It is crucial that you keep your gut happy. Your gut health plays a pivotal role in the proper functioning of your digestive system, immune system, and your overall wellbeing. It has also been said that the health of your gut can impact your weight. So, we’ve turned to experts to learn more about gut health and weight loss. Find out whether it actually affects those numbers on the scale.
Why is gut health so important?
Demi-Maree Faulkner, accredited practicing dietitian (APD), accredited nutritionist (AN), and sports dietitian, says, “The gut plays an important role in your total health. This includes food sensitivities, nutrient absorption, immune system function, bowel health, weight, and allergies.” Dr. Megan Rossi, aka The Gut Health Specialist, adds, “The importance of gut health extends beyond the gastrointestinal tract. [It] impacts other vital organs, like your brain, heart, kidney, and liver. How it does this is through the trillion of bacteria that live in our gut. Scientists call [these] our gut microbiota).”
If you’ve ever had an unbalanced or unhealthy gut, then you’ve probably experienced the repercussions—and you know that they are not fun. These symptoms include excessive flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, and bloating.
Does gut health affect your weight?
There has been a lot of talk lately about how your gut health has an adverse effect on your weight. Whether or not this is completely true is still not 100 percent clear.
Faulkner points out that, while there has been a link made between gut health and weight loss and obesity, this is a new research area that needs to be explored further. “It is also important to note that many of the steps to improve gut bacteria are also dietary steps that lead to weight loss. [These] include increasing high-fiber foods [and] exercise, and decreasing processed foods.”
Dr. Rossi adds, “Although people who carry more weight have been shown to have different gut bacteria compared to lean people, it’s a case of the chicken and the egg. Is it that people who carry more weight eat different things and therefore promote the growth of different bacteria? Or is it that they have different bacteria that make them hold on to weight?”
At this point in time, there is more evidence of the latter, which has been gleaned from animal studies. But, more needs to be done to prove that the same results could be expected in human studies. So, while the answer remains unclear, what is clear is that a happy gut is fundamental to our wellbeing.
How can I improve my gut health?
Fortunately, you can implement a number of dietary and lifestyle changes that can help change your gut health for the better. And, if this leads to weight loss (if that is your goal), then even better.
Follow a high-fiber diet
One of the best nutrients that you can focus on is fiber. “Fiber is the part of food that is not digested in the small intestine,” explains Faulkner. “Dietary fiber moves largely unchanged into the large intestine or colon, where it is fermented by friendly bacteria that live there (also known as prebiotics).
To consume a fiber-rich diet, load up on whole grains, nuts and seeds, lentils, beans, oats, fruit (leave the skin on), and vegetables.
Also, eat a variety of these foods to promote a diverse gut microbiome; the more diverse, the better. In fact, one study from The International Journal of Obesity shows that there was “a correlation between change in body weight over time and gut microbiome composition.” The subjects who had maintained or lost weight over nine years ate more fiber, had a more diverse number of gut microbes, and had a higher number of certain types of gut bacteria.
If your diet is low-fiber at the moment, then take the slow-and-steady approach. Dr. Rossi recommends gradually increasing your fiber intake over time. Also, drink plenty of water. “These two tips will help minimize any unwanted gut symptoms that can result when increasing your fiber intake,” she explains.
Eat fermented foods
Fermented foods are a great way of boosting your gut health. Faulkner recommends “Kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, olives, miso, yogurt, and traditionally made sourdough as they contain live microorganisms that act as probiotics.”
If you still have trouble getting enough probiotic in, then try taking probiotic supplements to promote the growth of good bacteria.
Avoid junk food
You might like junk food, but your gut certainly doesn’t. Try to cut down on processed, fatty foods that are on your “sometimes food” list. Processed foods can cause the digestive system to slow. Cut down on your alcohol and sugar intake, as well. These foods encourage the bad type of bacteria to grow, instead of the good, leading to an imbalanced gut.
Get your beauty sleep
Yes, sleep can affect your gut. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body responds with fatigue. This can negatively impact your gut health. Also, you’re more likely to make poor food choices when you haven’t had a good night’s rest. So, to function properly, make sure that you get good quality sleep. Your gut will thank you for it.
It should be no surprise that exercising can help your health, even your gut health. Being active keeps the blood circulating around your body, helping to stimulate your digestive system.
Try not to sit for long periods of time. This can be difficult if you work in an office in front of a computer screen all day. But stand up and have a quick stretch or walk around to break up these sedentary times.
What if I have IBS?
If your gut problems escalate and you start to experience IBS symptoms, Faulkner advises that you seek the help of a dietitian. This way, “they can help you identify the cause of the symptoms and treat you accordingly to help you heal your gut.”