I’ve spent a good deal of time reading about cravings, why they happen, and what you can do to fight them. You know the usual advice about cravings: “You’re missing a mineral in your diet!” or “Drink water instead!”
This was a first for me: bacteria.
We are learning more every day about gut microbes and the role they play in our lives. Someone’s particular gut flora can be linked to anything from obesity to anxiety…and now scientists are investigating the relationship between gut microbes and cravings. Scientific American recently discussed a study from PLOS Biology in which fruit fly cravings for protein versus sugar were controlled with bacteria.
Here’s a simplified scenario: You have to choose between a big salad and a bagel for lunch. Beyond the consideration of what’s the healthiest option for you in the moment, this choice can affect your gut health way down the road. Certain types of bacteria “prefer” the salad, while others “prefer” the bagel. Your meal choice can increase the populations of some types of bacteria and diminish others. As there is a shift in the populations of different types of bacteria, they secrete different substances, activate different genes, and absorb different nutrients. Still following?
Basically, the bacteria in your gut can tell your brain what it wants to eat. How crazy is that?! Scientists are still diving into the exact method of communication, but the bacteria you’re feeding with that kombucha may be way more important than you think.
Using Gut Microbes to Control Cravings
Having a healthy gut flora suddenly seems pretty damn important, right? In addition to the hundred other freaking amazing benefits, it could help you reach for a cup of tea instead of a pint of ice cream at 11 pm.
1. Limit Sugar and Processed Foods
Maybe you already know that eating sugar and process foods can set you up for the least fun roller coaster of cravings ever. The more you eat of it, the more you want of it. That Friday night sugary cocktail turns into a Saturday morning Starbucks flavored latte + pancakes…and a ton of other cravings for the sweet stuff in the days to come.
In addition to fueling your sugar addition, processed foods and sugar can have a negative effect on your gut health. Monosaccharides — the simplest carbohydrates containing a single molecule of glucose and fructose (the bagel from our previous example, for instance) — disrupt a healthy microbial balance because they are absorbed into the small intestine without any help from your microbes, leaving them “hungry.”
Instead of thinking in terms of calories, try switching to whole foods whenever possible. Read your labels and go for ingredients that could exist in your cabinet by themselves. That Lean Cuisine meal may sound good at 250 calories, but it could also be majorly screwing with your gut health, cravings cycle, and overall wellbeing. Avoid ANY added sugar and reach for whole fruit if you need a fix.
2. Take a Probiotic
Taking a probiotic is the easiest way to get more “good” gut bacteria in your diet. This is helpful in maintaining digestive health, boosting your immune system, and now potentially keeping you craving-free. The problem is….where to start? There are powder probiotics, liquids, supplements from your local grocery store, supplements that are kept refrigerated…so many choices!
Some things to look for in a probiotic supplement are strain variety (the type of bacteria) and potency (so you aren’t wasting your money). A good benchmark is 25+ billion CFUs of multiple different bacteria types.
Two of the best probiotics available online are from Klaire Labs (here) and Renew Life (here, with even higher potency). Both are widely recognized by specialists as potent, varied supplements — and they’re affordable and easy to get even if you don’t live near a health food store!
It’s also important to note that probiotics lose major effectiveness if stored improperly or used past the Sell By date. Pop those suckers in the fridge and take them religiously!
3. Even Better: Eat Fermented Foods
There is a lot of grey area with probiotics — a ton of brands, and not much regulation. Two of the major problems with the current probiotic industry are that certain supplements cannot survive harsh stomach acid, and (despite citing CFUs) the combinations of bacteria strains may not be well-suited for human intestines. Why throw just a bunch of random bacteria in there if it’s not going to help, right?
If you don’t want to put in the time and money to find the perfect probiotic supplement, many experts say fermented foods are a great solution. Some of the best fermented foods are pretty easy to find:
- — Kombucha
- — Sauerkraut
- — Miso
- — Kimchi
A lot of these are often associated with high salt content and even some sugar (ugh, so counterproductive). Unless you want to puff up majorly…read your labels!
Are you surprised to hear that your gut microbes could be helping you say nah to late night ice cream?!
Saving this for later? Pin it!