As a healthy living coach, I’m often asked to give talks on gut health. I’m never surprised when this happens. These days, “gut health” has become somewhat of a buzzword in the wellness space – and for good reason. From aiding in good digestion and proper nutrient absorption, to warding off bacterial, fungal and viral infections, to even regulating mood and sleep, the gut plays a pivotal role in all aspects of our overall wellbeing.
While the notion of gut health might seem like it only applies to the gut, it’s actually a broad subject. From a physical and physiological standpoint, the gut covers a lot of different areas of the body, even the heart and brain. Interestingly, during my talks, the topic that always sparks the most curiosity from my audiences is the role of the gut in body weight, particularly weight loss. So, that’s what I’m going to talk about here.
Believe it or not, gut health lays the groundwork for weight loss and long-term weight control. To understand how, it’s important to understand what it actually means to have a healthy gut in the first place.
What It Means to Have a Healthy Gut
Having a healthy gut essentially means that your gut, or intestinal tract, has a good balance of helpful (“good”) and potentially harmful (“bad”) bacteria. We all have trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microorganisms, both good and bad, living inside our guts. These microorganisms are collectively known as the microbiome. Any disruption in the microbiome can knock the gut out of balance – whether due to a minor infection or a chronic disease.
An imbalanced gut is an unhealthy gut, and an unhealthy gut not only promotes illness, disease and other health problems, but it can also impair the body’s ability to properly absorb nutrients, increase blood sugar levels, and even trigger weight gain, especially in the belly area.
How an Unhealthy Gut Affects Weight
An abundance of research has shown that imbalances in gut microbiome contribute to weight gain, largely by impairing metabolism, which is the rate at which our bodies burn calories. These imbalances can also impact appetite-regulating hormones in ways that make us more prone to overeating. In addition, numerous studies have linked gut microbiome imbalances to chronic inflammation. Inflammation by itself can trigger weight gain and make weight loss very difficult.
This all basically means that if your gut isn’t healthy, any efforts to lose weight are in vain. Even if you’ve successfully lost weight, gut microbiome imbalances can make it difficult to keep it off.
What Causes Imbalances in Gut Microbiome
Though gut microbiome imbalances have been linked to many genetic factors, poor diet is actually one of the biggest contributors. I am not just talking about eating “bad” foods either. I’m talking about not eating enough of the “good” stuff too. I’m sure you already know that diets rich in refined sugars and other processed ingredients aren’t good for your gut or health in general. But did you know that certain foods actually help fuel growth of healthy gut bacteria?
So, preventing imbalances in gut microbiome isn’t just a matter of eliminating sugar and processed foods. It’s also a matter of upping your intake of those foods that support a healthy gut. This is where a lot of people miss the mark. When trying to lose weight, many turn to elimination diets in an effort to create calorie deficits. Unfortunately, far too often these diets also eliminate gut health-promoting nutrients that would otherwise support weight loss.
Eating for a Healthy Gut and a Healthy Weight
Research has already shown that if you change your diet, you can reverse gut imbalances in ways that support weight loss, long-term weight control and overall good health. While the obvious suggestion is eating more whole foods, it’s even more important that you’re getting in plenty of prebiotics and probiotics from whole food sources. These foods specifically support healthy growth and maintenance of all that good gut bacteria I’ve talked about.
Prebiotics are dietary fibers that essentially feed the good bacteria in your gut. You can get an ample supply of prebiotics by simply eating more plant-based whole foods, especially dark leafy greens, allium veggies like garlic and onions, fruits like apples and berries, nuts and seeds like almonds, flax and chia seeds, and quality grains like oatmeal and barley.
Probiotics are a bit different than prebiotics. These are mixtures of live bacteria that actually live in the intestinal tract. Probiotics themselves keep the balance of the gut microbiome in favor of the good bacteria (versus the bad).
You can only get probiotics from fermented foods that either naturally contain live probiotics or have probiotics added to them. Among the most common sources are dairy foods like yogurt, kefir and cheeses, soy foods like miso and tempeh, sourdough bread, kimchi, sauerkraut, olives, pickles, chocolate and kombucha (study up in our Nutrition Glossary to learn more about probiotics).
In addition to the food sources above, there are a lot of science-backed probiotic supplements on the market right now, many of which have been shown to offer benefits similar to those of natural sources. It’s important, however, to check with your healthcare provider before supplementing.
Sometimes Eating Is Only Half the Battle
Hopefully, I’ve given you enough information to help you start strategically eating for better gut health – not just for weight loss, but for your overall wellbeing. Here at That Salad Lady, our salad-inspired creations make it easier to eat and enjoy a variety of whole foods rich in gut-health promoting prebiotics and probiotics. Just check out our recipe list and you’ll see what I mean.
Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit that eating is often half the battle for some, especially very picky eaters, those who may struggle with trying new foods and people with food allergies and gut disorders. For people with certain gut disorders, even the most wholesome foods can be hard to digest. Underlying gut disorders may cause weight gain and hinder weight loss too.
So, while I always emphasize the importance of eating for a healthy gut, it’s also important to have a baseline of your gut health. Knowing is the other half of the battle.
You can get a good solid baseline of your gut health with a simple assessment like Ombre Lab’s gut health test. This at-home test specifically analyzes your gut bacteria and provides a snapshot of your microbiome to help you uncover any underlying issues that might be affecting your weight or your health.
I’ve personally had my gut bacteria analyzed. I was even able to make subtle changes to my own diet based on my results. I definitely recommend getting yours assessed. Visit Ombre Lab and order your testing kit today. Using this special link, you’ll automatically get a $30 discount on your purchase. The more you know about your gut, the better you can feed it for good health.