The latest research suggests your digestive health is not only the key to overall health, but also the secret to weight loss.
Did you know that the microbes that live inside you outnumber your own body cells by 10:1? Deep down in your large intestine there are around 100 trillion microbes, mostly bacteria, and collectively they’re known as your microbiome.
What gut bacteria does for you
There are hundreds if not thousands of strains of gut bacteria – some helpful, some not – and we’re only just starting to discover their roles in looking after our health.
Your healthy bacteria help you digest food; protect against pathogens such as viruses; provide essential nutrients, enzymes and hormones; manage your metabolism; train your immune system. But they can only do all this if your microbiome is in balance. If it’s not, then digestive issues, lethargy, low mood, poor immunity and weight gain can result.
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The gut-weight link
One of the key areas of gut research is focusing on weight loss. Studies in obese and lean sets of twins have shown that lean twins have a vibrant and diverse microbe community, while obese twins have far fewer useful microbes. Gut microbes can alter the way we store fat, how we balance our blood glucose levels and how we respond to hormones that signal hunger and satiety.
There’s plenty you can do to kick-start your weight loss. And it all starts with giving your gut a little love.
Boost your gut bacteria
The main goal of any gut-healthy diet is to increase the number and variety of good bacteria in our digestive system. Here are some ways you can do that:
Research shows being under stress reduces the number and diversity of gut microbes. Try and carve out time for stress-relieving activities you enjoy, whether that’s yoga, painting or reading a good novel.
Studies have found athletes have a greater variety of gut bacteria than inactive people. Exercise increases levels of immune-boosting bacteria strains, while also reducing stress and boosting weight loss.
Boost your immunity (with a gut-healthy diet) so you’re less likely to fall ill. If you do need to take antibiotics, take ‘friendly’ bacteria supplements during and afterwards to help repopulate the gut with ‘good’ bacteria the drugs may have wiped out.
Limit sugar and processed foods
Excess sugar suppresses beneficial bacteria and allows unhealthy microbes to take hold. Processed foods are often high in sugar, salt, saturated or trans fats, additives and preservatives. They offer few nutrients that your gut bacteria thrives on, so are best avoided.
Fill up on gut-friendly foods
A diet rich in food with non-digestible ingredients may increase the number of bacteria in the gut. These ingredients form of fibre that passes through your digestive system and provides a feast for waiting microbes. You can find them in fibrous foods like bananas, asparagus, chicory, onions, garlic and leeks, as well as many other fruits, vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds.
Up your natural bacteria intake
Try to eat more foods that contain live bacteria and yeasts. Some are naturally fermented, while some have cultures added. They travel through the digestive tract to the large intestine where they top up the numbers and strains of microbes that live there.
Avoid milks and drinks that are flavoured and sweetened, as this can negate their effects. Instead, pick naturally fermented foods including:
- live, natural yoghurt
- kefir – a fermented milk drink
- kombucha – a fermented tea drink
- kimchi – Korean pickled vegetables
- sauerkraut – German pickled cabbage
- other pickles
- aged, unpasteurised cheese
Eat an abundant, diverse diet
Good news for anyone who’s struggled with restrictive, calorie-controlled diets in the past: when it comes to improving your gut health and weight loss, you need to eat more! Diversity is lacking in our modern, Western diets, but increasing the variety of natural foods you eat is the fastest way to improve your microbiome.
In fact, research shows dieters who eat a greater variety of healthy foods are more likely to lose weight and fat long term, and less likely to develop metabolic syndrome.
So eat a rainbow of fruit and veg, nuts and seeds every day. Buy new foods each time you shop, eat seasonally, cook new recipes, and experiment with foreign cuisines. Get out of your food comfort zone and your gut – and waistline – will thank you for it.
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Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please consult a doctor or healthcare professional before trying any remedies.
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