‘Gut health’ is all the rage these days. It’s like the ‘new black’ in the health and wellness space. But why is gut health so important? Well for one, if you’re trying to lose weight and are struggling – this might be the reason why.
Gut bacteria is responsible for a number of important aspects of our health. It works with our immune system, it affects how we digest our food and it also produces chemicals that make us feel hungry or full, which affects our weight. In this post, I’m going to break down how your gut supports your weight (and weight loss) and what the best foods and supplements are to improve your gut health.
Bacteria… not sexy, but essential.
Trillions – that’s how many bacteria is found in our bodies – most of which is located in our intestines. And there are hundreds of different types that each fulfill a significant role in keeping us healthy and fight off infection.
Since this bacteria is located in our intestines, everything we eat comes in contact with it. Therefore, the health of our gut bacteria (or gut flora) can have a huge effect on how we break down our food, use it for fuel, and what nutrients we absorb.
The relationship between your gut and weight.
How much gut bacteria we have and how it performs can impact your weight. Ensuring that you have a variety of both ‘good and bad’ bacteria in your body that are supporting one another is essential for optimal gut flora. Having too much of one, and not enough of another (taking only a probiotic without a prebiotic), or not having enough altogether (eating a diet mainly comprised of processed foods with a lot of sugar) can negatively impact your gut flora and as a result, your weight.
A variety of studies have been done to better understand the relationship between your gut microbiome and obesity. One of the most interesting was a study that was done on pairs of twins (where one twin was obese and the other was not). The research compared the gut bacteria of each of the twins and found that the obese twins had lower gut bacteria diversity (or fewer types of bacteria in their gut) than their non-obese siblings. As a result, this may have impacted the way in which they digested and processed different foods and as a bi-product how they used and stored fat.
How can our gut flora impact the way we digest and respond to foods?
A great example of how your gut flora helps us to digest foods is to look at fiber. Our bodies actually lack the ability to digest fiber, it’s our gut bacteria that does that for us. When our bodies have the ability to process and digest fiber properly, our gut bacteria creates chemicals that help improve our gut health and support weight loss. This explains why people with lower weight typically have high fiber diets which consist of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
A healthy gut can also affect how we absorb and store dietary fats as well as inflammation in the body. Inflammation is when your body triggers your immune system to fight infection. It can occur as a result of an unhealthy diet containing an excessive amount of fat, sugar, artificial sweeteners or calories that can increase chemicals in the bloodstream and fat tissue, and can cause weight gain, as well as prevent weight loss.
Bacteria can impact our hunger and fullness cues.
Different bacteria in the gut can affect whether we feel hungry or full. Leptin and ghrelin are the two main hormones that affect our appetite. Leptin is the hormone in our body that (when functioning properly) signals to our brain that we’re full and it’s time to stop eating. So leptin controls our hunger and satiety cues. It’s also released by our fat cells in direct proportion to the amount of body fat that we’re carrying, meaning that overweight people have higher amounts of leptin circulating in their bloodstream than leaner people (because they have more fat cells producing leptin). In theory, this would lead us to believe that overweight people should be less hungry, eat less and be able to lose weight easily, but this isn’t the case. What in fact happens is that even though you may have a lot of fat making a lot of leptin – it doesn’t work properly. Your brain isn’t listening. The result is that you have no decrease in appetite, no increase in metabolism and in some cases, your brain might even think you’re starving, because there’s not enough leptin, so you become even hungrier.
Ghrelin is the hormone that lets us know when we’re hungry. It triggers the digestive process and gets your digestive juices flowing before we eat to help us breakdown and process our food. Before a meal, ghrelin naturally increases and after, it decreases. Ghrelin also causes the storage of belly fat, which can be impacted by yo-yo and crash dieting. When we yo-yo or crash diet, ghrelin sends the message to our system that we’re starving and tells our bodies to store fat as a defence mechanism just in case this ‘starvation state’ continues and we’ll need additional energy sources. Ghrelin is one of the main reasons crash diets lead to weight gain.
Our Second Brain
With all of these hormones and their impact on our eating habits and lifestyle, it’s no wonder the gut is referred to as the ‘second brain’. Almost all of nutrients are absorbed in our small intestine and these nutrients allow our brains to make chemicals that determine how we feel. These chemical messengers determine so much of how we feel and respond to things, that if our gut health is compromised, so too is our brain – ultimately causing our hunger and satiety hormones to stop working properly and a higher likelihood to gain weight.
Best Foods for Your Gut Bacteria
So how can we improve our gut bacteria? A simple way to get your gut back on track is by eating the below foods and supplements which are all available (online and in person) at my favourite health food store, Healthy Planet. Use code LindseyHealth online to save 10% off your order!
- Prebiotics and probiotics. These days probiotics are promoted everywhere, but the truth is, prebiotics are essential to obtain the delicate balance of a healthy gut. Without too much of one type of bacteria and not enough of another, you could be causing more damage than good. Always be sure to consult with a doctor prior to taking them to ensure you’re taking the right amount of both to support healthy gut flora.
- Whole grains: Whole grains are grains that haven’t been refined. They’re high in fiber, which is digested by healthy gut bacteria and can support healthy weight maintenance and weight loss. Healthy Planet carries an extensive variety of the best organic and GMO-free breads, pastas and cereals.
- Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables contain many different fibers that are good for gut bacteria.
- Eating an assortment of plant-based foods and proteins can improve gut bacteria diversity, which is also linked to healthy weight. My favourite plant-based protein is Progressive’s Harmonized Vegan Protein.
- Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds contain lots of fiber and healthy fats, which support the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. Healthy Planet has an assortment of nuts and seeds. Chia seeds are a great, gut-healthy addition to any diet.
- Polyphenol-rich foods like dark chocolate, green tea and red wine are broken down by beneficial gut bacteria and can also promote the growth of good bacteria.
- Fermented foods: Fermented foods like yogurt, kombucha, kefir and sauerkraut contain beneficial bacteria and can also minimize other disease-causing bacteria in the intestines.
Try including these in your diet as much as possible and your gut will thank you!
With love and nut butter,