Nutrition-wise blog

Bacteria's connection to health and weight

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. July 18, 2012

Bacteria. We can't see them, but we spend much of our lives washing and sanitizing to rid our hands, surfaces and food of them. Most people view bacteria as undesirable, dirty and unwanted.

More and more research is emerging, however, about the potential benefits of bacteria. In fact, bacteria are critical to maintaining normal gastrointestinal and immune system function.

It appears that bacteria can even affect energy absorption. Researchers have identified a difference in the types of bacteria found in a lean person's gut versus those that live in the gut of someone who is obese. The amount of energy is small, but researchers wonder if over time this could be a factor in weight maintenance.

Are you wondering how you might encourage these beneficial bacteria to set up shop in your gut?

  • Eat fermented foods. The bacteria that make fermentation possible may also be beneficial to your health. A variety of dairy products and vegetables such as sauerkraut and pickles all contain beneficial bacteria. Vinegar is also a source. Use vinegar on salads, in soups and on sandwiches.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables. The fiber and type of sugar (oligosaccharides) in fruits and vegetables set up a healthy intestinal environment that allows good bacteria to thrive.

A healthy diet of nourishing foods in moderate portions and regular exercise are the mainstays of achieving a healthy weight. But what you eat goes beyond just calories. Feed yourself and your gut well. Bacteria may play a bigger role in our health than we've given them credit for.

Thinking about trying more fiber or fermented foods to be more bacteria friendly? Already eating this way and reaping benefits? Share your experiences.

To your health,

July 18, 2012