Gut Check — Part 2

15 Jan

This series of articles is dedicated to the discussion of your gut flora and the significance that it plays in your overall, digestive, and immune health. We are learning more and more every day about the significance of the bacterial population of your gut. This series will help pronounce that importance and inform you how you can build the optimal city that is your own gut.

Building a thriving city depends greatly on increasing the good while simultaneously decreasing the bad. When it comes to optimizing your gut flora, the very same is true. That is, optimizing your gut health depends on the combination of reducing “bad” bacteria (aka pathobiotics) while increasing “good” bacteria (aka probiotics).

You’ll be surprised just how many foods — and other lifestyle and environmental factors — you come in contact with and consume daily that are putting a damper on your optimal health and vitality.

Without further ado, let’s talk about those foods and factors that need to be eliminated from your diet and lifestyle as they are currently throwing your gut flora completely out of whack.

#1: Granola Bars

This may sound like a no-brainer, but the real evil here is SUGAR. And, as you’ll see, this gut-killing ingredient runs abundantly even in unsuspecting supposedly healthy foods.

The laundry list of sugar’s health-robbing qualities seems never-ending. In addition to spiking your blood sugar, packing on a spare tire around your waist, and wreaking hormonal havoc, sugar is arguably the worst offender in causing your gut flora to be completely out of balance. Not only is sugar completely void of any health-bearing properties, it is truly a haven for pathobiotics and bad bacteria.

Pretty much everywhere you look — and even many places you don’t — sugar is rearing its ugly head. Sugar is disguised in many ways: it’s not just the powdery white stuff used in baked goods. There’s fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, white sugar, and the list goes on.

Of course, you have your usual suspects of sugar-laden foods that you know are bad for you — junk foods like candy bars, cookies, and a long list of others. What’s more, you’ll find it in condiments, sauces, and dressings, as well as cold cereals, instant hot cereals, granola bars, canned and packaged fruit, fruit juices, and many low-fat wannabe health foods (just to name a few).

Limit your overall sugar consumption to 30 grams per day or less. Your best bet is to focus on whole foods that are minimally processed.

#2: French Fries

Oh, the beloved French fries. Thomas Jefferson preferred his potatoes be served to him in a French manner. There’s a pretty good chance that today’s French fries don’t look nutritionally anything like those that were conjured in the early 1800s.

As a matter of fact, today’s French fries that are deep fried in vegetable oil/shortening are loaded with calories, high-glycemic carbohydrates, and saturated fats. What’s worse, you can expect a wallop of health-desecrating trans fats in your next serving of fast food fries.

If you thought sugar’s evils were well-documented, just wait. Trans fats are linked to an increased risk for coronary heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and lymphoma. Trans fats also lower “good” cholesterol while simultaneously elevating “bad” cholesterol.

As a matter of fact, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine tracked the nutrition and exercise habits of 80,000 women over 14 years. The researchers found that the most important determinant of heart disease was the amount of trans fats in the diet.

In a recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers attempted to correlate trans fat intake with gut health. Researchers examined the nutritional habits of 622 people who also underwent routine colonoscopies.

Compared to those participants who ate the least trans fats, people who consumed the most trans fats were 86% more likely to develop colorectal adenomas — small growths, or polyps, in the colon and rectum that, if left untreated, can result in colorectal cancer.

Regarding the health of the American diet, Walter Willett, MD, PhD, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard Medical said, “The worst single specific problem is trans fats.” And based on results of an earlier study, Dr. Willett concluded that trans fats represent “the biggest food processing disaster in US history.”

In addition to French fries, trans fats are commonly found in items such as margarine, chips, crackers, cookies, donuts, pastries, and other convenience foods. As a matter of fact, margarine is arguably the worst food of all time.

Your goal should be to COMPLETELY eliminate trans fats from your diet. Even as little as 1% of your daily caloric intake from trans fats can wreak havoc on your gut and overall health.

#3: Diet Sodas

Think you’re doing yourself a favor by cutting back on sugar and empty calories? Sounds good in theory, but remember that calorie-free sweeteners like sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (Equal), and saccharin (Sweet ‘n Low) are ARTIFICIAL. At some point, you have to think, “Is something that’s artificial actually good for me?”

Artificial sweeteners — along with other artificial ingredients, flavors, and preservatives — are linked to increased calorie intake, obesity, and storing more body fat. What’s more, researchers from Duke University published a study in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health that suggests that Splenda significantly depresses the number of good bacteria in your gut. In addition, research from the Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology suggests that artificial sweeteners are to blame for the rise in inflammatory bowel diseases.

Diet sodas are an easy culprit to spot, but what about sugar-free chewing gum? Toothpaste? Artificial sweeteners run rampant in “light” and “fat-free” diet food items as well. Another obvious source of these sweeteners is the little packets that you add to your coffee, tea, and other beverages.

Chances are that the “diet” products that you currently eat are loaded with artificial sweeteners and ingredients. While they resemble food, they are mere food-like substances. Ditch those foods and opt for whole, minimally processed real foods.

A great option to sweeten your beverages — and even baked goods — is stevia. Stevia is derived from plant leaves and is an all-natural zero-calorie sweetener. A stevia blend — which combines stevia leaf and another all-natural zero-calorie sweetener called erythritol — is a great option (i.e., Steviva). Raw honey and real maple syrups are additional choices to use in recipes to sweeten things up.

#4: “Light” and “Fat Free” Yogurts

You may have been told that eating dairy can actually increase the amount of good bacteria in your gut. However, what you may not have heard is that the pasteurization process that most commercially purchased dairy goes through actually completely destroys all of the probiotic bacteria in those foods.

Much of the commercially available dairy has gone through pasteurization or some related heating process. From milk to yogurt, nearly all of the healthy bacteria that you would want from these foods have been destroyed.

What’s more, many of the yogurts that are marketed as “healthy” on the grocery store shelves are packed with sugar. If they’re not, they’re loaded with artificial sweeteners. As you’ve already learned, these are robbing your gut of good bacteria.

You should opt for organic dairy sources that specifically state that the foods contain “live cultures.” Instead of “fruit on the bottom” options, get some fresh fruit from the produce aisle and add it yourself to some healthy, organic plain yogurt.

#5: Atlantic Salmon

You’ve probably heard about omega-3 fatty acids. Those are the “good” fatty acids that help protect your heart.

There are also omega-6 fatty acids that are converted by your body into arachidonic acid.

When the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is the correct balance — 2:1 — the small amount of arachidonic acid that results is healthful.

But when the ratio is unbalanced, this increase in the amount of arachidonic acid your body has to deal with causes an exaggerated inflammatory response. Prolonged inflammation is known to cause damage to blood vessels, the heart, lung and joint tissues, skin, and the digestive tract.

Salmon is a “super food,” right? It is packed with protein and massive dose of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, right?

As Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend.” It’s almost a guarantee that any salmon caught from the Atlantic and sold at your local grocer or offered at your favorite restaurant is farm-raised.

What does that mean? Well, it means that those poor fish are kept captive in a pen all day and fed a diet full of soy, corn, and a bunch of other stuff that has no resemblance to what these fish would actually consume if left alone to roam the seas wildly. The result: the diets of farm-raised salmon are significantly higher in omega-6 fatty acids, while dramatically lower in omega-3 fatty acids than their wild counterparts.

What’s more, these farm-raised fish are often plagued by pests and disease, which means they have to be treated with pesticides and antibiotics. Those chemicals are passed right along to you, and guess what antibiotics do? They kill bacteria, good and bad.

Here’s what you get when you eat farm-raised salmon: less omega-3s, more omega-6s, less protein, and exposure to pesticides and antibiotics. Your best bet is to opt for wild Alaskan salmon whenever possible.

And, it’s not just salmon. This caution extends to other farm-raised fish like tilapia. As a matter of fact, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in farm-raised tilapia is a shocking 11:1.

#6: Non-Organic Vegetables and Fruits

The benefits of adding more vegetables and fruits to your diet by now have been pounded into your head. You know these colorful, nutrient-dense foods are full of health-promoting vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, anti-oxidants, and fiber that all contribute to improving your health and reducing your waistline.

What you may not know is that the majority of commercially produced vegetables and fruits are heavily treated with agricultural and pesticides. Plants that have been treated with these dangerous chemicals carry them. These chemicals not only affect the bacteria concentration in these foods, the pesticide residue can also be passed along to you and destroy your own good bacteria.

Knowing the potential dangers of exposure to these chemicals and additives, each year the Environmental Working Group analyzes Department of Agriculture data about pesticide residue and ranks foods based on how much or little pesticide residue they have. The group estimates that individuals can reduce their exposure by 80% if they switch to organic, especially for certain produce.

The Environmental Working Group creates an annual list, aptly named The Dirty Dozen, which helps consumers decide which produce they would most benefit from purchasing organic. The latest list to make the notorious list includes:

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Bell Peppers
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries
  • Nectarines (imported)
  • Grapes
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Cucumbers
  • Blueberries (domestic)
  • Potatoes
  • Green Beans
  • Kale/Greens

Based on the data collection, the Environmental Working Group also compiles a list of what they call the Clean 15. Produce with the least amount of pesticides is included on this list: Onions, Sweet Corn, Pineapple, Avocado, Cabbage, Sweet peas, Asparagus, Mangoes, Eggplant, Cantaloupe, Sweet potatoes, Grapefruit, Watermelon, and Mushrooms.

While organic produce is often more costly than conventionally-grown produce, choose organic — especially when it comes to foods like the Dirty Dozen — to dramatically reduce your exposure to agricultural chemicals. [NOTE: the overall benefits of eating vegetables and fruits are so significant that even choosing conventional produce is better than eating none at all.]

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2 Responses to “Gut Check — Part 2”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Why You Should NEVER Use Splenda® | Fit 4 a King - March 5, 2013

    […] a matter of fact, take a look at the second and third parts in the “Gut Check” article series that detail other foods — often […]

  2. Three Offenders of Gut Health | Fit 4 a King - March 8, 2013

    […] and dramatically slowing your fatloss to boot. (For a comprehensive review, revisit Gut Check Parts 2 and […]

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