Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on April 01, 2022
Gut Health
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Gut Health

Your gut relies on just the right balance of different bacteria to digest your food and to prevent infection and inflammation. Gut health also affects your mental health, weight, blood sugar, and liver. Prebiotic foods (whole grains, bananas, greens, onions, garlic, soybeans, and artichokes) act as food for healthy gut bacteria. Probiotic foods like yogurt are full of good bacteria already. 

Best: Fermented Foods
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Best: Fermented Foods

Fermenting is a method of preserving foods with bacteria and yeast. When you eat fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut, you get the live bacteria in them. This makes them a great source of probiotics.

Best: Bananas
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Best: Bananas

Bananas supply your gut with inulin, a type of fiber that helps good bacteria grow.

Best: Leafy Green Veggies
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Best: Leafy Green Veggies

They’re a top-notch pick because they’re high in fiber and a special carb, both of which feed helpful gut bacteria.

Best: Whole Grains
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Best: Whole Grains

Your body can’t break down fiber on its own. When it gets to your large intestine, gut bacteria get to work fermenting it. This creates acids that feed cells in your intestines while helping to protect your gut from harmful bacteria.

Best: Polyphenols
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Best: Polyphenols

These compounds in foods protect your cells from damage while fighting inflammation and infection. Colorful foods are rich in polyphenols, as are tea, coffee, and red wine. Polyphenols in green tea may help fight “bad” bacteria like E. coli and calm symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and peptic ulcers. Polyphenols can also promote the growth of good gut bacteria.

Worst: Red Meat
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Worst: Red Meat

Red meat can trigger the growth of gut bacteria that lead to clogged arteries. Stick to lean protein sources such as fish or plant protein like beans and tofu. If you can’t give up beef, pork, and lamb completely, choose leaner cuts with names that include round, loin, or sirloin.

Worst: Fried Foods
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Worst: Fried Foods

Fried foods are already on the not-good-for-you list. It hasn’t been proven in humans yet, but studies on rats shows that heated oil, which soaks into the fried foods, can damage healthy gut bacteria.

Worst: Foods With Antibiotics
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Worst: Foods With Antibiotics

Antibiotics can’t tell the difference between “good” and “bad” bacteria, so they kill them all. Often, farmers treat animals with antibiotics to keep them from getting infections. If you eat these animal products, you can kill the healthy bacteria in your gut. And because some bacteria become antibiotic resistant over time, meaning the drugs no longer affect it,  you might end up with a hard-to-kill superbug.

Worst: Alcohol
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Worst: Alcohol

Alcohol, especially if you’re a heavy drinker, can disrupt the balance of bacteria in your gut and help bad bacteria grow. Moderation is key.

Worst: Caffeine
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Worst: Caffeine

Coffee, soda, and even too much chocolate can up the caffeine in your body, which ramps up your intestines. This excitement in your digestive system often causes diarrhea.

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Harvard Health Publishing: “The gut-brain connection,” ”Do gut bacteria inhibit weight loss?”

Frontiers in Endocrinology: “Impact of Gut Microbiota on Host Glycemic Control.”

Medical Sciences: How Do Gut Bacteria Influence the Liver?”

Mayo Clinic: “What are probiotics and prebiotics?”

University of Massachusetts Medical School Center for Applied Nutrition: “Fermented Foods for Gut Health.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “5 Foods to Improve Your Digestion.”

Consumer Reports: “6 Foods That Are Good for Gut Health.”

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Quinoa.”

UNC Nutrition Research Institute: “Polyphenols: Colorful, Healthy, Plant Compounds You May Already Eat & Drink.”

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