Low Carb Diets & Gut Health
Low Carb Diets and Gut Health
Your guts might not be your favorite part of your body. They’re kinda icky, and might not be something you want to think about all the time.
But there’s a reason why we have phrases like I feel it in my gut. The gut is incredibly important for the health of the entire body. Its status affects everything else, including how you feel and how you think.
Modern diets are full of ultra processed, high sugar, low nutrient junk foods that hurt your gut health every time you eat them. One advantage of low carb (or keto) diets is that they can improve their gut health by omitting that junk.
What are your guts?
The term “guts” is a casual way to refer to what is more precisely called the Gastrointestinal Tract, or GI tract. The GI tract starts with your mouth and encompasses the entire passageway of digestion.
Although people often just think of the intestines and colon when they say “guts”, the whole tract is crucial to gut health. The bacteria in your mouth are the second largest colony in your body after the one in your intestines, and they occasionally travel downwards.
Thousands of species of bacteria live in your GI tract. You get the first of them from your mother immediately after birth, and the rest you pick up from your environment.
The Role of Carbohydrates in Gut Health
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel. Unless you are 100% keto, much your gut’s job is to metabolize carbs.
Some carbs are better for you than others. Bad carbs break down quickly, spike your blood sugar, and contain few nutrients. Good carbs, on the other hand, are slow to digest, and come with lots of fiber and nutrients.
Compare white rice to brown rice: white rice is mostly just sugar, while brown rice comes with its natural shell. That shell, while less tasty, is filled with fiber.
Fiber is one of the main advantages to eating carbs, so long as the carbs you eat contain fiber. Good gut bacteria love to eat fiber. And fiber bulks up your stool, making it easier to pass through your GI tract, instead of getting stuck and accumulating toxins.
The Impact of Low Carb Diets on Your Gut
Given that high-fiber carbohydrates are good for your gut health, low-carb is not necessarily as good for your gut as you might think. But it can be!
The main advantage of low carb diets, for most people, is this: low carb means less junk food!
Donuts, ice cream, potato chips, and Twinkies are all high-carb, high-sugar, ultra-processed junk foods. Because they are so high in carbs to begin with, if you pursue a low carb diet, you will have to remove them in the process.
It’s not that all carbs are bad, it’s just that almost all junk foods are high in carbs. And your intestines will thank you if you get rid of them.
However, if your diet already excludes junk food, this fact won’t make much difference. Furthermore, if you get most of your fiber from carbs (like beans, or whole wheat bread), then switching to low carb could potentially create problems by removing fiber.
Bad Bacteria Love Sugary Junk Food
Although we’ve been conditioned to fear germs, the truth is, a lot of germs are there to help you. There are more bacteria in your gut than you have human cells in your body. And, if you are healthy, those bacteria will actually make you feel good.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad bacteria that can invade your gut microbiome and make you feel lousy. This doesn’t necessarily mean food poisoning, like with E. coli. It just means inferior bacteria, that can literally send signals to your brain telling you what they want.
And most of them want sugar. The more sugar you eat, the more you will be feeding the bad bacteria that make you feel like crap.
How to Treat Your Gut Right on a Low Carb Diet
If you pursue a low carb diet, you will almost certainly remove all the high-sugar junk foods that make people sick. But you will also lose out on high-fiber carbs like beans and brown rice.
To compensate, simply eat a lot of high-fiber, low-carb foods. These include:
And even though you can’t eat sugar, you can still enjoy a sweet treat every now and then, provided it’s made with an alternative sweetener. CanDo Krisp bars are a great source of fiber, with up to 9 grams in a single bar! They are also relatively low in carbs, with less than 18 grams per bar.