Without sugar coating it, most of the processed “health” foods we consume aren’t as nourishing as we’re lead to believe. We’re marketed labels like heart healthy and organic (organic sugar is still sugar!)—claims that, quite frankly, are misleading. These foods are known to cause a slew of digestive issues, inflammation, and blood sugar imbalance. Once you learn how to read an ingredient list, you’ll see right past these deceiving claims. I hate to spoil your oat milk obsession, but today we’re uncovering ingredients to limit for gut health. That includes sneaky additives in everything from popular non-dairy milks to sparkling waters. While it’s not about avoiding these foods altogether, it’s about being mindful of what does—and doesn’t—make your digestion feel its best.
What is digestive health?
When we think of our gut, we often think of our belly. But the gut—or gastrointestinal system—is just that: a system. It’s a group of organs. The gut includes the mouth, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, pancreas, gallbladder, colon, and rectum. Like our system of hormones, the gut is powerful yet delicate. It’s easily thrown out of balance. Although we assume the gut’s only role is to help us digest food, it does so much more than that. Our gut microbiome (and its powerful community of bacteria) extends its influence far beyond the gut wall. It impacts our overall health and well-being in countless ways.
Signs of an underlying gut issue
This varies from person to person, but generally speaking, below are physical indicators of an underlying gut issue.
1. Digestive Issues
No surprise here. Think: constipation, bloating, gas, stomach cramps, acid reflux, or heartburn. A healthy digestive system should be able to process food and get rid of waste with ease.
2. Unexpected Weight Loss Or Gain
Losing or gaining weight—without a change in diet, stress, or exercise habits—can point straight to an unhealthy gut. A gut that’s not balanced can have trouble absorbing nutrients, regulating blood sugar, signaling that you’re full, and storing fat. In fact, a lack of diversity in the gut microbiome can be a precursor to obesity.
3. Constant Fatigue
Are you constantly tired? Many things can cause this, but a lack of diversity in gut bacteria is directly linked to lack of energy, chronic fatigue, and sleep disorders. Serotonin, a hormone that affects sleep and mood, is produced in the gut. A gut that’s not functioning properly can have a hard time producing or regulating serotonin—which can affect your ability to get a restful night’s sleep.
4. Skin Conditions
5. Food Intolerances
If a certain type of food (like dairy or wheat) upsets your stomach, it may not necessarily mean you have a food allergy. Rather, it might that your microbiome is probably out of balance. It lacks enough of the good bacteria needed to effectively break down certain foods.
6. Mood Changes
The gut is often referred to as the “second brain”—and for good reason. Research confirms that things like anxiety, depression, mood swings, and emotional health are tied to the state of your gut. We need good gut bacteria to support important mood-enhancing chemicals, like dopamine and serotonin.
Discuss any of these symptoms with your healthcare provider. A basic understanding of the status of your gut may require a comprehensive stool test, SIBO breath test, or food allergy / sensitivity testing.
6 Ingredients To Limit for Gut Health
Because we’re all bio-individuals, what causes your digestive issues won’t be the same as mine. Therefore, take this list with a grain of salt. Figuring out your triggers may be a combination of at-home experimentation and testing with your doctor. At any rate, these are universally known as ingredients to limit for gut health: artificial sugars, glyphosate, guar gum, carrageenan, inflammatory oils, and natural flavors.
Artificial sugars are at the top of the list of ingredients to limit for gut health. First and foremost, they’re made from unnatural chemicals. Secondly, they’re linked to weight gain, brain tumors, bladder cancer, and a slew of other health issues. Artificial sugars come in the form of aspartame, sucralose, maltodextrin, and more. All of these can increase blood glucose levels. Plus, they cause indigestion and weight gain, aggravate allergies, and decrease beneficial bacteria in the gut. They’re found in diet drinks, salad dressings, processed foods, etc. Ultimately, they provide no nutritional value. My favorite swaps for artificial sugars are honey, allulose, monk fruit, and xylitol.
Glypho—what? Glyphosate is a weed killer. It’s used in herbicides and pesticides which are sprayed on crops, i.e., wheat. Nevertheless, glyphosate gets into the food you eat. And it can’t be washed off. Recent news shows it’s known to be harmful. Along with cancer, it’s tied to a slew of gut issues. See here for a list of the top glyphosate offenders. When possible, buy organic, sprouted wheat. You won’t see glyphosate on an ingredient list, but keep an eye out for “glyphosate-free” on food packages. If you’re looking for clean oats, One Degree Organics doesn’t source grains with glyphosate!
Have you heard of guar gum? Guar gum is derived from the guar bean, which grows primarily in India and Pakistan. They look similar to green beans. Unfortunately, even small amounts of guar gum can cause unpleasant symptoms in those with sensitive digestive systems. Some people see an improvement in gut issues after removing guar gum from their diet. If you have gut issues, like SIBO or IBS, consider removing guar gums from your diet. Guar gum is used as a thickener, emulsifier, stabilizer, and blending agent. You’ll find it in many processed and packaged foods—oat milk, coconut yogurt, breakfast cereals, ice cream, and more.
There’s controversy over this ingredient, but some scientists have evidence to show that carrageenan is highly inflammatory and toxic to the digestive tract. It may be responsible for colitis, IBS, rheumatoid arthritis, and even colon cancer. Carrageenan comes from red seaweed, and like guar gum, it’s used as an additive to thicken, emulsify, and preserve foods and drinks. You’ll find it in non-diary milks, yogurt, etc. For more on why I’m including it in ingredients to limit, click here.
While we need both omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids, the standard American diet fosters an unbalanced omega ratio—thanks to an abundance of industrial seed oils. Consistent use of vegetable oils can promote chronic inflammation. This leads to gut issues and inflammatory diseases. Try to limit your consumption of canola oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, and grape seed oil. These are found in chips and fried foods, along with oat milk. See here for my go-to oils!
It’s nearly impossible to find sparking beverages, canned cocktails, protein bars, crackers, or treats without “natural flavors.” Contrary to their name, natural flavors aren’t exactly natural. Basically, they’re flavoring agents. Food manufacturers can add natural flavors to their products to enhance the taste. Unsurprisingly, research shows that when “natural” appears on food packaging, people tend to assume the item is healthy. That’s not always the case. Because the FDA hasn’t officially defined “natural flavors,” it can be used to describe almost any type of food. Although natural flavorings must meet safety requirements, individual reactions may occur. People who have allergies or follow special diets should be mindful of natural flavors, as they are linked to physical reactions, including gut issues.
Images courtesy of Unsplash. This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider.