How Our Gut Influences Our Weight

Many of us have turned to diet or exercise for keeping our weight in check, but the friendly bacteria in our gut may be the real key to weight loss.

The organisms in our microbiome are known to help regulate a variety of bodily processes that influence everything from sugar and fat metabolism to immunity and inflammation.

While this concept may be relatively new for humans, the cattle industry has exploited this science for over decades. By administering antibiotics, ranchers have been able to change animals’ gut bacteria and make them fatter.

Studies show that when food is scarce, the digestion process slows down, giving the body more time to absorb calories. This protective adaptation has helped humans survive through famine and starvation. On the contrary, one would assume that during an abundance of food, the digestion process would speed up and we wouldn’t absorb as many calories. However, that is not the case.

When the body is fed a complex carbohydrate called prebiotic fiber, its gut bacteria produces chemicals called short-chain fatty acids (STFAs). These tell the stomach and intestines that food is plentiful. When these chemicals are produced, the digestive process speeds up, reducing calorie absorption.

Foods that are are low in prebiotic fibers lead to less STFA production, which tells the body that food is scarce. This leads to more absorption of fat-enhancing calories.

The typical Western diet provides far too many calories but with little or no prebiotic fiber. This means that even while we eat, our brains are getting signals that we still starving. In turn, the digestive system does everything it can to extract as many calories from our food as possible.

Americans consume around 5 grams of prebiotic fiber daily, while our hunter-gatherer ancestors may have consumed as many as 120 grams per day.

To use science to your advantage and send those “I’m full!” signals to your brain, try adding many types of prebiotic-rich foods to your diet:

  • Dandelion greens
  • Jicama
  • Asparagus
  • Onions
  • Leeks
  • Garlic