If you have been struggling to maintain or lose weight it may be because the bacteria living inside your gut are out of balance. What we eat affects our gut bacteria and can cause weight gain or weight loss resistance. In fact your weight may be controlled more by your bacteria than what you eat because gut bacteria thrive on what you feed them.
Until recently, it was assumed that these bacteria (our microbiome) didn’t do much. But now there is a growing body of research suggesting that the 100 trillion bacteria – about three pounds – living inside our gut play a huge role in our health and disease. The good bacteria in our gut flora promotes normal gastrointestinal function, provides protection from infection, regulates metabolism and comprises more than 75% of our immune system. Researchers believe an over growth of bad gut bacteria plays a big factor with the metabolic diseases that plague us today such as Type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Exactly how the microbiome influences our weight isn’t known yet, but many researchers believe that it plays a role in processing food and helps determine how many calories and nutrients are absorbed. Certain intestinal microbes may also alter our insulin levels influencing the way fat is metabolized in our body.
It’s complicated and we have much more to learn about this extremely complex system living inside us. We don’t have enough hard facts to make specific recommendations on weight loss probiotic (live bacteria that are good for our health) supplements. There are literally thousands of different strains of bacteria and they interact with each other in ways we don’t understand. Therefore, probiotic supplements that claim to promote weight loss are premature. What we do know is that our dietary habits can have a dramatic impact on the mix of beneficial and harmful bacteria in our gut. What we eat dictates the kind of bacteria we grow in our gut. Here are some simple steps you can take to support a healthy gut – inside and out.
1. Omit processed and refined foods. A diet that’s high in highly processed, high-sugar, high-fat, and low-fiber diets significantly alters the bacteria that generally grows in our digestive tracts, and the change has been linked to weight gain and diabetes. These types of food feeds the undesirable gut bacteria to thrive.
2. Avoid sugar. Sugar feeds the undesirable gut bacteria as well. Studies have shown that a diet high in sugar can lead to overgrowth of yeast species and other pathogenic bacteria. For the good bacteria to thrive, they require complex carbohydrates like vegetables, beans, and whole grains – not sugar. When you get too many calories from sugar – the average person eats more than 22 teaspoons a day – the good bacteria will go hungry and eventually die off allowing for an overgrowth of the bad bacteria. Stick with whole foods as much as possible and skip sugary, highly processed junk food.
3. Eat more fiber. Eating fibrous plant foods is an important strategy for improving the robustness of gut bacteria. These plants provide the raw material to feed the bacteria through a process called fermentation. The diversity and number of plants you eat will be reflected in the diversity and number of bacteria in your gut; the more the better. Aim for at least 25 to 35 grams of fiber a day; two to three servings of fruit, four to six servings of veggies, two to three servings of whole grains, nuts and beans several times a week.
4. Embrace fermented foods. Fermented foods provide probiotics. Greek yogurt and kefir, a tangy dairy drink that’s packed with healthy bugs, are a good start. Look for products that say “live and active cultures” on the label, and avoid those with added sugar that can feed undesirable bacteria. Other probiotic powerhouses include naturally fermented sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles; they contain both live bacteria and prebiotics (see below) that nourish gut bacteria.
5. Include prebiotic foods. Prebiotics are a type of soluble fiber found in certain plant foods that act as “food” for probiotics. They are like fertilizer helping probiotics grow and flourish in your gut. Prebiotic-containing foods include Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, leek, asparagus, and banana. Eat some type of prebiotic food every day.
6. Be particular with your meat. A diet heavy in factory farmed animal protein feeds a type of bacteria called Bilophilia that has been linked to inflammation in animal studies; and chronic inflammation is a major contributor to obesity. If you are a meat-lover choose grass-fed beef because they are a good choice of omega-3 fats which helps lower inflammation levels and promotes healthier gut bacteria.
7. Change the type of fats you are using. The type of fats we eat matters. Studies have shown omega-6 fats actually promote the growth of bad bacteria in the gut like canola oil, soybean oils and seed oils. Replace these oils that are high in healthy omega-3 fats like coconut oil, avocados, grass-fed butter, fish rich in omega-3’s and extra virgin olive oil giving healthy gut bacteria a chance to flourish.
Changing your dietary habits can help normalize gut function and flora.
Jane Grant, Registered Dietician, CD-N at Grant’s Nutrition & Wellness in Berlin, works in conjunction with the practitioners at ProNatural Physicians Group also in Berlin.
Health Insurance covers many of the practitioners, including Jane Grant.
Check with your own plan for specific coverages. For appointments call Grants Nutrition at 860-357-2282 and 860-829-0707 for ProNatural Physicians Group.