What Experts Think of 6 Buzzy Gut Health Trends
Do these trends that claim to support gut health actually work, or are we just lured in by their feel-good promises and pretty packaging?
Stop in at a juicery, walk through Whole Foods or even just scroll through Instagram, and you’ll probably find a product claiming to support gut health.
There are five-day cleanses that “flush toxins” out of the body to help you “get regular” and “shed pounds.” There are drink mixes with impressive names like “superpowders” that are said to reduce bloating and promote healthy bowel function. And then there are colonics—a treatment in which water is shot up the derrière—that “promise” to remove harmful bacteria to “enable essential nutrients to be absorbed more effortlessly.”
Do these products and treatments actually work, or are they just another wellness-washing marketing ploy? Four experts weigh in on the buzziest gut health trends right now.
“Most box-prepared cleanses contain mostly laxatives and diuretics,” says Dr. Courtney Holmberg, a naturopathic doctor in Toronto. They can give a false sense of improvement by forcing the bowel to empty and reducing water retention, she says, but they show no long-term benefits.
The Keto Diet
A 2016 study suggested the ketogenic diet (which is high in fat and protein) can help improve an imbalanced gut. But that diet won’t do you any good unless you’re eating a lot of vegetables, says Holmberg. “A diet high in vegetables, balanced fibre and lean fats shows to have the best long-term benefit [on the gut].”
An example of a gut-friendly diet is the Mediterranean diet—it’s high in fibre and rich in polyphenols, which can stimulate good gut microbes, says Dr. Jessica ter Haar, a microbiology expert and probiotic educator in Toronto.
“People have been doing colonics for a long time, but what’s the evidence for their efficacy?” asks Dr. Leah Gramlich, a gastroenterologist and physician nutrition specialist at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton. Their purported health benefits (Weight loss! Toxin removal! Mood-boost!) are not proven, and there are severe risks involved—colon cleanses can lead to dehydration, infection and rectum tears.
A better alternative? Concentrate on eating gut-supporting foods, says Gramlich. “[The goal is] a well-rounded diet that contributes to gut health, as manifested by regular bowel movements.”
Trendy drinks and supplements
Those digestion-supporting teas and anti-bloating supplements sure have pretty packaging—but that might be all they offer. “These kinds of supplements often contain foods we don’t need or that we already get in our healthy diet,” says Dr. Abby Langer, a registered dietician in Toronto. “And sometimes, they just don’t contain enough active ingredients.”
At-home gut tests
Gut health test kits claim to be able to detect thousands of microbes in your gut so you can select the best food and supplements for you, but the tests aren’t actually all that useful. “There’s no evidence behind making dietary predictions or recommendations based on somebody’s microbiome,” says Langer, “because we have no idea what a healthy microbiome looks like for each individual person.”
Instead of spending $150 to $400 on a kit, Langer suggests listening to your body’s response to certain foods to learn what works and doesn’t for you and finding the right probiotic by talking to your doctor or using the Canadian app Probiotic Guide.
Pickles and kombucha
The supposedly fermented foods you eat to boost your gut health may not actually be fermented. In North America, many pickled foods, like cucumbers, are made with vinegar to provide that fermented tang and pasteurized to increase their shelf life so they can be kept at room temperature. “But that’s not really fermentation,” says ter Haar. Real fermented foods have been microbially fermented, and that’s evident in the liquid they’re in—it should be carbonated.
The same goes for Kombucha. It shouldn’t be pasteurized, says ter Haar. If the one you’re shopping for isn’t stored in a fridge, skip it.