One day I’ll write a book about the human gut, but I’m afraid that today we don’t know enough about our guts to make many recommendations past trying to eat and live right. There are several companies that offer gut testing services…I jumped on this a couple years ago when affordable gut flora testing was a brand-new thing. I was very impressed back then but over the years the promises failed to materialize. Today these companies are making millions of dollars testing gullible people’s poo. These services offer tailored dietary advice based on the bacteria they detect in your stool sample, but the advice they are giving is beyond disappointing.
Gut testing services will promise that you can avoid obesity and lose weight if you let them analyze a sample of your feces, but the only advice that a gut testing service can really give is,
Eat more high-fiber plants.
They’ll frame it around the questionnaire you filled out beforehand and try to convince you they are doing you a distinct, personalized service, but, by God, who shouldn’t be eating more high-fiber plants? I’d die laughing if I ever saw a report that said, “Lay off the fiber, man. Eat a cheeseburger!” Consider that probably 95% of the tests they run are done on people eating a Western diet; advice to eat some beans and broccoli probably is the best advice most people can get.
Probiotics are living microorganisms that convey health upon anyone that eats them. They live happily in your gut and help create an environment that promotes good health. Gut health is of vital importance for long term weight stability. If the gut balance is upset, your weight will suffer. So, let’s all take probiotics, right?
The probiotics most often used in clinical trials and recommended by physicians and pharmacists are those that contain:
It’s easy to find probiotics that contain these two bacteria. Probably 90% of all the probiotics at Walgreens have them. But unless they have been carefully packaged and the dosage is correct, it’ll be a waste of your time to buy them. One commercially available brand that I highly recommend, in fact the only one I recommend, is Elixa™, available at www.elixa-probiotic.com. I recommend only taking probiotics if you have been prescribed antibiotics for an infection or if you need a boost after a bout of bad food choices. Antibiotics will do damage to the delicate balance in your gut and Elixa can quickly restore the balance, making recovery quicker. Otherwise it’s best to simply eat foods that naturally contain probiotics.
Grow Your Own
Unless you need a very high dose of probiotics, for example to prevent antibiotic associated diarrhea, it’s best to simply eat foods that contain high levels of naturally occurring probiotics:
- Cottage cheese
- Raw cheese
- Sourdough bread
Several of these food items are still quite unheard of in the US but gaining popularity. Kombucha, for instance, is starting to become a popular fixture at farmer’s markets and food festivals. Some of the foods listed, ie. pickles and sauerkraut, can be made in a way that destroys all of the probiotics, so be sure that you are only buying products that retain their probiotic properties.
All naturally fermented vegetables contain high levels of Lactobacillus. It’s easy to make your own pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, and other types of tasty fermentations. A great book to get you started on a journey of probiotic discovery is Basic Fermentation: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Cultural Manipulation (DIY) Third Edition by Sandor Katz (2017). Start-up costs for making your own pickles and such can run from $20-$200 depending on batch size and fermentation methods. Warning: Growing your own probiotics is addictive!
For the purpose of weight maintenance, you should be getting all of your prebiotics from real food. Prebiotics are special types of plant fiber that are eaten by the bacteria in your gut; when well-fed, these bacteria produce thousands of chemicals that signal wellness and keep the immune system humming along as it should. There is a well-proven and distinct connection between eating prebiotics and maintaining a lean weight.
If you are eating fruit and veggies with your meals, most likely you’ll get all the fiber you need. If you want to remove all doubt that you are eating enough prebiotics without resorting to purchasing them in a powdered form, eat these foods regularly:
- Dark chocolate
- Green Bananas (as green as you can tolerate)
- Oatmeal (groats or steel-cut are best)
- Raw potato (1-2 slices)
- Seeds (ie. chia, flax)
- Whole grains
If you decide you want to take a prebiotic supplement, look for these in the ingredients:
- Resistant Starch
When taking supplements, it’s best to mix them in smoothies that contain several other real foods, ie. berries, seeds, or fruit. These supplements are also good to mix with yogurt or milk for best results.
It starts to get confusing, discussing the gut. The gut is the center of our health universe, anything that upsets the balance of your gut is quite likely to keep you from becoming a successful weight loss achiever. Most eating styles will advise you to eat plenty of plants, with a “wink, wink” implied. This is because they all know that you probably don’t want to eat lots of veggies, but they also know if you don’t, you’ll end up with digestive issues. A person with a healthy gut can eat just about any way they like for a while, but it will eventually catch up with them.