The Best and Worst Breakfast Foods for Gut Health

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Your go-to weekday breakfast might be the reason why your bathroom habits aren’t, well, regular.

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Breakfast does just that: breaks the fast. The a.m. meal is what gets us going in the morning — it provides us with the fuel we need to take on the day. (OK, we need coffee, too… Who are we kidding?)

That’s why there’s no better time than first thing in the morning to start treating your gut right by feeding it the foods it loves and that will love you back.

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The 4 Best Breakfast Foods for Gut Health

A cup of yogurt in the a.m. gives your gut a boost of healthy bacteria, specifically ​Lactobacillus bulgaricus​ and ​Streptococcus thermophilus​, which are required by the Food and Drug Administration when making yogurt.

These live bacteria, aka probiotics, can have a positive effect on our health, specifically our digestive system, as explained by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

One caveat: Avoid yogurts that have been sweetened with artificial sugars like saccharin and sucralose. Here’s why: A January 2019 study in Advances in Nutrition reviewed previous clinical and experimental studies and found that some sugar substitutes alter our gut bacteria — and not in a good way. Even stevia was found to have a negative effect.

When it comes to your gut health, oatmeal is one of the best ways you can start your day. Oats are a prebiotic food, which means they help feed probiotics, the good bacteria in our guts.

Other sources of prebiotics include bananas, onions, garlic and beans, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Oats have a unique fiber called beta-glucan, and an October 2018 paper in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences found that this specific fiber had more distinct effects on the microbial composition in the gut compared to other fibers tested in this in vitro study.

To make a good-for-your-gut smoothie, incorporate as many plant-based foods (fruit, vegetables, beans, seeds, whole grains) as you can.

One of the largest studies to date on the human microbiome found that taking in 30 different plant-based foods a week was linked with having a more diverse (healthier) gut microbiome, per the May 2018 research in ​mSystems.

When concocting a smoothie at home or picking one up on-the-go, avoid smoothies that are packed with ingredients like juices, frozen yogurt and sweetened milk because they’re typically sky-high in sugar.

When it comes to your gut health and whether or not eggs are “good” or “bad” really depends on the person.

If you deal with gut issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) — it ​is​ the most common functional GI disorder, according to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders — then you should proceed with caution.

If your IBS tends to lead to diarrhea, eggs may help bind you up, according to the Cleveland Clinic. But, if you experience the opposite effect (constipation), eggs could just worsen the situation.

The 3 Worst Breakfast Foods for Your Gut

Highly processed red meat isn’t only an issue for your heart, it affects your gut, too.

Eating even just a small amount of bacon, sausage or other highly processed red meats is linked to an increased risk for colorectal cancer, according to June 2020 guidelines published by the American Cancer Society. Eating moderate to high amounts of red meat can, too.

Red meat also has a negative effect on your gut microbiota, according to a January 2019 study in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. It appears the heme iron found in red meat leads to a disruption in the mucus barrier function of our guts.

Adding a doughnut to your coffee order may seem like an easy and harmless addition but your gut says otherwise. Doughnuts are fried, which means they’re high in fat. They’re also made with refined grains and added sugar (read: little to no fiber).

This is a harmful duo when it comes to your gut health. An April 2015 study in Nature Communications swapped the diets of African Americans who traditionally ate a westernized diet (high in fat and low in fiber) with South Africans who consumed a rural African diet (high-fiber and low-fat).

After just two weeks of eating different diets, those on the high-fat, low-fiber diet had a significant increase in mucosal inflammation and negative changes in microbiota — both risk factors for cancer.

Waffles and pancakes are traditionally made with refined grains like wheat and barley flours. These types of grains don’t really have any real benefit for your gut, especially when compared to whole grains.

A clinical trial published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in February 2017 found that after six weeks, substituting whole grains for refined grains led to an increase in stool weight and frequency as well as modest positive effects on the gut microbiota.

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