Like the 3.5 million truckers cruising the highways in the United States every day, trillions of microbes (belly bugs) in your GI tract are roaming around, breaking down food and managing your hormones. It’s important that this system is fueled right so your body has the nutrients it needs to always feel full and satisfied. Read more in 4 Minute Fit: The Metabolism Accelerator for the Time-Crunched, Deskbound, and Stressed Out.
Our belly biome evolved to eat a particular type of diet, and one of the reasons we have such an exploding obesity problem is that the food we’re feeding our microscopic army isn’t supporting them in the way they need. Our diets are much too high in simple carbohydrates like white rice, bread, pasta, and sugar, and too low in protein, healthy fats, and fiber. Since different belly bugs do different jobs, that just throws the balance of our biome out of whack.
To take the trucking metaphor to its extreme, imagine we sent out five times as many trucks hauling paint, but never sent any trucks carrying brushes. You’d have a whole lot of stores wondering what to do with all those cans of paint, and a whole lot of customers who couldn’t get their chores done because there were no brushes to use. The whole construction industry would slow to a standstill.
The same thing happens when you feed your belly too much junk food and not enough protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Bacteria that feed off sugar and carbs get much stronger, overwhelming the other gut bugs that are supposed to balance them out. This leads to inflammation and what’s known as a “leaky gut”—basically, the fine mesh screen that lines your digestive system becomes porous and inflamed, and bacteria and other toxins leak into your body, causing more inflammation and greater fat storage. (In studies, obese people have higher levels of a bacteria type known as Firmicutes, while those who are thinner tend to have higher levels of a good bacteria called Bacteroidetes.) It’s not unlike what happens to your gums if you eat a lot of starchy, sugary foods and don’t brush your teeth: the bacteria in your mouth thrive on the sugar, and your gums get red and inflamed. Too much of that and your teeth start falling out. Diabetes and heart disease are both closely linked to the sort of inflammation that can stem from a leaky gut.
But when your gut health is disrupted, it also means you’re not getting as much nutrition out of the meals you do eat. That’s because the microbes in your gut help to digest your food and pull nutrients out of it. When your digestive biome balance is off, you get even less nutrition from the foods you do eat, and that means that less of what you eat winds up being used for fuel—another factor in weight gain.
We recommend you get rid of the bad belly bugs and stock up on healthy gut organisms. Start with these 16 superfoods for weight loss.