By Donna Larsen, MS Nutrition, MBA
Got cravings? Have food cravings ever left you feeling powerless? Like the time you ate a big bowl of ice cream or a piece of chocolate cake only to feel guilty about it for the rest of the day? Well, go easy on yourself – there may be a good reason why you caved in, and it has nothing to do with willpower. Recent research is showing that the bacteria within our digestive tract may very well be triggering these cravings, making it more difficult to deny these guilty pleasures with sheer willpower.
Our microbiome (the resident bacteria in our gut) is made up of trillions of microorganisms. By altering how we break down food in our gut, these ‘gut bugs’ can determine how many calories we extract from what we eat. They can also produce chemicals that are absorbed into the bloodstream and can alter our brain function to determine what kinds of foods we choose and when we feel hungry.
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, Arizona State University, and University of New Mexico have found that the microbes living in our digestive tracts cause us to crave the particular nutrients they need to grow on, rather than passively living off whatever nutrients we happen to consume. The bacteria within our digestive tract may very well be affecting our cravings and getting us to eat what they want. Some thrive on fats while others prefer sugar.
Don’t get discouraged by the bugs in your gut. Here’s the good news: these gut bugs can be manipulated and brought back into a healthy balance, which can significantly reducing your cravings.
Here are four easy steps to restore your gut microbiome:
1. Reduce the amount of processed foods you are eating. Processed foods (typically high sugar and high fat) feed the negative gut bacteria; so instead, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables which feed the beneficial bacteria. Eating organic foods will lower your body’s intake of pesticides – the pesticides are toxic and contribute to an unhealthy balance of the bacteria in your gut.
2. Add probiotic foods, as these foods can help replenish your gut with beneficial bacteria. Some examples of probiotic foods are: kefir, kombucha, raw sauerkraut, kimchee and fermented vegetables.
3. Add prebiotic foods, as these foods feed our healthy bacteria. Foods such as asparagus, carrots, kiwi, garlic, onions, radishes, tomatoes, and leeks are good sources of prebiotics. One classification of prebiotics is known as resistant starch. Resistant starch selectively stimulates the good bacteria in our intestines, helping to maintain a healthy balance of bacteria. Some common food sources of resistant starch include green (unripe) bananas, plantains, properly prepared cooked and cooled parboiled rice or legumes, and cooked and cooled potatoes.
4. If you crave sugar, why not try to eliminate it? You can gradually decrease the amount but sometimes the best way is to go cold turkey. It’s not going to be easy at first because when you stop feeding the bacteria sugar, it starves and dies and produces some side effects temporarily. Side effects include: feeling light-headed, cravings, headaches, tired-ness, moodiness or muscular aches. After about a week, your body will reset itself, your taste buds and food preferences change and you will transition to craving-free!
Reducing the amount of processed foods you eat, along with adding probiotic and prebiotic foods will help maintain a more balanced gut – and may even release you from those cravings. Implementing these strategies will lead to a balanced gut that works for you – not against you. Then you can truly start to trust your gut-feelings!
Check out Dr. Kara’s blog on gut health here.
About Donna Larsen:
Donna Larsen is a Functional Nutritionist and Educator who holds a master’s degree in Nutrition from Maryland University of Integrated Health along with an MBA from New York University. As a functional nutritionist, Donna’s approach is always client-centered (versus condition oriented), focused on restoring optimal function through the use of individual diet, nutrition and lifestyle plans for her clients. She works with each client to address the underlying cause of any sign, symptom or disease state — aiming to get to the root of what is not functioning and preventing a person from feeling his or her best.