Probiotics for Weight Loss: How Eating the Right Foods Can Make a Difference

There is research to suggest that the bacteria in your gut may influence how we store fat, balance blood sugar levels, and even our hunger and fullness.

The bacteria that have built their home in our digestive tract are known collectively as the “gut microbiome".  There is between 0.5-2kg of these bugs in the human digestive system. And we regularly send them down the toilet as ¾ of our poo is gut bacteria! So we need to we feed them several times a day to ensure they can replenish our stocks.

Each person's gut microbiota is as unique as their fingerprint. It is because of this that initial research into the ares of gut microbes came from twin studies showing that we there is a genetic component to our gut microbiome that we can influence and modify to a certain degree from how we eat and live.

One of the reasons bacteria may affect our weight is through appetite hormones. It has been found that the microbiome start making fullness hormones around 20minutes after eating (Science Daily). This may explain why it seems to take around 20mins to feel the fullness from eating a meal (and eating faster than this could lead to overeating). There has been various research looking into things like faecal transplants (ie.where the poo from a lean individual is put into a capsule and swallowed by a heavier person) which didn’t find a significant effect on weight. So most of the ways to improve our gut bacteria come from what we eat.

Before we get to food, it is a good time to mention probiotics. Tthere has been a bit of research on the effects of different probiotics on weight. One large review of available evidence found that a probiotic supplement resulted in an extra 0.6kg weight loss and the probiotics that were the most beneficial were those that contained multiple strains and when the probiotic was taken for more than 2 months.

So from the evidence it looks like there is a role for your gut in managing your weight and fullness but it isn’t a magic solution. Diet may provide some additional benefits worthwhile considering. The fibre you eat is the main source of fuel for the bacteria in your gut. The more you feed them, the more they multiply. There are over a 1000 species of different bacteria in your microbiome and like us, they like variety in their diet. So, including a wide array of different fibres is the key to improving the amount and range of bacteria thriving in your gut.

Fibre is the part of food which isn’t broken down and absorbed by the body. Your grandma may have called it ‘roughage’ but today we know there are a few different types of fibre which are digested differently and benefit the body in several ways.

There is insoluble fibre which is a bit like a bulldozer and pushes through your digestive tract (all the way to the end). This type of fibre has an important role in keeping you regular but also helps a meal to feel more filling. Foods like All Bran, seeds and grains as well as the skin on fruits and vegetables are good sources of insoluble fibre.

Another important fibre is called soluble fibre and like the name suggests – it mixes well with water and together they provide nice soft bulk inside your stomach which travels all the way through to your large intestine where it is broken down and fermented by the bacteria in your gut. This type of fibre also keeps your poo nice and soft which helps with regularity (and less time spent on the toilet). The fermentation process creates gasses that are absorbed by the cells in your intestine. This gas is like fairy gold dust for your intestines as it helps it repair itself and continue to provide a warm and welcoming environment for your bacteria.

There is one particular type of soluble fibre which deserves a special mention, and this is called resistant starch. It is found in foods such as: legumes and cooked and then cooled potatoes (yes the process of cooling potatoes after cooking them, magically creates resistant starch stays even after you reheat the potato).  There has been some human studies into the impact of resistant starch on the amount of energy you burn and the breakdown of fat for energy but the research isn’t convincing just yet. What we do know is that it benefits your overall gut health and all fibre can help make a meal more filling and sustaining.

The gut microbiome is a complex and dynamic ecosystem that may influence aspects of our health, including weight and fullness. To make the most of this potential benefit, aim to eat a variety of fibres – some soluble, insoluble and those with some resistant starch.  A fun way to do this is to keep a tally of the number of different plant foods you eat over a week and see if you can make it to 30.  Set a challenge with your friends or family and see who can get the highest number! Do this and you will be well on your way to a healthy gut and feeling fuller for longer!

November 16, 2023