What Foods Can Ruin Your Gut Health?

Medically Reviewed on 12/8/2021
Foods that can ruin your gut health include refined carbohydrates, red meat, fried foods, spicy foods, lactose, high-fructose fruits, and certain drinks.
Foods that can ruin your gut health include refined carbohydrates, red meat, fried foods, spicy foods, lactose, high-fructose fruits, and certain drinks.

Your gut health depends on the functioning of trillions of bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses that occupy your small and large intestines and the rest of your body. These organisms make up what's called your microbiome. The microbiome is a delicate system that plays a crucial role in your digestive system, immune system, and production of serotonin. The microbiome can be aided or weakened by many factors. One of these factors is the food you eat.

Foods that can harm your gut health

Each person’s microbiome is created by their DNA, so microbiomes are unique to each individual. For example, certain foods might irritate your stomach yet could be completely fine for someone else. This can happen even if you both have the same sort of digestive issue.

Nevertheless, there are some general rules you can follow to try and maintain good gut health. One such rule is to avoid certain foods that can harm your gut the most, including:

Refined carbohydrates

Dietary fiber is essential to maintaining healthy digestion. Therefore, one of the first things your doctor will advise you to do if you are experiencing digestive issues is to incorporate more fiber into your diet. One way to do this is to eat fewer refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, and rice and replace them with whole grains like brown rice and whole-wheat bread and pasta.

Red meat

Foods with high fat contents cause the colon to contract and produce chemicals that may clog your arteries. Red meat is one such high-fat food. It is recommended that you eat lean, low-fat protein sources such as fish or chicken instead.

Examples of red meats to avoid are:

  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Veal
  • Venison
  • Goat

It's a good idea to avoid processed meats as well, including:

  • Sausage
  • Bacon
  • Ham
  • Deli meats
  • Canned meat
  • Sliced lunch meat

Fried foods

Things like potato chips, burgers, and french fries are high in fat as well. They are simply more challenging for your body to break down than lower-fat, non-fried foods. They can also cause stomach pain and heartburn. So if you want to reduce your stomach’s workload, cut down on fried foods.

Spicy foods

Whether spicy food affects the digestive system or not mostly depends on your own tolerance and digestive system. While spicy foods don't bother some people, others can be very irritated by them. Some people’s version of spicy could even be things like garlic and onion rather than chilies.

It's a good idea to track what spicy foods trigger things like diarrhea and heartburn for you and what foods do not. Once you can recognize these patterns, you'll be able to cater your diet to your specific digestive system. If you already experience things like heartburn and stomach aches, you may want to avoid hot chilies and other spicy foods.


Many people with digestive issues experience stomach upset from the sugar in lactose. For example, you might feel gassy and get diarrhea after drinking milk or eating cream, cheese, or yogurt. However, this is not everyone’s experience and may not necessarily trigger symptoms for you.

High-fructose fruits

Some people who have sensitive digestive systems find that fruits with a lot of fructose, or fruit sugars, trigger their digestive symptoms. Some examples of fruits like this are:

  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Mangos

Certain drinks

Drinks with caffeine and/or carbonation — like coffee, tea, and sodas — can cause your stomach to produce more stomach acid. This increased production of stomach acid can lead to heartburn. Carbonated drinks can also make you feel bloated. To avoid these negative stomach symptoms from your drinks, try to stick to drinks that are free from caffeine, sugar, and carbonation.

However, it is understandable that cutting off caffeine entirely might not be practical for you. If this is the case, it helps to simply reduce your caffeine intake. For example, try to limit yourself to drinking two cups of coffee a day.

What can I do to help my gut health?

Besides cutting back on your intake of the foods listed above, there are many things you can do to reduce negative stomach symptoms and help your digestion run more smoothly. Some of these things are:

Medically Reviewed on 12/8/2021
Harvard T.H. Chan: "The Microbiome."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "5 Foods to Improve your Digestion," "Your Digestive System: 5 Ways to Support Gut Health."

NHS: "Red meat and the risk of bowel cancer," "Good foods to help your digestion."