Low Carb Guide to Gut Health
Healthy Gut, Healthy Life.
Gut health is an important part of healthy digestion, and healthy digestion ensures you are actually using the nutrients from your food. It also makes you physically feel light, mobile and energized. So, maintaining healthy gut bacteria is not only good for relieving stomach aches, but it is great for your overall health and can support weight loss.
Read this guide to help understand the causes and symptoms of an unhealthy gut and to make sure you are feeding your gut the right things when on a low carb diet.
What is the Gut Microbiome?
The gut microbiome consists of trillions of bacteria that live inside your gastrointestinal tract. The number and diversity of these bacteria determines whether or not your gut is “healthy” (i.e. having a higher number and greater diversity is considered healthy). These bacteria serve many essential roles related to digestion and immune health. They help produce important chemicals and vitamins, send signals between the gut and brain to regulate hormones, and support the immune system – without these bacteria, it would be difficult to survive! They are one of the keys to maintaining overall good health. In fact, many studies have shown a link between an unhealthy gut and higher risks for certain diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, asthma and autoimmune diseases.
Symptoms of an Unhealthy Gut
The signs of an unhealthy gut are not too hard to spot. These include:
- Excessive gas and bloating produced by “bad” bacteria (some gas is normal)
- Frequent upset stomach
- Bad breath
- Sugar cravings
- Unintentional weight gain or loss
- Problems sleeping and constant fatigue
- Skin inflammation such as acne, eczema and psoriasis
- Food intolerances (different from allergies, although some research suggests a link to allergies as well)
- Autoimmune diseases (arthritis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis)
- Supressed immunity (you get sick frequently)
- Anxiety and mood disorders
Foods That Upset the Gut Microbiome
If you are experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms, it could be due to problems with your gut microbiome, such as not having a large number and variety “good” bacteria or having too much “bad” bacteria. You can control the makeup of your gut microbiome through a number of things including diet, exercise and stress management. First, we will cover our diet tips and get into other ways you can manage your gut health later on in this article.
Bad bacteria like to feed on the following foods:
- High sugar foods
- Unhealthy fats (trans fats and certain saturated fats from low quality sources)
- Artificial sweeteners
The good news is that it’s easy to cut sugar out of a low carb diet! That said, be sure you are eating high quality, natural foods in the rest of your diet and avoid artificial compounds that could be found in food advertised as “low carb.” It is always best to opt for whole, unprocessed foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, high quality meat/dairy and organic products where possible.
Foods That Nourish the Gut Microbiome
Now that you have an idea of what you shouldn’t eat, let’s dive into what you should eat to improve your gut health!
Good bacteria like a diet rich in the following foods and compounds:
Fibre comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble – and both are essential to your gut health. Most fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains contain both types of fibre. A good tip to get more fibre in your diet is to leave the skins on your produce which are a great source of insoluble fibre that are often peeled away!
Fibre has a prebiotic effect on the body once consumed. Gut microbes in the colon and large intestines essentially feed off of fibre which results in fermentation and the production of short chain fatty acids and gases (if you are not used to a high-fibre diet, you may experience more gas and bloating than usual at first!). Short chain fatty acids provide energy for the cells in your body and are used for many other important functions.
Some high fibre foods carried at The Low Carb Grocery include:
- Liviva Organic Bean Pasta Noodles
- Anthony’s Goods Organic Flaxseed Meal – sprinkle over cereal, salads, yogurt or add it to smoothies and baked goods!
- Anthony’s Goods Psyllium Husk Powder – another versatile fibre source that can be added to any meal.
- KZ Clean Eating High Fibre Crispbreads and Crackers
- Smart Sweets Gummy Candies Sweetened with Stevia – each pouch contains 28g of fibre!
Remember that fibre is best obtained from whole foods, rather than fibre supplements. That’s because the insoluble fibre from vegetables and fruits adds bulk to your stool and helps everything pass through your digestive tract. Fibre supplements that you must drink or swallow in pill form just don’t have the same effect. Plus, you miss out on the other important vitamins and minerals that you can obtain from fresh fruits and vegetables.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids, found in things like fatty fish, nuts, seeds and plant oils (flaxseed, avocado, olive, coconut, soybean, etc.), promote a diverse gut microbiome. Bacterial diversity is important because it allows a more flexible response to changes in your body, including diet, stress and infection. Omega 3 fatty acids also help fight inflammation, which can support the gut bacteria and promote overall health. Be sure to eat a diet higher in omega 3 fatty acids than omega 6 fatty acids, as excessive omega 6s (mainly found in processed vegetable oils and foods high in trans fats) can cause inflammation.
Polyphenols are chemical compounds found in plant foods that contain high levels of antioxidants. These compounds promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria that help process nutrients and defend against pathogens. A polyphenol-rich diet can also reduce inflammation, bad cholesterol levels, blood pressure and oxidative stress (the accumulation of toxins in the body) – all of which can lead to a number of chronic diseases if not managed properly.
Sources of polyphenols include:
- Dark chocolate (at least 70%), cocoa nibs and cocoa powder
- Organic green tea and matcha tea powder
- Blueberries, blackberries and other dark coloured berries
- Herbs such as clove, thyme and rosemary
- Soy including tofu and tempeh
You have probably heard that fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha are good for your gut. These foods contain beneficial bacteria that swoop in and support your existing gut microbiome.
Here are some other fermented foods you can eat to support your gut:
- Miso (fermented paste made from soy, rice and barley) – try Harvest Sun Organic Vegan Miso Bouillon Cubes! Add them to homemade soups, stocks and stews.
- BUFF Artisan Bison Jerky Sticks – naturally fermented to preserve the meat!
- Tempeh (fermented soybeans)
- Kefir (cultured dairy product)
- Probiotic yogurt
- Apple cider vinegar
Antibacterial and Antifungal Foods
The main benefit of consuming food with antibacterial and antifungal properties is to keep bad gut bacteria under control. These foods protect against foodborne illnesses caused by harmful bacteria.
Here are some antibacterial foods you can eat on a regular basis or when you feel like you want an immune boost:
- Garlic has a number of antibacterial and antifungal properties and is easy to add to any meal to give it more flavour.
- Moringa powder is considered a natural antibiotic with the ability to kill bacteria and viruses. This superfood can be added to smoothies, baked goods, hot beverages and savoury recipes.
- Cinnamon not only adds a wonderful taste and aroma to baked goods, hot beverages, and breakfast foods – but it also has the power to kill bacteria and viruses!
- Turmeric keeps your insides clean due to its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. You can add it to soups, curries, stews, roasted vegetables and smoothies. Or, try this recipe for a warm and comforting Turmeric Latte (keto-friendly) for an immune boost. Remember to always add a pinch of ground black pepper when using turmeric to activate its immune-boosting properties.
- Ginger is another food often recommended to help fight cold and flu and that’s because of its antibacterial properties that help fight off viruses and infections. Add it to stir fry, salads, tea or smoothies!
Other Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Gut
- Eat a variety of foods.
Eating a variety of foods increases the types of bacteria that exist in your gut to help break down these different foods. The more species of bacteria you have, the more health benefits they can contribute to.
- Reduce inflammation caused by diet and stress.
Eliminate foods and drinks from your diet that cause inflammation. These include but are not limited to:
- Caffeinated beverages
- Foods high in trans fats
- Foods high in omega 6s
Stress also causes inflammation in the body. Learn how you can best manage your stress and be sure whether it be through exercise, meditation, yoga, journaling or spending time with loved ones.
- Drink plenty of clean water.
It goes without saying that drinking enough water is vital to overall health. Aim for 2-4L a day and be sure it is coming from a clean source. Opt for purified water or use a water filter in your home.
- Sweat out toxins.
Exercising is another great way to promote gut health. Sweating from exercise allows your body to remove toxins that can cause oxidative stress in the body and it produces mood-lifting hormones.
- Choose natural sweeteners instead of artificial sweeteners.
If you are trying to cut down sugar in your diet, avoid things like aspartame and sucralose. The Low Carb Grocery carries a number of natural sweeteners, such as monk fruit sweeteners, stevia, erythritol and xylitol. Learn about the best sugar substitutes here.
- Try to eat more plant-based meals.
Studies have shown that plant-based diets can benefit the gut microbiome. This is due to the high fibre content of a plant-based diet. In addition, studies have shown that animal-based diets can cause more inflammation, can promote bad gut bacteria, and consuming raw or low-quality meat can put you at a higher risk for disease-causing bacteria such as E. coli. Again, diversity is key so be sure to eat a balanced diet!
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