Let’s talk BUGS. I mean the bugs inside of your gut, also known as gut bacteria!
We have trillions of gut bacteria living inside our GI tract (1). Most bugs are beneficial (meaning they give us health benefits), some are neutral, and some are considered harmful and may cause disease or unwanted symptoms. We have a symbiotic relationship with our gut bacteria. This basically means that our bacteria thrive in the rich environment of our gut, while we enjoy the multiple benefits the bacteria provide to us.
Tons of research now tells us that our gut bacteria determine varying aspects of our health. I’m talkin’ the health of our skin, our immune system, how many calories we burn, our weight, and our chances of developing a disease, and more.
Our gut bacteria may even cause sugar cravings.
Say what?! Yep – if our gut is in a state of dysbiosis (we’ll go over this in a sec), then we may experience more sugar cravings.
Dysbiosis is a fancy word that means an imbalance of gut bacteria. This could mean one of three things: the bad bacteria is overcrowding the good gut bacteria, we don’t have enough good bacteria, and/or we don’t have enough diversity of bacteria in our gut (2). Getting a yeast infection after being on antibiotics is a classic example of localized dysbiosis.
The symptoms of dysbiosis are wide and ever-growing. Some include:
Lots of factors can negatively affect the health of our gut bacteria (also known as our gut microbiome).
For better or worse, our diet has probably THE largest effect on our gut bacteria. A diet full of sugar, processed foods, and high in fat can cause the “bad” bacteria to run rampant in the gut (2). Meanwhile, a lack of fiber leaves our good bacteria starving and minimal! (This is why the ketogenic diet, without proper fiber intake, is harmful to our gut bacteria). Alcohol and artificial sweeteners (like those found in diet sodas or “sugar-free” food products) are also major contributors to dysbiosis in the gut (3).
Have you ever heard of the “Hygiene Hypothesis”? If not, it basically theorizes that our society’s fear of bacteria has created a sterile environment full of antibacterial soaps, bleach, and pesticides – all which kill bacteria (both good and bad) in our environment. Some scientists suggest that less childhood exposure to bacteria actually increases the risk of disease by suppressing the development of the immune system. What does this mean? Lack of exposure to bacteria, especially during childhood, may increase your chance of developing dysbiosis later in life.
Most people know that antibiotics kill off both good and bad bacteria in our body. While antibiotics have an extremely important place in modern medicine, research shows that they are often over-prescribed (4). Even a single round of antibiotics can do major damage to our gut bacteria. But, antibiotics can’t take all the blame! Drugs like NSAIDs (Ibuprofen, Aspirin), steroids, PPIs (for reflux), and even birth control pills can disrupt our gut and lead to dysbiosis (4,5).
What doesn’t stress cause, amiright? Chronic stress, depression, and anxiety all have a negative effect on our gut bacteria and can lead to dysbiosis (6). Although, with some conditions, like depression, it’s a chicken-and-egg situation. Depression can worsen dysbiosis, but dysbiosis may worsen depression.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Sugar cravings are NOT due to a lack of willpower. Many things affect the frequency and strength of our sugar cravings: sleep, stress, mindfulness/intuitive habits, diet, and – our gut bacteria!
Related post: 5 Reasons Why You May Be Craving Sweets
You feed your gut bacteria every time you eat. A high sugar, high fat, low-fiber diet can feed the wrong bacteria – leading to overgrowth of the bad gut bugs. A poor diet also leads to less diversity of gut bacteria. When these sugar-loving bugs set up shop in your gut, you may experience even more sugar cravings. It’s a vicious cycle!
These sugar-loving bacteria want to continue to thrive, so they may increase sugar cravings in a few ways (7):
When we eliminate sugar, as people often due in popular diets, we often crave it less. But, this is usually only if we replace that sugar for more nutritious items – like high-fiber vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. This happens because we are depriving the bad bacteria, and feeding the good bacteria!
What can you eat to feed the right gut bacteria AND reduce sugar cravings? Let’s talk about the microbiome diet, and how to fix mild dysbiosis with the foods you eat!
In summary, the best microbiome diet is rich in plant-based fiber, low in sugar, and includes a small to moderate amount of high-quality animal protein.
Probiotics are live bacteria that provide health benefits to those who ingest them! On the other hand, PREbiotics are basically the food that our gut bugs EAT.
Note: if you have a lot of symptoms and think you may have severe dysbiosis, I recommend working with a functional medicine doctor or dietitian trained in this area!
The microbiome diet encourages daily sources of fermented foods (i.e. foods that contain probiotics). But, should you also take a supplemental probiotic?
The answer is: it depends! There is growing evidence that pill-form probiotics can help a variety of conditions, and generally, the risk of taking them is pretty low.
Personally, I will bump up my supplemental probiotics during the winter (to try to prevent getting sick), if I’m traveling (especially internationally), and if for some reason I require antibiotics (hasn’t been in years – but if you get Strep throat, for example!).
Related Post: How to Choose the Best Probiotic: A Guide
Having an imbalance of bacteria in your gut, called dysbiosis, may worsen your sugar cravings. This can make reducing sugar cravings pretty tough! While there are many other things that lead to uncontrolled cravings, implementing a microbiomes diet for your gut is a great place to start.
Plus – if we focus on ADDING more gut-friendly foods, the not-so-good gut foods will naturally work themselves out 😊.