Gut bacteria are engines within the body that themselves depend on fuel in order for them to grow, and to survive they take their fuel from the food that we eat. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have discovered that based on the genetic makeup of an individual (in this case a mouse, but this could also apply to a human), the bacteria are programmed in ways that make them more likely to consume more fuel for themselves, leaving less for the person in whose body they reside. As a result of there being less fuel available, [the person] is less likely to become obese.
Other studies support this recent research. Among them, a study published in the journal Cell found those with “normal” BMI had different microbiota in their guts than those whose BMIs classified them as obese. The connection between gut bacteria and weight loss plays a role in everything from digestion to the production of hormones that regulate appetite, including leptin and ghrelin. Intestinal bacteria might also influence insulin sensitivity, causing your body to burn more (or less) fat. Gut bacteria can also influence inflammation. Some gut bacteria produce chemicals such as lipopolysaccharide, which causes inflammation and weight gain.
DIET IS STILL IMPORTANT
While it would be easy to blame rogue gut bacteria for the number on the scale, we can’t ignore the fact that diet plays a significant role in the micro-organisms making up the microbiome. One landmark study found eating a high-fat “Western” diet for a single day had a significant effect on the gut microbiome; additional research showed that eating meat and dairy increased the abundance of a bacterium linked to inflammation, which could cause weight gain.
While genetics play a role in your gut bacteria, changing your diet can have a positive impact on the bacteria that call your gut home. Just as there are foods to support the growth of beneficial bacteria, there are foods to minimize it.
FOOD TO FOCUS ON
Eat fiber-rich foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds that stimulate the growth of healthy gut bacteria. Dark chocolate, green tea and berries, which contain complex chemical compounds called polyphenols, are also associated with the growth of beneficial bacteria. Prebiotics and probiotics are also important. Prebiotics, a type of fiber that causes good gut bacteria to flourish, are found in foods like bananas, leeks and garlic. Fermented foods like kimchi and kefir contain probiotics, the live microorganisms that improve the abundance of good bacteria. Research found that using probiotics to influence gut microbiota helped with weight loss, improved fat metabolism, improved insulin sensitivity, and reduced chronic inflammation. Steer clear of sugary foods that trigger an abundance of harmful gut bacteria that contribute to weight gain.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Eating a diversity of nutritious plant-based foods can help promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria that could make it easier to lose weight.