If we consume too many calories then we gain weight, too few and we lose it. This is the calories in versus calories out principle, and lots of people successfully maintain their weight using this guidance.
However, there are plenty of other factors to consider for weight management, including the makeup of our gut microbiota and how well these microbes break down food into energy.
There are many different types of gut bacteria, and maintaining a balance among beneficial and potentially harmful bacteria (aka symbiosis) is very important for our health.
Dysbiosis occurs when there is an overgrowth of potentially harmful bacteria, a loss of beneficial bacteria, or a lack of microbial diversity. The gut microbiota of healthy individuals is marked by a diversity of beneficial microbes.
But, what does all this have to do with weight management?
Among its many roles, our gut bacteria helps us extract energy from food to be used immediately or stored as fat, and it turns out that certain types of bacteria are better at this job than others, making their hosts (us!) more efficient at breaking food down into energy to be used immediately or stored as fat. If we extract more energy from our food than “normal,” we can potentially gain weight without changing our diet at all.
The foods we eat directly influence what types of bacteria prosper and what ones die off. For example, studies have linked high sugar, high fat diets with gut dysbiosis, weight gain, and other complications whereas a diet favoring whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other plant foods has been shown to promote a healthy, diverse gut microbiota.
You’ve probably heard that you should “eat the rainbow”, varying the color of fruits and vegetables that you eat. That’s a good start! Diversity in the diet helps to promote diversity of the gut microbiota by feeding a variety of house-guests, each with their own unique palate.
So branch out! Try new foods, especially fruits and vegetables, and cultivate a sense of adventure in your kitchen and your gut may be less likely to turn into a, well, bigger gut!