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Digestive bacteria are important to your body. No doubt you’ve watched television advertisements featuring cute animations that state this same fact, persuading you to buy products that will help your gut become a more “balanced” place for bacteria. While we’re not here to advocate for any particular products, we are going to reaffirm that the health of your digestive system plays an important role in so much of your everyday health – from things like immunity, heart health, digestion, skin conditions, and fat storage.

So how do you help out your gut? By making sure it has a healthy balance of good bacteria to balance out the not-so-good. You probably already know by osmosis that foods containing active cultures, such as yoghurt, and fermented foods like kombucha are a great way to up your intake of good bacteria. But what is less clear are the foods you need to avoid to limit if you want to maintain that crucial balance.

Artificial sweeteners – not so sweet

Always reaching for those sugar alternatives is not going to be doing your gut any favours. Research by the Weizmann Institute of Science suggests that exposure to artificial sweeteners can cause gut bacteria to trigger “harmful metabolic changes.” The imbalance of bacteria and presence of sucralose – a primary ingredient in some artificial sweeteners – has been shown to cause glucose intolerance, which is an early step towards diabetes and other serious health conditions. In general, avoiding sugary foods altogether is a good way to maintain that gut health balance.

Meats and poultry – read the labels

Next time you’re at the deli counter of your supermarket, take a few moments to check if the label denotes what you’re buying as free of antibiotics and hormones. The presence of antibiotics in the food you consume can lead to the decimation of both good and bad bacteria, which can cause serious damage to your digestive health. If you’re unsure about what may have been added to your meat, just ask. You’re more likely to find organic and hormone-free meats at a butcher, or at a bulk food supplier.

Soy beans – keep it natural

If you’re into soy in a big way, then you’ll want to be sure to check your labels before you consume too much of it. Many soy products originating in the USA have been genetically modified. While the jury is still out on genetically modified foods as a whole, it is the pesticides used on these foods that can cause digestive trouble. One study suggests that the wrong pesticides used on soy beans can lead to the extermination of many beneficial bacteria in the guts of animals.

What are your favourite foods containing good bacteria? Share your tips for gut health with us in the comments below.