Q&A: Gut instincts


The news that hit the headlines, though, is that there are very different proportions of species found in those who are lean compared with the obese. A number of books on the market zero in on this, encouraging readers to eat in ways that feed the “lean” bacteria and starve the “fat” kind.

The advice is consistent with what is already known about eating in order to reduce inflammation, improve appetite signals and maintain the best of health. The general idea is to eat less of the sugary, processed foods, the poor quality fats and manufactured items because these foods support the growth of the bad, pathological bacteria. The beneficial microbes are supported with a wide variety of fresh vegetables and fruits; fibre… good fats… probiotics and prebiotics.

It’s familiar, of course; this is not ground-breaking news. The fact that eating this way has a positive effect on us fits the experience of many. This may well be due to an altered microbial population, at least in part. It’s interesting, but doesn’t offer us a remarkable new strategy.

There’s a new twist here, though, and this is the idea that by making changes first of all in the microbial population, we can alter our food preferences and appetite. The claim from some is that the gut bacteria dictate our food choices to such an extent that by making the right kind of impact on them, we simply won’t want to overeat or won’t want to eat unhealthy food. It’s your rogue gut bugs that made you eat all the chocolate cake; just kill them off and you’ll be fine.

It’s suggested this impact could be made through the use of antibiotics or herbs. This certainly seems an attractive and exciting development, but is, at least for now, entirely speculative.


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  1. Mary

    It’s tempting to think we might be at the mercy of hormones – that our cravings will control us until we tweak something in our diet. Speaking from a long history of dieting trial and error, I am finding Eating Less and your work around free choice and the effect our eating choices have on our self-esteem very helpful. I could change my diet from chips and chocolate to sunflower seeds and spinach but if I don’t address my addictive urges, I suspect my relationship with food will always cause me unhappiness.

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