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5 food habits that could be damaging your gut health

This is a guest blog from Mike Hardman at Alliance Online.

Having a healthy gut is important for your overall wellbeing, but there are some food-related habits that can be disruptive for this key part of your body. In this article, Mike Hardman, from catering and hospitality retailer Alliance Online, shares some habits to avoid for the best gut health.


Your body is full of bacteria — 40 trillion types to be precise. While this might sound quite alarming at first, the vast majority of these are good bacteria that contribute to a healthy body. You may also be interested to know that most of these microbes live in your intestines, where they help to digest food. This makes your gut and all of its bacteria a real hotspot when it comes to your health.

However, life isn't always easy for your gut, especially when there are some unhelpful habits that are easy to pick up and can be damaging for your good bacteria. There's even a risk of some unhygienic kitchen methods encouraging harmful bacteria to grow, and these can cause trouble in your gut if eaten. Here, I'm going to share some of these practices so you can spot them and do better by your body.

Eating a narrow range of foods

Studies (like this one) have found that having a diverse range of bacteria in your gut is better for you, as the greater the range of species, the more health benefits they can contribute to your digestive system. And, one of the best ways you can encourage this is by eating a wide range of food.

However, if you stick to a rigid diet, where you're only eating the same few dishes over and over, you simply won't have the same diversity in your gut bacteria. Therefore, you should aim to try new food all the time. Try to prepare a new meal or try a fresh cuisine on a regular basis to improve things.

Not eating enough fruit, vegetables, and legumes

Is your diet rich in different fruit, vegetables, and legumes? If you don't eat enough of them, you will be missing out on some of the best sources of nutrients for your gut bacteria. These types of food are very high in fibre, which is used by these microbes to fuel growth.

There are quite a few options for including high-fibre foods in your diet, such as raspberries, beans, artichokes, green peas, broccoli, chickpeas, lentils, and whole grains, so there's plenty of choice. One study even found eating larger quantities of these healthy foods prevented some bacteria that are known for causing disease to grow.

Leaving leftovers out of the fridge

Whether you've prepared an extra portion for later or you've just put some leftovers on the worktop for the time being, it's important you're aware of the harmful bacteria that can grow when you don't put food in the fridge quickly enough. This food, if left too for too long, can develop some nasty microbes that can make you ill and disrupt your gut health when consumed.

The US Food & Drug Administration recommends you follow a simple rule: discard any perishable food items that have been left in temperatures between 4⁰C–60⁰C for more than two hours. So, once your food is cool enough, put it in the fridge right away.

Not taking care with chopping boards

Chopping boards are a staple of any kitchen as they provide a convenient place to cut and prepare food. However, they can also be a breeding ground for unwanted bacteria when used incorrectly, and those microbes could potentially make you ill.

One of the big dangers of chopping boards is cross-contamination of bacteria across different foods types. To avoid this, always use a different board for each food group you prepare — so you'll need a new one at the ready if you switch between raw meat, raw fish, cooked meat, salad, vegetables, and dairy and bakery items. Restaurants often impose a colour-coded system for each food type to avoid any confusion, which you may also find useful at home.

Consuming too many artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are often used as a replacement for sugars in all kinds of products, from ready meals to diet soft drinks. When consumed in small amounts, they offer an alternative to products that are usually packed with sugar and bad for your health. However, there is some evidence that suggests that if you take in too many artificial sweeteners, it may be harmful for your gut bacteria.

A 2014 study tested the effects of aspartame consumption — a common artificial sweetener — in rats, and found that, while the animals were able to lose weight, their blood sugar was heightened, and their insulin response was impaired. They also had higher levels of harmful bacteria in their systems, namely those that are linked to metabolic disease. Another study also showed results that were similar in both rats and humans, suggesting sweeteners had the effect of altering gut bacteria and creating imbalances in your body as a result.

As you can see, there are quite a few habits that can be harmful for you gut health. However, with a bit of research and some adjustments to your lifestyle, you can easily adapt for the better.

Louise Mercieca

Nutritional Therapist

Personal Trainer

Award-winning Author

Food writer

Presenter on Early Years TV Food

Keynote speaker

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