By Matt O'Neill, MSc(Nut&Diet), APD
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Your gut is home to 1000+ species of bacteria weighing up to 2kg. Within your gut 'flora' or 'microbiota', some bacteria are 'good' & others 'bad'. The balance between the two is now emerging as a critical factor for optimal gut health.
How gut bacteria affects your weight
1. Appetite - An increase in the number of 'bad' bacteria may stimulate appetite, increasing food consumption, resulting in weight gain.
2. Absorption of calories - With a greater presence of 'bad' bacteria in the gut, absorption of fat & carbohydrates may occur at a greater rate, increasing the storage of food calories as body fat.
3. Metabolic rate - A lack of bacteria in the large intestine may cause weight gain by slowing down the activity of brown fat, which is a type of good body fat that is metabolically active.
4. Insulin resistance - The 'bad' bacteria can also cause inflammation, resulting in insulin resistance, which in turn triggers weight gain. Healthy gut flora is not just for digestion - it's now a vital part of your weight management strategy - and a real opportunity for a breakthrough.
How to optimise gut health
1. Reduce stress
Stress negatively impacts upon gut flora. The nerves that flow through your digestive system connect directly to your brain.Gut bacteria also produce neurochemicals that your brain uses for mental processes and mood, so there is a logical link between gut and brain health.
2. Include prebiotic foods in your diet
Prebiotic foods feed the growth of good bacteria in your gut - Prebiotic foods are high in fibre, including:
Vegetables - Onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, celery and Jerusalem artichoke.
Fruit - Bananas, apples, oranges.
Starches - Wholegrains, such as wheat bran, psyllium, rye-based breads, barley, whole oats and couscous. Also, beans and legumes.
Health oils - Nuts.
3. Include probiotic foods in your diet
Probiotics provide live cultures or strains of good bacteria - Probiotic foods include:
Vegetables - Fermented vegetable foods such pickles (not in vinegar) and sauerkraut.
Dairy - Yoghurt, especially Greek style, yoghurts labelled as 'probiotic' or those containing bifido bacterium bifidium (bifidobacteria) and/or lactobacillus acidophilius.
In Australia, fermented milk drinks and yoghurts claiming to be probiotic must have one million live bacteria per gram. Cheddar and soft cheeses, such as Swiss cheese are also good sources. You'll also find probiotic benefits in miso soup and tempeh.
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