Bacteria. Fungi. Viruses. All things you want to avoid, right? Surprisingly, they’re all part of a healthy gut microbiome — and help your body digest food, regulate your immune system and fight off bacterial infections.1 Maintaining a healthy gut can do more than just keep digestive issues at bay. Research also indicates that your gut health might impact your weight loss efforts.
Read on as we uncover the importance of gut health, how your gut health and weight loss are connected, and natural ways to keep your gut happy.
What is your gut microbiome?
Your body contains trillions of microscopic organisms called microbes. These tiny organisms vary from bacteria and viruses to fungi and parasites, and work together to keep you healthy — although sometimes unhealthy microbes can contribute to disease and adversely impact your health (we’ll explain later).1 While microbes are found all over your body — from your skin to the inside of your nose, most reside in your gut.2 This is known as your gut microbiome.
Did you know?
Microbes outnumber the cells in your body. Collectively, they can weigh up to five pounds!1
Why is gut health important?
Maintaining a healthy gut is important for a variety of reasons. According to WebMD, your gut microbiome:3
- Helps break down food
- Turns food into nutrients your body needs
- Keeps “bad” bacteria in check
- Plays a role in managing your mood
- May impact your weight and satiety
What’s more, your gut may also impact your immune system. By communicating with immune cells, your gut microbiome can influence how your body responds to infections.4 (Here’s how your immune system actually works.)
While everyone has a different mix of gut microbes based on their unique DNA, environmental factors and your diet can change your microbiome — for better or for worse.5 According to Harvard Health, healthy individuals have an equilibrium of helpful and harmful microbes. But if that equilibrium is thrown off — either by a poor diet, infectious disease, or extended use of antibiotics — the imbalance can lead to a greater susceptibility of disease.5
How are gut health and weight loss connected?
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Studies are only beginning to uncover the complex connection between gut health and weight. As research continues to evolve, preliminary findings support a link, however, more research is needed to solidify the connection. What mounting evidence does indicate is that consuming a healthy, varied diet is a crucial part of maintaining beneficial gut bacteria.
Your gut bacteria may influence your weight loss efficiency.6
One small study found that people with an abundance of certain gut bacteria may have more difficultly losing weight than those with an abundance of a different type. The findings indicate that individuals might benefit from following one type of diet (for example, low-carb) over another based on their gut microbiome.7
A healthy gut may contribute to a healthy metabolism.8
One review suggests that nourishing your body with healthy foods can benefit your gut and affect your overall health. The researchers note that certain strains of bacteria can positively support metabolic health.
One study found that a diet rich in fiber could contribute to more diversity in the gut microbiome.9 More diversity was also linked to lower long-term weight gain in individuals.
While your gut health may play a role in your weight loss journey, the key to weight loss is creating an energy deficit. Reducing your calorie intake, eating nutritious, balanced meals with plenty of vegetables, watching your portion sizes, and following a healthy weight loss plan, are all integral components of achieving your weight loss goals.
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So, what does a healthy diet look like?
To support a healthy gut, you’ll want to eat a healthy diet — but what exactly does that entail? Jenny Craig’s Registered Dietitian, Briana Rodriquez, explains.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. “You’ll want to eat 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, with an emphasis on the veggies!” Rodriquez states. “If your goals include weight loss, prioritize non-starchy vegetables like asparagus and broccoli over starchier varieties like potatoes and corn.” Find out the key differences between non-starchy vs. starchy vegetables.
- Enjoy a moderate amount of lean protein.11 The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults get 5 ½ ounces of protein-rich foods daily. If you need help with visualizing portions, use this handy guide. Rodriquez explains, “There are so many delicious lean protein options to include throughout your day. Protein isn’t just found in meat like chicken and lean cuts of beef — beans, eggs, tofu and Greek yogurt are all excellent sources as well.”
- Consume 2-3 servings of low-fat or nonfat dairy a day. Not only can eating certain dairy products like yogurt potentially boost the good bacteria in your gut, but eating calcium-rich dairy products can also support your bone health and potentially reduce your risk of osteoporosis.12 Excellent choices include nonfat plain Greek yogurt, low-fat or nonfat milk, soymilk and even certain vegetables like kale.13
- Opt for whole grains over refined grains. Ditch the white bread and white rice: Whole grain varieties are a better choice when it comes to a healthy diet. Aim to consume 2-3 servings a day. Rodriquez’s top picks include whole-grain bread, quinoa, brown rice and oats.
- Choose healthy fat sources in small portions. Small amounts of healthy fat can go along way and can support your overall health.14 Examples of healthy fats include olive oil, avocado, nuts and nut butter. Just watch your portion sizes, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. You only need about 1 teaspoon per serving.
- Limit or avoid sugar-sweetened foods and beverages. Try to avoid consuming sugary beverages like soda and limit eating sugar-packed treats like cookies and cake. “You don’t have to deprive yourself of your favorite treats, you just have to be mindful of the amount you consume,” Rodriquez says.
How can you boost your gut health naturally?
Lifestyle factors, including exercise and sleep can impact your gut health. But the key to improving your gut health naturally is consuming a healthy diet, according to Rodriquez.
“Maintaining a well-balanced diet and limiting certain foods can change your gut health relatively quickly and is your best defense against harmful bacteria.”
Best foods to improve gut health
Which foods are best when it comes to boosting your gut health? You’ll want to include a mix of foods that contain prebiotics and probiotics.
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- Fermented vegetables
Pro tip: Look for live and active cultures on yogurt labels. If your goals include weight loss, Rodriquez recommends opting for nonfat plain Greek yogurt or no sugar added varieties.
Find out how probiotics might help with weight management.
You’ll also want to integrate some prebiotics into your diet. Prebiotics are essentially what probiotics thrive on in your body.
“Prebiotics help probiotics do their job well,” Rodriquez notes. The following foods are rich in prebiotics:3
- Certain non-starchy vegetables (think: onion, asparagus, artichokes, leeks)
- Whole grains
Rodriquez emphasizes that you don’t need to eat copious amounts of probiotics and prebiotics to reap their benefits. “Including them as part of a well-rounded diet is a great place to start,” she says. “Try having some nonfat plain Greek yogurt in the morning for breakfast, or adding some sautéed onion and garlic to your next meal.” Here are 6 other foods that are great for digestion.
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New in 2020!
- Our Caffe Latte Protein Shake Mix is an excellent source of protein.
- Our Mixed Berry Protein Smoothie Mix is made with real fruit and low-fat yogurt. It’s also an excellent source of protein!
Foods to avoid
The Mayo Clinic reports that sugar and unhealthy fats nourish the bad bacteria in your gut.16 You’ll want to avoid ultra-processed foods that are typically filled with refined sugars and trans fats. Examples include:
- French fries
“By limiting your added sugar intake and focusing on a diet rich in vegetables, whole grains and fruit, you’ll be able to naturally boost your gut health and support your weight loss goals,” Rodriquez states.
If you’re not getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep a night, your gut health could suffer. Research indicates that a lack of sleep is associated with gut health and toxic inflammation throughout the body.17 What’s more, a lack of sleep could also impact your weight loss efforts.
Try this: If you’re having trouble getting enough shut-eye, try one of these 10 sleep hygiene tips to set yourself up for a restful night’s sleep.
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Breaking a sweat isn’t just great for your overall health: Research shows regular exercise can also support a healthy gut by enriching your microbe diversity.18 How much exercise do you need? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity, or a combination of the two.
Try this: If you’re new to fitness or just getting back into it, check out our Beginner’s Guide to Exercise for some tips to get started. If you feel like you don’t have time to fit in a sweat session, you can always break it up throughout the day. Ten minutes of moderate walking, three times a day still counts!
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The bottom line
More studies are needed to truly understand the complex relationship between gut health and weight loss. However, it’s clear that practicing healthy lifestyle habits like eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and making sure to exercise regularly can help boost your gut health and support your weight loss efforts.
Are you looking for a healthy weight loss plan that doesn’t require tedious meal planning or cooking? Get chef-crafted meals delivered to your doorstep with Jenny Craig starting at just $12.99 a day. View plans and get started today!
Elisa is a content marketing manager for Jenny Craig with over ten years of experience working in the health and fitness industry. She loves sharing her passion for living a balanced and healthy lifestyle. A San Diego native and an endurance sports enthusiast, you can usually find her swimming, biking along the coast highway or running by the beach in her free time. Elisa holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University, Chico.
Favorite healthy snack: mozzarella string cheese with a Pink Lady apple
Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, RDN
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.
Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and reviewed by certified professionals.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on the topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
This article contains trusted sources including a scientific, peer-reviewed paper. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source.
Edited by Elisa - Jenny Craig