.When you think of the two words "weight" and "gut" in a sentence, you probably get a picture of Homer Simpson's beer belly. But that's not the "gut" we're talking about today. Sure, we'd all like to trim a few inches off the waistline, but what's going on inside is what really deserves your attention.
What is a Healthy Gut?
If gut health were a movie, bacteria would be the star of the show. Friendly bacteria make it all happen:
- They provide a physical barrier that keeps the gut lining healthy and functioning at its best. This includes controlling the turnover rate of enterocytes, cells which play a key role in the digestion of our food.
- Good bacteria in the gut actually neutralize toxins and essentially "detox" us from heavy metals, chemicals, and many other toxins we encounter on a daily basis.
- They keep bad bacteria in check. Harmful bacteria is always present in the gut and even has beneficial tasks to perform--if it's tightly controlled by the good guys. When there is plenty of healthy flora around, you don't have to worry about pathogenic bacteria stealing the show and wreaking havoc on your health.
- Good bacteria in the gut is also the star player in digestion and nutrient absorption. Whether it be a protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamin or mineral, you can bet your boots that friendly bacteria helps your body utilize it.
- Beneficial bacteria plays a key role in producing important immunity regulators like interferon, cytokines and lymphocytes. In her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Dr. Campbell-McBride calls the gut "the cradle of the immune system." Everything from virus protection to allergy response happens here.
How Gut Health Impacts Weight
We all know what we eat affects our body composition. What's even more important is what our body does with what we eat. A healthy digestive system is capable of getting the most out of your food. So in some sense, nutrient density happens in your gut.
When you aren't getting what you need out of your food, your body will crave more of it. Like Jon Gabriel talks about in his book The Gabriel Method, this is a form of starvation--no matter how many calories you eat or how much fat you're storing--because your body is not getting its basic nutritional needs met.
If your gut bacteria is in bad shape, you're definitely not absorbing what you should be from your food. For instance, someone with an unhealthy gut will struggle to break proteins down so they can be used in the body to repair vital tissues and fuel neurotransmitter production. As Ann Marie and I discussed in our podcast earlier this month, protein is a key nutrient in both physical and mental health. In terms of weight, protein is both satiating and energizing. Being able to properly digest it is essential.
When your gut suffers, so does your whole body. Poor gut health can increase your toxic load, cause inflammation throughout the body, and disrupt neurotransmitter production (just to name a few). This all adds up to one thing: STRESS. And stress is your number one enemy if you're trying to lose weight. You can read more about how stress affects your weight here and here and here and here.
When bad bacteria is growing out of control in the gut, you can experience massive cravings for junk food. In fact, one study showed that chocolate cravings appear to come from microbes in the gut. Overgrowth of Candida (a yeast species) actually ferments carbohydrates in your gut into alcohol, essentially getting you "drunk" on food. A dysfunctional gut can also turn proteins like gluten and casein into opiates, so you can virtually get "high" on food as well. This could explain why foods like pizza (tons of wheat flour and cheese) have such an addictive affect on some people. If you feel addicted to certain foods, gut health may the root issue.
Gut Health Do's and Don'ts
Don't... take birth control pills, steroids, or antibiotics if you can possibly avoid them. These all directly interfere with the balance of flora in your gut.
Do... consider taking a good quality probiotic, cod liver oil, and Betaine HCl supplements if needed. These support gut health, correct nutritional deficiencies and aid digestion.
Don't... eat lots of refined foods, which offer little by the way of nutrition and feed harmful bacteria.
Do... eat plenty of fermented foods (like sauerkraut and yogurt), healthy fats (like coconut oil and butter), bone broth, eggs (especially raw yolks), fruits and vegetables, and other real foods. These are very nourishing to your gut and feed the beneficial flora.
Don't... overwhelm yourself with stress, which interferes with digestion, nutrient absorption, and appetite. Stress can also promote inflammation.
Do... eliminate and manage stress whenever possible. Learn to relax and enjoy life instead of constantly stressing over things you can't control (to-do lists, past mistakes and tomorrow's problems). Learn more about managing stress here.
UPDATE: Sean Croxton from Underground Wellness posted a great video today about yet another reason gut health can affect your weight:
This post is part of Real Food Wednesday hosted by Kelly the Kitchen Kop.
And don't forget to try these probiotic recipes: