Did you know that dropping a dress size could be as easy as eating wider selection of foods? Or that you could munch a whole chocolate bar without your body absorbing all of its calories? Well this isn’t as far fetched as it sounds – it may already be happening due to all the trillions of bacteria beavering away in your body to keep you in tip-top form.
Research suggests that the health and diversity of your internal community of bacteria – known as the microbiota – could affect your ability to lose weight. One US study found that lean people have 70 percent more gut bacteria than overweight people and that Americans, who have a high rate of obesity, have much less diverse gut microbes compared to people in developing countries.
Exactly how these gut bugs affect our weight isn’t fully clear but scientists believe that our microbiome play a huge role in many functions and interactions in our bodies, including processing nutrients, determining how many calories your body absorbs and even how hungry you feel. “Simply put, if you get the microbiome – that collection of bacteria inside you – healthy, you will lose weight,” says Raphael Kellman, MD, author of best-selling The Microbiome Diet (£8.99, Da Capo).
For example, in a study published in the journal Cell, scientists found that having a greater abundance of a recently discovered type of bacteria called Christensenellaceae in your gut is associated with being slim, while having less of the bacteria is linked to being obese.
In another study in the British Journal of Nutrition, obese women who took a probiotic supplement (of the bacteria Lactobacillus rhamnosus) lost twice as much weight and fat as those who took a placebo, while research shows that low levels of the bacteria H pylori can affect your stomach’s production of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, which can make you eat more.
Some figure-friendly microbes could also affect your sensitivity to insulin, the hormone that affects how your body uses sugar. In a clinical trial published in the journal Microbiology Ecology, volunteers in China who ate a bacteriaboosting diet and probiotic supplements lost an average of 5kg over nine weeks. Prof Liping Zhao, who worked on the study, said that it could be partly due to the fact that higher levels of toxin-producing bacteria, such as enterobacteria, in the gut can lead to insulin resistance, which means you don’t feel full as you should.
Be good to your gut
So how can you boost the good bacteria in your gut and reach your target weight in the process? Primarily you need to steer clear of junk food and focus instead on eating lots of different types of fruits, vegetables and fibres, all of which support the body’s good bacteria. “This isn’t just about the scales, it’s about how you can get the hundred trillion microbes in your gut healthier by growing more species from a range of healthy food,” says Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology and author of The Diet Myth (£8.99, Orion). This means avoiding antibiotics, pesticides and chemicals and eating lots of different fruits and vegetables because for each little change in fruit or vegetable, you’ve got a whole community of different microbes that will feed off it, according to Tim.
What’s more, it doesn’t take long for your microbiome to improve. Dr Kellman explains that the average lifespan is only 20 minutes so it can change rapidly – often within a single day. “How you eat determines which microbes live happily within your gut and which die off,” he says. “You literally could wake up with one set of microbial genes on Monday and a whole other set on Tuesday.”
So what are you waiting for? Make moves to balance your microbiome with our advice below and you could drop a dress size without even trying. What’s not to love!
Veg it up
Make 70 percent of the food on your plate plantbased as your gut bugs get a real kick out of vegetables, which are rich in fibre and bacteriaboosting nutrients. You should be aiming for at least seven or eight different types a day.
Some vegetables and fruits pack an extra punch as they contain non-digestible fibres called prebiotics. Essentially prebiotics are fuel to feed the probiotics (healthy bacteria) in your digestive tract. They include Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, fennel, garlic, fennel, leeks, onions bananas and apples.
Eat more fermented foods
Fermented foods are great gut buddies as they contain a weight-loss winning combination of probiotics and prebiotics. These include live yoghurt, kefir (a fermented milk), sauerkraut and miso and kimchi (Korean fermented vegetables).
Get an oil change
Good fats such as omega 3 oils and monounsaturated fats such as extra-virgin olive oil help to decrease inflammation, giving healthy gut bugs a chance to flourish.
Go for plant power
Certain plant chemicals called polyphenols are an important energy source for microbes in your gut. Find them in foods including nuts, seeds, coffee, tea, dark chocolate, red wine and olive oil and in brightly coloured fruits such as kiwis, blueberries, papayas, oranges, melons, watermelon and peaches.