In the last blog I talked about the importance of maintaining a healthy digestive system – or a happy ‘gut’. There is one particular dimension of the body’s digestive system that is getting a lot of airtime in the media at the moment. It’s called the gut microbiome and I’d like to share with you why this extraordinary ecosystem of microbes which reside in your gastrointestinal tract is so important in managing a healthy body - and in particular your weight.
All of our guts are densely populated with roughly 100 trillion bacteria, mainly concentrated in the large intestine. This bacteria weighs in at about 2kg! Because of its symbiotic relationship with the rest of the body, the microbes in our intestines play a critical role in our health affecting everything from our mood, to our mindset to our metabolism and weight.
I like to use the analogy of a gut garden. What we are learning is that positive health outcomes correlate with a healthy gut garden which is populated with a wide diversity and abundance of different strains of bacteria - very much like a flourishing garden full of different plants and flowers.
Exciting new research shows that the types of bacteria that dominate your gut can determine how likely you are to hold onto excess body weight or have a slim figure. There are many ways in which gut microbes can cause physiological mischief leading to weight gain, and it’s down to the role they play in regulating the hormone insulin, and determining how much energy we actually obtain from the food we eat. And because the microbes in our guts feed off the food we eat, the fewer microflora species in your gut, the more likely you are to be controlled by a species request for its food source, which can in turn lead to cravings.
This may go someway towards explaining why some people seemingly never put on weight, while others can’t keep it off.
But the good news is it also means diversifying your gut flora may give you the power to turn your gut into a fat-burning machine. If you suspect your gut garden has been taken over by weeds or is looking more like a dessert battered by antibiotics, other medications, chronic stress, chronic infections, alcohol misuse or a poor diet, then it’s time to restore balance.
A great way to ‘seed’ your gut with beneficial bacteria is to incorporate ‘probiotic’ foods into your diet regularly. There are many foods retaining gut-loving living cultures but three of my favourites are:
- Sauerkraut (that’s fermented rather than pickled cabbage) - a generous tablespoon is really a great addition to all your summer salads.
- Natural yoghurt – lovely for breakfast with berries, nuts and seeds.
- Miso soup – yes the fermented soybean paste which is miso is loaded with active bacteria and this is a fabulous way for people who don’t eat dairy to top up their beneficial bacteria.
So go with your gut and you may discover that a fringe benefit of restoring gut microbial balance is it also helps with re-setting the body’s metabolism.