Don’t Cut the Carbs! Your Gut Health Depends On Them

Posted On Apr 22, 2019 By Erin Kuh, MBA, RD

A woman with her hands on her stomach.

Would you be surprised to learn that what you eat (and drink!), how often you eat, and what supplements you take can affect everything from asthma to obesity to diabetes to emotional wellness? All of these things and more are affected by how well our digestive system functions and how healthy our microbiome (aka the good and bad bacteria) are in our intestines. As a dietitian who has been diagnosed with Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) that manifested with autoimmune-type symptoms rather than tummy issues, I know firsthand how gut health reaches beyond just the system directly involved.

Some of the most common recommendations and diet trends may be hurting your gut health and overall well-being. Here are the top 5 tips on how to improve gut health and prevent future issues, even if you don’t have any digestive problems.

Notice they don’t include any fancy green drinks, bone broth, or extreme detoxes!

  1. Contrary to much diet advice, don’t eat every 2-3 hours, unless you have blood sugar issues. Having 4-5 hours between meals, with nothing but water in between, plus 10-12 hours between dinner and breakfast allows the GI system time to rest and do a sort of daily self-cleaning. It’s like the “self-clean” selection on your kitchen stove. Constantly snacking or having small frequent meals kicks your intestines into overdrive. Not good for the beneficial bacteria in the gut!
  2. Keep resistant starch foods in your diet on a regular basis. Foods like oats, potatoes, brown rice, or even better black rice for additional phytochemicals (good stuff!), and beans contain prebiotics, which is food for probiotics. Be wary of super low-carb diets like the Keto diet that eliminate these essential foods. Or only follow extreme diets like this for short periods of time.
  3. Drink more tea, and less alcohol. Alcohol, even in moderate amounts, is harsh on the GI system. In particular, green tea contains beneficial elements for a healthy digestion system.
  4. Get your omega-3s through fatty fish like salmon and tuna or high quality omega-3 supplements.
  5. Ditch the artificial sweeteners. The occasional (meaning once a week or less) Coke Zero isn’t going to do any harm but regular consumption of artificial sweeteners does damage to the gut lining. Stick with small amounts of Stevia, monk fruit, or try going without a sweetener. Your taste buds will adjust!

My last piece of advice: If you’re concerned about your gut health, and we all should be, work with a dietitian who specializes in this area. Most people can benefit from eating fermented foods like Kefir, yogurt and sauerkraut that have lots of good tummy bugs, but some people shouldn’t eat these foods. The same goes for probiotic supplements. Check in with an expert before you start piling on the probiotics and prebiotics…more isn’t always better!