What’s the connection between the gut microbiome and weight?
Studies have found that the gut microbiome is closely intertwined with heart health, the immune system, and cognitive function. But where does weight fall into this equation? Here’s how you can help your nutrition clients improve their gut health to see improvements on the scale.
Weight management is a complex topic, and as a nutrition professional, you must look at all aspects of the equation. While gender, activity level, diet, and lifestyle all play a role, gut health is another factor that is sometimes overlooked. But how does the microbiome affect weight, and what are some ways that you can nutritionally support your clients’ gut health?
Let’s first start by understanding what the gut microbiome is and what happens when it becomes imbalanced.
Understanding the gut microbiome
There are trillions of microbes inside the human body, with most of them found in the cecum (a part of the large intestine) . These gut microbes can be responsible for how the body breaks down carbohydrates and protein. They also keep energy sources regulated, influence the body’s inflammatory response, and maintain levels of neurotransmitters in the brain .
Higher microbiome diversity can greatly benefit overall health, whereas dysbiosis (an imbalanced microbiome) is associated with a wide range of health consequences .
Tip: for additional information on how to help your clients achieve better gut health, check out this ultimate guide.
How gut health affects weight
Healthy gut bacteria can positively affect overall health, boost athletic performance, and combat obesity. However, dysbiosis can wreak havoc on your client’s health, and can negatively impact their weight loss journey. Here are some ways that the microbiome impacts the number on the scale.
Certain bacteria in the gut (like Bifidobacterium, Bacteroides, and Prevotella) are needed to produce chemicals that break down fiber [3,4]. Foods like apples, artichokes, blueberries, almonds, legumes, pistachios, and other plant-based foods have been found to help these bacteria thrive. They can also benefit digestive health and promote weight loss.
Research shows that people with varying levels of Prevotella and Bacteroides experienced a 5-pound weight loss compared to those with lower levels . Studies also indicate that people who consume more dietary fiber tend to have lower body weight. This may be due to the chemicals released when the fiber is divested by these gut bacteria .
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Diets that contain high amounts of trans-fats, refined sugar, and processed foods often result in elevated inflammatory markers. This can lead to dysbiosis, weight gain, an increased risk of chronic disease, and certain cancers [7,8].
Emerging research suggests that those who are obese have a less diverse microbiome compared to lean people [12,13]. This might be because dysbiosis can lead to insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, and excess fat, all of which may contribute to obesity and type 2 diabetes [14,15,16,17].
Leptin and ghrelin are two hormones that regulate hunger and are impacted by the gut microbiome . Studies show that dysbiosis can lead to increased calorie intake, weight gain, and obesity; however, experts suggest that increasing the gut microbiota diversity may suppress cravings [19,20].
Helping your clients achieve a healthy gut microbiome
You can help your clients achieve their weight goals through a curated meal plan that focuses on increasing their microbiome diversity. Here are some of the best foods for balancing the gut microbiome and maintaining a healthy weight.
- Fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables help feed good bacteria to promote weight loss and boost overall health. Consuming a variety of produce can aid in bacterial diversity, provide nutrients, and boost fiber intake .
- Fermented foods. Fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kombucha contain beneficial bacteria to aid in digestion and gut health. Other health benefits include improved immunity and weight loss.
- Whole grains. Whole grains are high in fiber, which has been shown to benefit gut health, promote satiety, and aid in weight management. Foods like barley, brown rice, oats, and millet are good options to include in your client’s meal plan.
- Probiotic supplements. Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli may help to restore healthy gut bacteria, decrease harmful bacteria, and aid in weight loss [9,11]. Probiotic supplements can be found in capsules, powders, liquids, and other forms.
If your clients want to lose weight or maintain their current weight, you may want to examine their gut health. Dysbiosis can affect glycemic control, appetite regulation, inflammation, and digestion, all of which may impact the number on the scale. To combat this, you can help your clients diversify their gut microbiome through a variety of foods and probiotic supplements.
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