Could Gut Health Be The Secret To Weight Control?

Is THRIVING FLORA in the gut the key to weight control? KATE O’BRIEN is convinced by new research into the subject


We live in a complex symbiotic relationship with over 100 trillion bacterial cells, the highest concentration of which is located in the gut. The formula is simple: we provide them with indigestible carbohydrates and a space to flourish and we, in turn, benefit enormously. These essential probiotic bacteria derive energy from the fermentation of our otherwise indigestible waste. In return they produce certain key nutrients while also acting as a physical barrier and secrete anti-microbial proteins that prevent the harmful, or pathogenic, bacteria from gaining the upper hand.

“The potential for probiotic food products is enormous,” explains dietitian Paula Mee. “Research into their use in food and tablet form is growing. While it’s unclear whether the presence of specific bacteria is a contributor to obesity, or a consequence of obesity, but compelling evidence suggests a strong association. Researchers have also known that the brain sends signals to the gut, which is why stress and other emotions can cause symptoms there. Now research is showing that signals travel the opposite way as well. In all, the potential for probiotic foods to impact mental health is quite persuasive.”

Probiotics are live micro-organisms which are naturally present in some live yogurts, fermented milk drinks and other dairy produce, with different products containing different species, each with unique benefits (hence the importance of variety in our diet). The key to a healthy system lies in keeping the good bacteria thriving and outnumbering those not-so-great varieties.

Since the characterisation of the body’s intestinal flora was made official via the National Institute of Health (NIH) Human Microbiome Project in 2008, there has been an explosion in gut research. “This is really powerful stuff,” says London-based nutritional therapist Jeannette Hyde. “It is now widely considered that the health of bacteria is crucial to all areas of our health – the list is endless.” In her book The Gut Makeover, Hyde has come up with a precise plan to balance our gut bacteria, lose up to 13 pounds and improve mood, skin and immunity, all at same time.

But how do we achieve this internal bacteria bliss? Hyde is adamant that our “beige, processed western diet” is detrimental to our microbiome – the community of micro-organisms that share our bodies. Nourish your gut with a varied diet, is her mantra. “By improving the diversity of gut bacteria, hunger hormones start to work more efficiently and metabolism improves, with an endless list of benefits.”

Her practical guide has completely parked the “calorie in = calorie out” notion for managing weight. “Counting calories doesn’t help,” she says. The Gut Makeover tells you in four weeks what you need to do to get your digestive system in peak running order. Those who are really serious about this are advised to press pause on alcohol for a month, as Hyde says it’s akin to “pouring weed-killer on intestinal flora”.

Hand-in-hand with this explosion in gut research is the upsurge in fermented foods and with every good reason, according to cookery writer Valerie O’Connor. “During our years of eating chemically sprayed and processed foods, our guts have been depleted of vital flora, leaving us more susceptible to everyday illness and, some would say, depression and anxiety disorders too. This is where fermentation comes into its own.” Fermenting food was the method of preservation used for thousands of years before refrigeration and canning. Fresh foods, primarily vegetables, were packed into large wooden containers, salted and left for months (even years) to ferment. This process enhanced the vitamin content, while the millions of probiotic bacteria enhanced digestive health, boosted the immune system and improved mental health in the process.

While this new style of eating may seem alien, it makes sense and may explain why many of the diseases of the modern world were not known in our ancestors’ time. O’Connor assures us that introducing fermented foods into our daily diet is easy. Many of us eat them already, often without even knowing – think yogurt, sourdough bread, salami, chorizo and sauerkraut. “A spoon of a good, natural yogurt contains many strains of live bacteria. Sauerkraut is another (see for recipe) that is so easy to prepare and store.

Within a short time of eating more fermented foods, experts maintain you should feel a reduction in digestive issues like bloating or constipation, along with increased energy, improved sleep and mental clarity



1. Eat three meals a day.

2. No snacking.

3. Include plants and well-cooked/well-chewed protein at each meal.

4. Include a total of 7 large servings of plants (5 as vegetables, 2 as fruit) daily.

5. Aim for 30 different varieties of vegetables, herbs, and fruit over a week.

6. Have an overnight 12-hour fast each night.

7. Avoid sugar, wheat and grains, alcohol, coffee and dairy.


1. All as above and start to reintroduce selected dairy with high bacterial counts e.g. smelly, runny cheeses and fermented milk such as kefir.

2. Step up intake of prebiotic plant goods (superboosters of good bacteria) like leeks,
Jerusalem artichokes, cold potatoes (for their resistant starch), asparagus, bananas, apples.

3. Include fermented probiotic foods such as sauerkraut and miso.

Image by Trunk Archive

Kate O’Brien @KateOB99

This article appeared in a previous issue, for more features like this, don’t miss our May issue, out Thursday May 5.

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