If you are consuming large amounts of processed fats and sugars, these foods are generally low in fiber, therefore low in prebiotics, which is beneficial for the gut. These foods are fine to consume in moderation, as treats, and as part of a well-balanced diet. The risk of consuming too many of these foods is that they will displace more nutritious foods in your diet.
A study was conducted comparing the diets of African Americans and rural South Africans to demonstrate the effects that a diet low in fiber and higher in animal fat and protein can have on gut health. The diet of the African Americans represented what is described as a western diet, and was 2-3 times higher in animal protein and fat intake, and lower in forms of resistant starch than the South Africans. The western diet had a decrease in microbial diversity and higher inflammation of the gut lining. The high fiber diet had reduced inflammation and increased the production of butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids. Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid with particular benefits for reducing inflammation. It is an antioxidant which means it protects the body against damage and helps to maintain a healthy gastrointestinal lining.
People that are concerned about their diet often end up restricting a variety of unnecessary foods, which can lead to nutritional compromises and consequent health problems. For example, many people may cut out gluten from their diet in an attempt to reduce symptoms that may not be linked to consuming gluten. This can cause potential harm including:
- diet deficient in fiber and nutrients like zinc, magnesium, and b-vitamins
- diet consequently high in fat content which may contribute to heart disease
- social limitations while eating out
- increased financial spending on gluten-free alternatives