There’s no question diet, exercise and calories have an impact on weight. But many other factors aid in weight loss. From sleeping patterns, different types of fats, hormones, eating times, light levels, stress, and more. Now I’d like to focus on how different gastrointestinal issues can change the health of the 40 trillion microbes living in our gut, which ultimately keep obesity at bay.
Studies show fecal transplants may some day play a pivotal role in how we manage weight. Fecal transplants are already used to treat those suffering from severe cases of clostridium difficile diarrhea to ‘reset the gut.” In fact, scientists can actually tell with 90% accuracy if a person is obese or lean just by their gut microbiome composition.
Gut microbes can affect weight by:
Worsening Inflammation: gut microbes can turn on body-wide inflammation when harmful byproducts get into the circulatory system. Under these conditions, storage of fat increases and fat export decreases.
Decreasing levels of butyrate: Butyrate is a short chain fatty acid that reduces inflammation, increases satiety and protects against insulin resistance.
Influencing hunger: Gut microbes interact with the brain, influencing hormones such as ghrelin, leptin and other peptides that affect hunger.
Diminishing diversity: The more the gut microbes, the more roles they can perform. Put together the right assortment and the more efficient the GI tract runs. This improves metabolism, which then influences how we digest, absorb and store food.
Common gastrointestinal issues can dramatically alter our gut microbes and make weight loss harder. Understanding what foods and diets can restore healthy gut microbes is imperative to any weight loss program.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal (GI) disorder. As many as 70 million Americans are affected by digestive diseases, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Most people probably understand IBS to be a single condition, but it actually encompasses a variety of different syndromes. Symptoms will vary based on the specific type of IBS, but generally, symptoms include abdominal pain, cramping, bloating and changes in bowel habit. For some people this means constipation, for others diarrhea or even a combination of both. The symptoms of IBS can significantly impact the quality of life for IBS patients.
Sources explain that IBS is caused by disruptions in the way your brain and gut interact with one another, and may be connected to other underlying medical concerns. Multiple factors can also play a role, including:
- Certain foods
- Increased stress levels
- Fluctuating hormones during menstrual cycles
- Depression and other mental health conditions
There is still much to be understood about IBS. It’s often a chronic GI disorder that develops before age 50. Women are twice as likely to have IBS than men, with a total of between 7-21% of people living with the condition.
IBS comes in multiple forms, including:
Sometimes IBS may develop as a result of an intestinal infection or diverticulitis.
Foods play a large role in managing IBS symptoms
Many people with irritable bowel syndrome notice that their symptoms appear to get worse following a meal. Initially, many people assume they have a dietary allergy or intolerance. More confusing, they may notice that a food seems to upset them on one day but not another. But, these are also telltale symptoms of IBS; diet, food and eating can affect symptoms in IBS.
Food can significantly impact how a person with IBS feels and their ability to function within their daily routine. General guidelines for how to build a diet that may improve and manage IBS symptoms include:
Eat Less Of These Foods
- Lactose (sugar that’s in milk): Cow’s milk, yogurt, pudding, custard, ice cream, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese and mascarpone.
- Fructose (fruit sugar, is a ketonic simple sugar found in many plants): Fruits, such as apples, pears, peaches, cherries, mangoes, pears and watermelon. Sweeteners, such as honey and agave nectar or products with high fructose corn syrup
- Fructans (a polymer of fructose molecules): Vegetables, such as artichokes, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, beetroot, garlic and onions. Grains such as wheat and rye, and added fiber, such as inulin.
- GOS (Galacto-oligosaccharides are made up of plant sugars): Chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans and soy products, vegetables, such as broccoli.
- Polyols (an organic compound containing multiple hydroxyl groups): Fruits, such as apples, apricots, blackberries, cherries, nectarines, pears, peaches, plums and watermelon. Vegetables, such as cauliflower, mushrooms and snow peas. Sweeteners, such as sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol and isomalt found in sugar-free gum and mints, and cough medicines and drops (read more about sugar substitutes, here).
A few other foods that may impact IBS symptoms also include:
- High-fiber products, found in cereals, grains, pastas and processed foods
- Gluten, a protein found in barley, rye and many processed foods
- Fried foods, which often cause gas and bloating
- Coffee, which stimulates bowel activity
- Spicy foods
When trying to determine what may be the cause behind digestive upset, it may help to keep a food log and also note what other external factors surround the time of symptoms. Since stress, mental health, hormones, and other health concerns could impact symptoms, you may find that it isn’t as easy as cutting out a few foods, but that managing symptoms requires a holistic approach.
While it may seem like the only way to manage IBS symptoms is to remove foods, the good news is that increasing your intake of some foods can also improve symptoms.
Eat More Of These Foods
- Dairy: Lactose-free milk, rice milk, almond milk, coconut milk, lactose-free yogurt; hard cheeses such as feta and brie.
- Fruit: Bananas, blueberries, cantaloupe, grapefruit, honeydew, kiwi, lemon, lime, oranges and strawberries.
- Vegetables: Bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, bok choy, carrots, chives, cucumbers, eggplant, ginger, lettuce, olives, parsnips, potatoes, spring onions and turnips.
- Protein: Beef, pork, chicken, fish, eggs and tofu.
- Nuts/seeds (limit to 10-15 each): Almonds, macadamia, peanuts, pine nuts and walnuts.
- Grain: Oat, oat bran, rice bran, gluten-free pasta, such as rice, corn, quinoa, white rice, corn flour and quinoa.
What is a FODMAP diet?
Foods can have such a significant impact on people with IBS that researchers have developed a specific IBS diet called the FODMAP diet. More than 75% of people with IBS report being able to better manage their symptoms when following the diet. The FODMAP diet is based on the theory that certain carbohydrates are poorly absorbed by the small intestine and that IBS symptoms worsen when people with the disorder eat these types of carbohydrates.
When adjusting diet with the suggestions above doesn’t make enough of a positive difference in symptoms, speak to your provider about how FODMAP diet can help.
FODMAP stands for:
Since the small intestine does not absorb FODMAPs well, it leads to an increase in fluid in the bowel, and an increase in gas. The end result? Bloating and changes to digestion, pain, and diarrhea.
Whether removing or adding certain foods, or following a FODMAP diet, not all elements of the guidelines will work for everybody. Each person will respond differently to these suggestions depending on the type of IBS that they have, other health concerns, and whether external factors, like chronic stress, are present.
General guidelines to help support gut health
Many people would agree- many factors impact how your gut feels and the consequent impact on your overall wellness. Stomachaches, gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and other digestive upset can seriously disrupt how you feel. Some general tips to help your gut function at its best:
Eat slower. Chew your food well before swallowing so you swallow less air and can better realize when you’re full.
Enjoy smaller meals. Eat in moderation to avoid overfilling your stomach. A packed stomach may trigger reflux, when foods and acids back up into the esophagus.
Set a bedtime for your gut. Limit how much you eat at night. This is also a great suggestion to help reduce stress eating. If you find yourself reaching for a late-night snack, stop and ask yourself if you’re really hungry, or trying to cope with certain emotions.
Eat at the same times each day. Your GI system may do best on a schedule.
Unsure if your symptoms are IBS or something else and making changes to your diet doesn’t seem to bring about a shift in the right direction? Speak to your provider to help pinpoint the possible causes behind GI issues. Throughout this coming month, we will share information on which foods help support GI health (and can impact weight) in those with other issues such as GERD, diverticulosis, and more.