If there is anything that I have gotten wrong over and over again, it is my probiotic-friendly diet. First, regarding my initial candida overgrowth, and then a lot of trial and error regarding leaky gut. I have since been able to get rid of candida thanks to my probiotic lifestyle diet, but I have yet to solve the leaky gut and inflammation issues that continue complicating my life.
I have made peace with the fact that the internet will mislead me, but I take solace in the fact that my body will always tell me the truth. I started this blog to try and deal with these types of misinformation and generalizations. So before we go any further, you need to understand that even if something works for someone else, it might not work for you. All people are different, and that is why the list below is, at best, a guideline to point you in the right direction. I aim to learn as much as possible from you even when I keep tracking every research development, and that is why I have the “comment” and “poll” sections wide open.
That being said, If there is one person my diets have pissed off in the past, it is my wife. One moment we are buying a certain item in bulk, in another moment, we cannot even touch it. To her, things should work as promised on the internet. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. People who suffer from leaky gut or inflammation can relate to the challenge of finding the optimal diet. At one moment, something is good for you. Another time it is bringing rashes all over your body. Also, avoiding sugar in foods is one of the biggest challenges in modern dieting…they put that in everything, and I mean everything!
When you are taking probiotics, you are most likely aiming to regain the balance of your beneficial gut bacteria. Therefore, it would not make any sense for you to go through the trouble of using probiotic supplements or foods to optimize your gut microbiome while at the same time making food mistakes that harm your stomach bacteria. Hence, this article explores ten food mistakes you might be making in the course of your probiotic lifestyle.
Buying probiotic supplements is not that different from eating probiotic foods. However, store-bought probiotics offer a shorter route to microbiota balance for obvious reasons. My Probiotic Lifestyle advocates for any habits and efforts to achieve a balanced gut microbiota. Therefore, probiotic supplements are only a tiny part of this lifestyle. The bigger part involves adjusting the diet and remaining consistent, sometimes for a very long time.
Hence, the first thing you should do when you get started on your probiotic journey is to avoid backsliding into old and bad anti-probiotic habits. One common mistake is taking foods that continue to suppress your good stomach bacteria while simultaneously trying to repopulate them using probiotics.
So here are ten food mistakes to avoid when taking probiotics
1. Simple Sugars and Artificial Sweeteners
The problem with consuming simple sugars while taking probiotics is that there is adequate research to show that sugar tends to increase the abundance of proteobacteria in the gut (bad bacteria) while suppressing the numbers of bacteroidetes (bad bacteria) (Source 1) (Source 2) (Source 3). Sugar has also been found to reduce the impact of endotoxin, which works by reinforcing the gut barrier functions. When your gut barrier function is compromised, you might end up with a leaky gut.
At this point, we should all agree that there is no defending sugar anymore, especially if it is simple sugars. If you are still enjoying sugar in your everything, then more life to you. However, note that your choice might be hard to justify apart from the fact that you like sweet things. Also, the first rule of the Probiotic Lifestyle is No Sugar!
Whenever I talk ill of sugar, some of those who know me well remind me that I was once a sugarholic and should at least be cool. I remember a time when about 70% of my fridge was taken up by them sweet things, chocolates, cakes, biscuits, and juices. The remaining space was taken up by sugary fruits (We will get those later). But, that was partly due to the crazy sugar cravings I used to have, courtesy of bacteria overgrowth. Also, anyone who doubts that sugar is bad only needs to look at my health record. Basically, all those years of consuming sugar like I was a lab rat left me with a nasty case of a leaky gut. You can read about my probiotic journey in this article here.
There is little doubt that a diet high in simple sugars can mess with your microbiota balance because sugar tends to feed the pathogenic yeasts and bacteria in the gut (Source). Moreover, consuming sugar has been observed to be a critical contributing factor to systemic gut inflammation (Source).
Another more obvious reason for not taking simple sugars and probiotics at the same time is that their consumption leads to metabolic dysregulation (Source). Hence, if you are taking probiotics for a wide range of problems such as better digestion, weight management, and increased energy, among other problems, it is likely that sugar consumption will interfere with your goals.
What about artificial sweeteners? Are they a good alternative to simple sugars for people on a probiotic lifestyle?
You might not like the answer to the above question, but research shows that artificial sweeteners directly impact gut microbiota composition (Source). Other than the effects of artificial sweeteners on gut bacteria, it is also important to consider that they have an impact on the body’s glucose tolerance and glycemic response (Source). Notably, changes in intestinal microbiota might end up making an individual’s glucose tolerance worse.
Although artificial sweeteners are popular as non-calorie sugar alternatives, their effects on gut microbiota mean that you might be better off taking your coffee all nasty and bitter. The good news is that research on artificial sweeteners is in high gear, and soon we might be able to enjoy all the sweetness without risking like a million organs and functions in our bodies.
PS: A few years ago, when I was still in denial about my failing relationship with sugar, I bought some very expensive natural sweeteners. At the time, every time I took sugar in any form, be it in coffee, sodas, or even juice, my psoriasis went wild…But I thought this would not be the case after taking a natural sweetener. Long story short, I was wrong…really wrong. Apparently, my body did not get the memo about the sugar being fake. That is how my relationship with sweeteners came to an end. From that point onwards, if something cannot be consumed without needing sugar, I just quit it. What about you?
2. Processed Foods
Processed foods often require various additives and preservatives, some of which have been found to negatively impact gut bacteria (Source 1) (Source 2). Consequently, eating processed foods while taking probiotics might be counterintuitive.
It is unlikely that you can avoid eating both synthetic and non-synthetic food preservatives because they are an integral part of the modern diet. However, the secret is to avoid eating too much-processed food. Overdoing processed foods might also lead to metabolic syndrome, chronic inflammation, and even colon cancer (Source). Therefore, there is enough reason to do away with processed foods when taking probiotics.
Most of the foods we eat today come packaged and ready to eat because modern living is all about convenience. In some cases, even food items that are labeled “natural” contain some levels of chemical preservatives. Some processed foods you might want to avoid while you are taking probiotics include cakes, syrups, sauces, frozen deserts, cookies, fast foods, pretzels, and chips among others. The additives in these foods work against your probiotics by destroying the good bacteria that you are trying to nurture.
In the past, there was a widely-held belief that emulsifiers such as Carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) were safe to eat because they can safely pass through the gut and then exit through the colon without being absorbed by the body. However, research shows that even when the body does not absorb them, preservatives and additives have an impact on gut bacteria (Source).
Another reason you should avoid processed foods is that most of them are low in fiber. Fibers serve an important purpose of feeding the good bacteria in your gut and offer support to the probiotics you take. Part of the reason most foods are processed is to ensure that they are easier to digest. This process often involves the removal of fiber, as is the case with processed grains. Foods without fiber also tend to have higher amounts of sugars and refined carbohydrates, and this takes us back to point number one above.
It is unlikely that you will be able to avoid processed foods while you still live on this planet. However, it is important to be conscious of their potential harm to your gut microbiota. It is also important to reduce processed food intake as much as possible and then counter their impact with enough natural fiber-rich foods such as vegetables, and a probiotic lifestyle.
3. High Sugar Fruits
The topic of sugary fruits is often contentious. Basically, people think that sugar in fruits is completely different from the one in packets. So let me begin this by sharing my personal experience.
I also used to believe this doctrine of sugar in fruits is not harmful. However, when my gut microbiota imbalance became chronic, and I was experiencing all forms of problems, my stomach would bloat like crazy (read about my journey here). I am very observant, so I noticed that my bloating was at its worst when I took anything with added sugar like a soft drink or cake. I also noticed almost no difference in my bloating when I ate a sizeable melon and when I downed a juice box.
People with type 1 diabetes who monitor sugar levels regularly will also tell you the same thing. When you eat two mangoes, a melon, and some bananas, your blood sugar will most likely shoot up.
It should not be lost on you that; sugar is sugar, irrespective of its mode of serving. The main difference between sugar from fruits and the one in packets is that fruits also have minerals, vitamins, and beneficial fibers. Therefore, sugar from fruits is released slower in the bloodstream compared to the one in your coffee. However, when sugar gets to your body, the harmful bacteria in your gut will still use it as fuel.
When taking probiotics, it is still important to limit the amount of sugar you are getting from fruits. Only eat them with restraint, and most importantly, listen to what your body is telling you after you eat them.
Also, do you have fruit cravings in the same manner as sugar cravings? A good number of people with gut microbiota imbalances have sugar cravings. Some other indications of gut microbiota imbalance when you take sugar include feeling drowsy, brain fog, skin breakouts, bloating, and IBS. I would urge you to observe your fruit intake in relation to your gut-microbiota imbalance symptoms.
If you are a 100 years old and you are thinking, I do not remember fruits being this sweet in 1940? You might be on to something. Most modern fruits are bred and genetically modified, making them high in fructose. While this high-fructose level in fruits does not invalidate their importance to nutrition, it is a problem for people with an overgrowth of bad gut bacteria. Bad bacteria feed on sugar and carbs. Modern sugary fruit might also be a problem for insulin-resistant and carbohydrate-sensitive individuals. When taking probiotics, avoiding sugary fruits or, at the very least, taking time to observe their impact on your overall health might be better.
People who are taking probiotics should refrain from consuming alcohol because it affects the balance of bacteria in the gut and disrupts sugar metabolism. People who suffer from candidiasis should especially stay away from alcohol because it tends to feed this yeast, leading to an overgrowth.
Like sugar, there is no defending alcohol for someone with an immediate health need, such as microbiota imbalance. Alcohol in large quantities or when highly concentrated is likely to destroy the good bacteria that probiotics are putting in your gut (Source). More importantly, if you are taking probiotics for either leaky gut or candida overgrowth, alcohol is not an option. There are enough studies to show that alcohol promotes both bacteria overgrowth and dysbiosis (Source1) (Source 2).
So what about wine?
According to a majority of sources, only red wine has the possibility of containing beneficial bacteria (Source). However, it still contains alcohol, and hence, it requires a great deal of modulation. I am not a wine aficionado, but even then, I am thinking a glass or so. However, as a probiotic enthusiast, I would advise anyone with gut microbiota imbalances to reconsider alcohol intake. But before you listen to me, you should have already listened to your own body.
5. Carbonated drinks
Carbonated drinks should be avoided when one is taking probiotics because they have a high chance of being infused with sugars, artificial sweeteners, food colors, additives, and preservatives. All these additions have a high likelihood of killing the good bacteria in the gut. Therefore, taking probiotics while at the same time continuing to partake in carbonated drinks is counterintuitive.
Carbonated drinks get their own category in this list because they are quite many, including energy drinks, diet sodas, ordinary sodas, and alcoholic drinks, among others. All indications are that these drinks have contents that will feed the bad bacteria in your gut. These harmful contents include sugars, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners.
6. Lactose-rich Dairy Products
Consuming dairy products that contain higher lactose levels while taking probiotics is not advisable, especially for individuals with lactose intolerance. Lactose is basically milk sugar, which might feed harmful bacteria in the stomach and suppress the good bacteria you are trying to replenish by taking probiotics.
Some pundits also point out that some lactose-rich products contain preservatives and additives that might feed bacteria overgrowth. For instance, some of the milk products in grocery stores contain artificial flavors and sweeteners. Therefore, people who take probiotics for candida and leaky gut problems are advised against taking lactose-rich foods. Other lactose products are marketed as low-fat, but they still contain other additives to make them sweet and more marketable.
Notably, modern dairy products can also have high levels of antibiotics due to the types of feeds that are given to cows on commercial farms. Antibiotics in milk will destroy the good bacteria in the gut when they are consumed.
On the other hand, when milk is fermented or made into yogurt, it turns into a probiotic-rich food. Therefore, kefir and yoghurt are some of the few foods that have a natural supply of probiotic bacteria. However, taking yoghurt that is sweetened with sugars and artificial flavors is more likely to do more harm than good to your gut microbiota. A better approach is to only take kefir, yoghurt, and other probiotic-rich dairy products in their natural form.
Taking probiotics while still consuming foods containing high levels of gluten is not advisable for people suffering from an imbalance of gut microbiota and possible food intolerances. Probiotics tend to relieve some symptoms of food intolerance, such as gluten intolerance. However, it is still not advisable to keep eating gluten when trying to solve problems of indigestion and food intolerances.
There is evidence to show that gluten has the ability to alter the composition of gut microbiota (Source). Furthermore, gluten has a remarkable impact on the intestinal barrier, which in turn affects metabolism, neurological, and immune functions (Source).
Most of the people who need probiotics urgently are natural enemies of gluten. It gets worse if you have celiac disease. For most of these people, consuming gluten leads to numerous problems, including bloating, indigestion, and all manner of stomach issues. Gluten intolerance is mainly caused by a lack of microbiota balance. Hence, it is only logical to keep off foods that will impact your gut bacteria balance while you are taking probiotics.
Gluten is also likely to compromise your nutrient-absorption functions when you are on probiotics. The contradiction of the probiotic lifestyle is that if you stick to the lifestyle and do it the right way, you will overcome gluten intolerance. However, for you to achieve this goal, you need to stay off gluten for a while.
8. GMO Foods and Antibiotic-Laced Products
When taking probiotics, it is important to take into consideration the source and composition of the food you take with the view of avoiding highly genetically modified (GMO) foods or items that contain high levels of antibiotics. Overall, these food types will negatively impact the effectiveness of probiotics and your overall gut microbiota.
Your gut microbiota is as sensitive as you can think…and it is the embodiment of the phrase “you are what you eat.” GMO-containing foods have a bad reputation nowadays, but they are most likely still the food of the future. Research indicates that while GMO foods do not have any major impacts on the taxonomical composition of gut microbiota, they have an impact on the effectiveness of individual microbes (Source). Something else to consider when it comes to GMO foods is their tendency to be grown using pesticides and chemicals such as glyphosate. With long-term exposure, pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals will have a negative impact on gut microbiota (Source).
On the other hand, since the 1950s, the level of antibiotics in foods has increased as more of these products are given to pigs, cows, and chicken. Animals are fed antibiotics for various reasons, including treating infections and as growth enhancers. Therefore, a good proportion of foods from animals, such as meat, milk, and eggs, will contain antibiotics. Taking such foods leads to a situation where these antibiotic-laced products will get into your gut and suppress the good bacteria you aim to nurture using probiotics.
The impact of GMOs and antibiotic-laced foods is not as significant as that of sugars, gluten, or lactose. However, when you are taking probiotics, the assumption is that you are aiming for 100% impact, hence the need to avoid these foods or, at the very least, limit their consumption.
9. Starchy Foods and Vegetables
Another contentious stance here…
If you are to go by what is on the internet, starchy vegetables, including corn, sweet potatoes, and potatoes, are good for your gut microbiome. But My Probiotic Lifestyle is of a different opinion. First, back in the days when my candida was at peak levels (I beat it, by the way), some of the foods that used to make me chronically gassy were sweet potatoes and potatoes. To this day, I am yet to reintroduce these starchy vegetables into my regular diet because they were that bad. So, I do not care what the internet says. I know from experience that potatoes, sweet potatoes, and sweet corn used to feed my candida overgrowth, which implies their sugar fed the bad bacteria in the stomach. Nevertheless, I would really like to hear about your experiences on this. I would not advise anyone to have a heavy starch diet while hoping to use probiotics to repopulate the good bacteria and suppress the bad ones.
As per the available science, eating starchy foods and vegetables alters the gut microbiome (Source). One study finds that a diet that is high in starch was associated with low levels of microbial diversity (Source).
We will not dwell much on this, but I would like to point out that all foods that contain sugar will be an issue for anyone looking to repopulate the gut with good bacteria and overcome an overgrowth of bad bacteria. However, so many sources will tell you that it is okay to take starchy vegetables when you have microbiota imbalance. I believe people with leaky gut and candida should go easy on the starch, especially in high quantities. The good thing is that your body most likely has the answer. Feel free to experiment, and you will surely get the answer.
10. Yeast and Mold-Containing Foods
When taking probiotics to increase the numbers of good bacteria in the gut, it is advisable to check your intake of foods containing various forms of fungi, such as mushrooms, baker’s yeast, and some alcohol. This precaution is essential for people with an overgrowth of bad bacteria such as candida. The goal is to ensure that the good bacteria that are taken as probiotics do not cross-react with yeast-containing foods on top of a possible pathogenic yeast in the GI.
Overall, fungi are part of your gut microbiome, but when the gut microbiota is off-balance, too many fungi will manifest in a number of problems, such as immune system issues. Probiotics with specific bacteria strains are a good way to overcome the presence of too many fungi in the gut.
Your probiotic-therapeutic goals should mainly support your decision to eat and avoid foods with high yeast content. For instance, some people take probiotics to overcome an overgrowth of bad bacteria, while others just want to improve their microbial diversity. In such as case, the first group will suffer the impact of yeast consumption than the group that is only looking to diversify the gut microbiome.
Many times, I have said that probiotic supplements are only the smaller part of the Probiotic Lifestyle. Most of the success that I have achieved in the course of my probiotic journey, I have gained it through diet.
Think of repopulating your gut with the beneficial bacteria in the same way as reclaiming a land overtaken by parasitic plants and weeds. Uprooting the invasive weeds is only half the battle. The real work is feeding the good flowers and plants you plant. In the same way, getting good bacteria into your gut is only half the battle. Most of your efforts will go towards nurturing the beneficial microbiota and ensuring that they are in your stomach to stay.
By looking at the list above, you might have noticed that you often try to avoid foods that were a problem for you even before you started taking probiotics. For instance, people with existing food intolerances should not use probiotics as medicine for their issues. You need to avoid irritant food as much as you can. If you have candida overgrowth, you will most likely have to avoid many foods.
I beat candida by removing all sugars, wheat products, and the starches that I was talking about earlier. If you have leaky gut, it is the same routine, no gluten and sugars, and any other foods that might be a problem for you. It is mostly trial and error. Add a food, observe your progress. Remove a food, observe your progress.
But for sugar, I am still not willing to negotiate. No Sugar for you! (From Seinfeld)