Craving Junk Food? Get Bacteria.
Having a hard time avoiding the dietary siren call of potato chips or ice cream? Blame the bacteria in your belly.
A new study from the University of California, San Francisco has found that the microbial makeup of your gut could help determine the types of foods you crave. At the same time, researchers say you don't have to let microscopic organisms determine whether you eat a whole bag of chips: You may be able to swap out those bad bacteria for healthier ones in just 24 hours, subsequently reducing your cravings.
Like it or not, there are millions of microbes living in your body all the time, many of which set up camp in your stomach and intestines. As a whole, health scientists refer to them as your "microbiome," and they serve many diverse functions ranging from digestion to disease prevention.
The UCSF research team reviewed dozens of recent studies on the human microbiome to conclude that you can change the makeup of your microbiome with the foods you eat. While that's not exactly surprising news, this was: Researchers also found your microbiome has the power to influence the types of foods you crave.
MORE: Can Probiotics Help You Lose Weight?
But how can tiny cells drive your need to feed on candy or chips? According to lead researcher C. Athena Aktipis, a UCSF psychologist, the bacteria in your body can sway how full you feel and can also tap into the nerve pathways that link your stomach and your brain. Not only can they tell your brain what to crave, but they can also change your taste receptors, making some foods seem more appealing than others. "Microbes have a lot of potential ways to manipulate us into eating or not eating certain foods," she says. So if you have a gut filled with microbes that depend on sugar, Aktipis says, "Those microbes would then be under strong pressure to get you to eat more of what they depend on, potentially leading to cravings for those foods."
Here's the good news: There's evidence you can change the microbial composition of your gut in just 24 hours, at least theoretically, by eating certain foods high in bacteria that thrive on healthier foods, thus replacing the microbes that crave crap. Yet unfortunately, Aktipis says there hasn't been enough research in the area to say which foods you should eat to overhaul your gut's microbial makeup. In fact, she adds, the Rx for unhealthy bacteria will probably vary from person to person. (Learn how to ignite your digestive system's fat-burning furnace with Rodale's .)
"There was a study of 120,000 nurses that found consumption of yogurt was associated with reduced weight gain," Aktipis says. Yogurt is a good source of "probiotics"—healthful bacteria that could change the composition of your microbiome in positive ways, research suggests. But there are many different types of probiotic "strains," and how each may affect your food cravings is still being sorted out, Aktipis explains.
For now, she says the biggest takeaway from her research is that eating junk food seems to promote the spread of junk-craving bacteria in your gut. The less you feed them, the less you'll crave crap, her review suggests.
MORE:8 Superfoods For a Happier, Healthier Gut
Video: How the food you eat affects your gut - Shilpa Ravella
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