The trillions of bacteria and yeast in your gut—the gut microbiome—controls every aspect of your well-being, from your emotional state to your immune system. So if you want a happy gut for overall wellness, don’t make these 5 mistakes.
The digestive health market is expanding like a bloated belly. From 2010-2020, the gut health niche tripled in size, and by 2024, it’s expected to reach nearly $6 billion. According to market research company, Mintel, roughly one in every three consumers have purchased a food or beverage that is labeled with probiotic benefits. And roughly 40% of consumers said in a survey that they would try a natural food product if it will help with gut health.
Clearly, more consumers are conscious about the importance of achieving and maintaining good gut health. That’s the good news…
But what exactly does good gut health mean? It means having a diverse variety of friendly bacterial strains that colonize in the colon (large intestine). It also means maintaining a sufficient number of the overall friendly bacteria to outnumber harmful bacteria and yeast.
Maintaining good gut health also means that the friendly bacteria in your gut has enough undigested fiber (prebiotic fiber) to feast on.
It might seem like good news that the digestive health market is surging. But the statistic is misleading and brings us to the first mistake you can make if you want great gut health.
Gut Health Mistake Mistake #1: Relying on Antacids
According to FONA International, which is one of the major players in the food-and-beverage flavoring industry, antacids hold the largest market share of digestive health products. Over 30% of consumers reported using an antacid in 2020. (Even worse news, surprisingly, sales of probiotics lost ground in 2020, according to trend insights by FONA.)
So why are antacids bad? After all, if you experience heartburn, acid reflux, GERD (gastro-espophogeal reflux disease) and stomach ulcers, antacids can offer immediate relief.
The problem with antacids is that the long-term use of them can make digestive problems worse. If you eat a huge meal, say, a T-bone steak with a side of mashed potatoes, an antacid might come in handy. But you shouldn’t eat a huge meal like that in the first place.
Many people use antacids on a frequent or daily basis. Chronic use can cause the gut lining to become weaker, which causes toxins to leach through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream and even into the brain.
In addition to causing leaky gut, according to the UK’s Pharmaceutical Journal chronic antacid use may cause SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth); C. Diff. infection; gastroenteritis; and bone fractures.
And that’s not all. Frequent antacid usage creates chronic insufficient stomach acid. Many people incorrectly assume that acid reflux is caused by too much stomach acid. But the reality is that, in addition to eating too much, reflux might be caused because of the exact opposite problem: not enough stomach acid.
The takeaway: consult with a functional medicine doctor who can recommend digestive health supplements such as digestive enzymes, HCL/pepsin, L-glutamine, collagen and pre- and probiotics.
Gut Health Mistake #2: Take It Easy On The Booch
Unlike last year’s probiotic market slump, the kombucha health trend shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, ResearchandMarkets.com’s Global Kombucha Market Report, which forecasts sales of the probiotic fermented tea drink from 2019 through 2028, expects a compounded annual growth rate of more than 22%. That’s a lot of booch.
From a public health policy perspective, the growth of kombucha is encouraging. After all, if more people replace soda for kombucha, rates of type 2 diabetes may decline. However, if you want great gut health, don’t think that drinking kombucha is a magical gut health elixir.
The main reason why is that many brands of kombucha contain far too much sugar for optimal health. Again, drinking a glass of kombucha that contains 12 grams of sugar is better than a cola’s 40 grams per can.
But 12 grams of added sugars is a lot—especially for a fermented beverage. Consider that most wines contain only one or two grams of residual sugars after the fermentation process.
And while it’s true that kombucha contains friendly bacteria, most brands that sell it have failed to scientifically demonstrate how many colony-forming-units of friendly bacteria a consumer would get per serving.
The takeaway: if you want more friendly bacteria to colonize your colon, there are several zero- or low-sugar fermented foods to choose from. Or, just take a high-quality probiotic supplement that contains prebiotic fiber.
Gut Health Mistake #3: Don’t Fall For Probiotic Marketing
This advice piggybacks on the tip above. Many people are fooled into thinking that kombucha is awesome for health because it contains probiotics. Perhaps there are some health benefits of kombucha. However, most people consume far too much sugar in the diet. Therefore, drinking kombucha is akin to pouring fuel on the fire.
But it’s not just kombucha that has consumers fooled. According to the aforementioned FONA, consumers are targeted with probiotic cookies. Some brands even have the audacity to label their cookies as gut-healthy while filling the cookies with cream, sugar and additives.
And let’s not forget the first “functional food” to get misleadingly slapped with the gut-healthy probiotic label: yogurt.
Maybe a serving of plain, grass-fed yogurt can indeed do the gut some good, but most yogurts on the market are loaded with added sugars.
The takeaway: if it looks like a snack and tastes like a snack, then it’s just a snack—with or without probiotics.
Gut Health Mistake #4: Don’t Go Overboard With Fermented Food
Obviously, the people who need to improve their gut health the most are those that have digestive disorders such as the umbrella condition, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as well as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
On the surface, it would seem that people living with digestive disorders would benefit the most by eating a diet loaded with fermented foods. Logically, fermented foods are rich in probiotics, and strengthening gut integrity requires purging unfriendly bacteria from the gut.
Unfortunately, eating large servings of fermented foods causes the very symptoms that those with digestive disorders uncomfortably experience: bloating, constipation, etc.
So if you’re somebody with gut dysbiosis, take it easy on the sauerkraut and kimchi. Just have an ounce per serving and see how your digestive system reacts. Try eating a LOW-FODMAP diet and adding digestive bitters like ginger and gentian root to your meals. You can also get digestive bitters in supplement form.
Got any great gut health tips? Anything to avoid? Share your thoughts below…