Fast food and unhealthy eating concept – close up of fast food and sugary drinks

(© makistock -

Foods that are healthy for the gut feed the good bacteria within it. Eating not-so-healthy foods, however, can disrupt it by feeding the bad bacteria instead. This can lead to an unhealthier gut and, thus, abdominal discomfort.

Gut health continues to make headlines and is plastered all over TikTok influencer accounts. While it’s a good thing that more people are talking about this organ that is involved in almost all of our body’s most vital functions, it has come with a slight cost. People are looking for a quick fix, a magic pill, and the “best” dieting fad around. Then, often unqualified influencers line up to give you their newest pill and/or service to keep you hooked on these products.

More often than not, you don’t need anything crazy to have better gut health. There will also never be a way to truly reach peak gut health (or health in general) without doing a major lifestyle change. While it may seem overwhelming to do that, small steps can make the biggest difference. Knowing what foods definitely can drive gut dysfunction and doing your best to avoid them is a pretty good first step.

Keep in mind that everyone can react to specific foods differently, depending on a host of different factors, with the state of one’s gut only being one part of the picture. If someone is sensitive to a specific food like beans, for example, that doesn’t make beans unhealthy for everyone. These three foods below are ones that can and/or do universally disrupt a healthy gut environment.

Fried Foods

By now, many people know that eating a lot of fried food probably isn’t the most amazing choice to make. As far as gut specifics go, these foods are difficult to break down and effectively digest. Eating to excess can also lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which many people don’t even know they have since there aren’t any clear symptoms. By limiting them, you reduce your risk of this as well as several gastrointestinal problems that usually arise in people with NAFLD.

fried chicken on stainless steel tray
Photo by Shardar Tarikul Islam on Unsplash

Refined sugar

There are tons of reasons to limit refined sugars, which you’ll typically find in baked goods and packaged snacks. One of the biggest reasons to do so is the harm it does to the gut. Most notably, it wipes out the good gut bacteria that you have and can feed bad bacteria that can then cause a chain reaction of events in the body. These types of sugars also lack fiber and are highly processed, making them run through your digestive system quickly. This, in turn, spikes blood sugar and leaves your healthy gut microbes feeling starved.

Child holding sugary, processed junk food
(© colnihko –

Artificial Sweeteners

Lots of people turn to artificial sweeteners as an alternative to real sugar. Ones like aspartame have been caught under fire recently after the World Health Organization classified it as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” Still, the research consensus on artificial sweeteners remains unclear, but there are some things we know so far. There’s a good chunk of evidence that shows that these sweeteners can disrupt gut health balance and limit the diversity of bacteria. This can drive gut inflammation, irritating things even more. A lot of these additives can be found in diet sodas, protein bars, and even granola.

Sugar free, artificial sweetener
(© minoandriani –

Bottom Line

Cutting all of these foods out entirely for the rest of your life isn’t realistic nor necessary, but making them a regular part of your diet can come at the cost of compromising the part of your body that houses almost your entire immune system. That’s just one of the amazing things your gut does. It may seem daunting to completely change your diet if you are someone who typically eats a lot or all of these foods regularly, but starting small and working up to a solid habit is better than any pill or fad diet.

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About Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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