Crave junk food? Blame the bacteria in your gut

Sept. 3, 2014—The next time you crave cookies or chips, blame the bacteria in your gut. Believe it or not, your intestinal flora’s appetite could be driving your unhealthy food choices, according to a new review of research.

Manipulative microbes

Gut bacteria appear to have the ability to influence our food choices for their gain, according to the Bioessays article.

By tweaking your preference for sweet treats, messing with mood-altering hormones, and even hijacking the neural highway that runs between the gut and the brain, gut microbes could cause you to scarf down foods that are high in fat or sugar—like chocolate. And the sneaky tactics could very well cause you to gain weight.

But bacteria colonies can do different things, and some aren’t as harmful as others. For example, when a certain type of gut bug is dominant and faces little competition, it may find that exerting power over a person’s diet is easy. But when there are many types all clamoring for attention, no one bug has control, and that might help to keep cravings at bay, the researchers said.

According to these researchers, the best way to cause that kind of bug balance is to eat more prebiotic- and probiotic-rich foods.

Read an abstract of the article here.

The take-home message
Mixing up the bug diversity in your gut can sound a little unpleasant. But the foods these authors suggest are far from novel.

Probiotic foods contain helpful bacteria and include yogurt, aged cheeses, sauerkraut, miso and tempeh.

Prebiotic foods contain food ingredients that promote good gut bacteria and include bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes and whole-wheat foods.

Still, all the yogurt and asparagus in the world probably won’t cure your cravings completely. When the munchies do strike, here’s how to cope:

  • Wait 20 minutes. In the meantime, take a walk, work on a hobby or call a friend. Chances are, your craving will pass.
  • Pick healthier alternatives. Think baked chips instead of fried, or dried fruit instead of candy.
  • Buy single servings. When only a certain junk food will do, buy a small, prepackaged amount rather than a full-size box or bag.
  • Plan snacks in advance. Frequent, nutritious snacks can minimize cravings for junk.
  • Keep a cravings journal. This can help you notice patterns and be more prepared for future snack attacks.

Finally, remember that it’s OK to allow yourself the occasional treat. In fact, enjoying small amounts of your favorite fare can make it easier to stick to an overall healthy diet.

Want more tips about probiotics and how they might fit into your diet plan? Click here.

 

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