It’s not just a phenomenon reserved for pregnant women. It can happen to all of us.
When I think about the food I want – I think about the taste, the mouth feel, the energy it’s going to give me, and how it’s going to serve my body’s structure and function (I am a dietitian after all).
But I am only human and sometimes I crave salty crinkle cut plain chips, orange juice and Vegemite toast. I wonder why I crave these foods?
I know that they’re not all that good for me… And why do I only crave them sometimes?
Yes, they are delicious, but am I eating because I’m stressed? Do I need a high GI energy hit? Maybe it’s because I’m a bit dusty from last night?
It actually might be that my gut bacteria are out of balance. This is called dysbiosis.
It happens when you haven’t been eating as many of those prebiotic foods as you normally do, and maybe those few too many beers last night might have killed off some of those good bacteria meditating in your gut.
(Note: I’m a dietitian and I don’t eat or drink anything unhealthy. I only eat raw-organic-GF-DF-XYZF foods, all the time. But I don’t really. I’m pretty normal like everyone, but I’m also pretty healthy).
Turns out, the old cliché “you are what you eat” is being redefined by new evidence. In actual fact, you are more than what you eat – you are what you digest, ferment and absorb.
A refresher for you: your body is shared by trillions of bacteria – your gut alone, houses about 2kg of them known as microflora. These guys outnumber your body cells by 10 to 1.
These bacteria are tiny, but oh so fundamental to your health. Without them, you’d be suffering. I often get asked in my clinic: “I thought bacteria made you sick, like vomit and diarrhea sick?’’ – Yes… this is true for the bad (pathogenic) bacteria out there like E.Coli or Salmonella, however there are a whole lot of good bacteria, too.
So your gut bacteria living in your intestine right now – touch your belly button, they’re just under there – they may be influencing your food cravings.
There is a growing body of scientific evidence to support this.
Research has found that people who crave chocolate have microbial breakdown products in their urine that differ from those who don’t crave chocolate. So, chocolate lovers may have altered gut bacteria, which could be causing those sugary cravings. Mind blown.
You can carb those cravings though. Here are my top 5 tips for healthy gut bacteria, and a healthier weight.
1. Prebiotics – eat more of them from foods
Your gut bacteria require around 50-60g of special non-digestible carbohydrates, called prebiotics, each day to keep them healthy. Prebiotics occur naturally in foods such as leeks, asparagus, chicory, artichokes, garlic, onions, wheat, oats and soybeans.
2. Probiotics – eat more of them from foods
These are live microorganisms that when consumed in adequate amounts confer health benefits. Probiotics are found in fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso soup, soft cheeses and tempeh.
3. Refined sugars – consume less of them
Foods like soft drink, lollies, sweet breakfast cereals, sauces and fruit juices can facilitate the growth of opportunistic (bad) bacteria e.g. C.difficile and C.perfringens. Best to keep your intake of these food and drinks low. But maybe you crave them which causes more bacteria that makes you crave them? Start by limiting them and working on the above two tips.
4. High fat diets – watch out for them
Excessive consumption of fat can not only contribute to direct weight gain, but also can alter your gut bacteria. Recent research has found that high fat diets generally lead to a decrease in Bacteroidetes and an increase in Firmicutes – alterations that have been associated with obesity. Potential mechanisms for weight gain from the above mentioned bacteria species include, your body gets better at harvesting and storing the energy from the foods you eat, and your gut becomes more permeable and inflamed.
5. Alcohol – you know what I’m going to say – ps. It’s makes you drunk which makes you crave
The intestinal tract harbors a significant number of bacteria, including pro-inflammatory triggers such as endotoxins (i.e. LPS). Alcohol consumption can cause systemic (whole body) inflammation in two ways: (i) changes the gut bacteria composition and/or function (aka dysbiosis), which results in an increased production of those pro-inflammatory toxins, and (ii) disrupts the guts intestinal barrier, which ends up letting more of the inflammatory endotoxins into the systemic circulation. Best take it easy.