Elad, my husband, eats far more than me. His diet consisted of a lot of grains, mainly bread and rice. He never gains weight. In fact, every summer, he loses a couple of pounds which he works hard to gain during the winter. On the other hand, I need to be very careful with what I eat if I want my weight to be stable. Before I eliminated grains from my diet, I had a ring of fat around my abdomen. You might say, well, he is a man, and you are a woman, but I also have a couple of skinny girlfriends no matter what they eat. Not fair at all.
Lately, I learned that one of the factors determining how much of the nutrients from your food you absorb is determined by your microbiome or the bacteria, virus, and fungi that reside in and on your body. Microbiome research is one of the hot topics amongst medical doctors, naturopaths, and herbalists. So let’s try to understand how your microbiome affects your weight.
It was the year 1676 when Antoni van Leeuwenhoek first saw bacteria under a primitive microscope, but it took until 1881 for Louis Pasteur to publish his germ theory. Since then, we as a culture declared war on bacteria. We use pesticides (antibiotics and hand sanitizers) in our war. We never stopped to question the role of microorganisms in our inner and outer environments. So here are some facts about bacteria.
Microorganisms were one of the first living organisms on Earth. All the diversity of life evolved from viruses, fungi, and bacteria. Bacteria is in, on, and out of our bodies everywhere. Although 99% of your DNA is common to you and every other human being on Earth, only 50% of your bacteria’s DNA is common to you and other people, which means that the bacterial community that lives on your skin and in your body makes you much more unique than your DNA. In fact, for every human cell, you have about 100 bacteria cells in your body (assuming that you are healthy). Basically, you are more bacteria than…you.
The bacteria in your body live on all the tissue surfaces that contact the outside world. It is found on our skin, digestive tract from our mouth to the anus, the reproductive and urinary systems, and the lungs.
The large intestines or colon is a home for trillions of bacteria. This is an ecosystem; like any other ecosystem, it thrives on diversity. The more diverse your gut bacteria is, the more it promotes health.
Here are some of the roles that gut bacteria play in our health:
- Gut bacteria are involved in the immune response of the body. This is especially important if you consider that many of the pathogens come into your body with the food that you eat.
- Gut bacteria play a role in mental health. It is primarily linked to depression, anxiety, and autism.
- Gut bacteria cover your large intestines and promote the secretion of mucus. By doing so, it protects the integrity of the tissue in your colon.
- Gut bacteria determine how much and which of the nutrients and calories from your food you absorb.
The condition in which your gut bacteria is not a healthy ecosystem, meaning it is not diverse enough or the number of bacteria in your gut is not high enough, is called dysbiosis. In the same way that if your garden is not diverse and nurtured, you will start growing weeds; when your gut bacteria is not diverse and thriving, you open the door for pathogens to settle in your gut.
There is a link between dysbiosis and gaining weight or having a hard time losing weight. Dysbiosis is linked to inflammation, obesity, and diabetes because it increases sugar absorption by the body. If your diet is rich in simple carbohydrates (sugar, baked goods, white rice), you promote dysbiosis in your guts.
Another way to disrupt your gut diversity and number is by taking antibiotics. The link between antibiotics and weight gain is a well-known secret in industrial agriculture. They know that adding a small dosage of antibiotics to the diet of animals destined to become meat causes an increase in their weight. Antibiotic-caused changes to your microbiome could be detected up to two years after you used said antibiotic.
How to improve gut bacteria for your health and…yes to help you lose weight
Now that you know how important the community of bacteria in your gut (and other parts of your body) is to your well-being let’s talk about how you can nurture healthy, balanced, diverse gut bacteria.
Let’s start with what you should avoid:
- Avoid antibiotics unless necessary. There has been an overprescription of antibiotics in America in the last 50 years. Question it.
- Avoid pesticides and herbicides. If it means to kill living beings it has the same impact on your gut bacteria.
- Avoid hand sanitizers.
- Reduce or even avoid simple carbohydrates such as baked goods, rice, and bread.
So I cut all those out. What now? Now, when we plan our meal, we think about feeding ourselves and feeding our bacteria. After all, they are working so hard for us.
What you should add to your plate:
- Eat the rainbow. 50% of your daily plate should consist of plants. (potatoes do not count; they are simple carbohydrates and should be treated with suspicion) Dark green leaves, yellow and orange squashes, red tomatoes, and apples all contain different polyphenols. Each nurtures different kinds of bacteria.
- Although your body can not digest and absorbs fibers, your gut bacteria feast on them. Fiber is found in the outer coat of whole grains and seeds, vegetables, and fruits.
- Add fermented food to your diet.
- Exercise. Research found that a brisk walk, a run, or any activity that raises your body temperature and accelerates your heartbeat increases the abundance of health-promoting bacteria.
Your gut bacteria is very special because it makes you who you are from the amount of food you absorb to your mental health and immunity. Your gut bacteria influence all the levels of your well-being.
The bad news is that there are no one bacteria that can help you lose weight. Since the entire ecosystem of your gut is involved in digestion, fat storage, hunger, all of which impact your weight, you will need a lifestyle change to lose weight and keep it down.
The good news is that you are in control of your body. You have the power to make those changes. Sadly, there are no shortcuts. Magical supplements or a trendy diet do not achieve healthy and sustainable weight loss. It is achieved by being conscious of your eating habits and changing them to feed your entire community.