines that helps digest these carbs. Carbs that can’t or don’t get digested (due to carb malabsorption) are broken down by our gut bacteria. Thus, further feed your gut bugs and exacerbating the existing bacterial overgrowth. But this problem also works in reverse, some people have intestines that can’t digest certain carbs because they don’t release the certain enzymes that are needed. Therefore, bacterial overgrowth and carbohydrate malabsorption are two of the main reasons many people do best on a dietary approach that reduces and rebalances intestinal bacteria. Restoring bacterial balance is the only way to break this vicious cycle.