Get Cultured: Probiotics can Help You Lose Weight & Stay Healthy

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From Greek to Icelandic Skyr, yogurt is everywhere. Choose the right kind, one packed with probiotics and protein, and yogurt can help you trim your waistline while supporting overall health at the same time.

In this article, I’m covering:
• How gut bacteria influence your weight and health
• Probiotic-rich foods for health & healthy weight

Your Gut Bacteria Influence Your Weight & Health

There is an entire community of over one trillion microbes (bacteria) taking up valuable real estate in your gut. Some are good, some are bad and the rest are neutral. The good guys are key players for digestive and immune functioning (remember about 70% of your immune system is located in your gut). They have many other functions as well:
bacteria, probiotics and body weight

Research studies show lean and obese people have a different makeup of bacteria in their gut. In addition, lean individuals have a greater diversity of bacteria in their gut. Diversity is important –  think of bacteria like a team of people each one has a different job and they work better together than in isolation.

If an obese person loses weight their overall makeup of bacteria more closely resemble’s a lean person’s gut. Greater weight loss = even greater the changes in gut bacteria. Also, changing bacteria seems to influence weight, though scientists know less about the influence of altering gut bacteria and changing body weight. Lean mice transplanted with bacteria from obese mice experienced a 60% increase in body fat without changing their food intake (calories in) or physical activity (calories out). The authors of this study believe the change in gut bacteria resulted in an increased absorption of some carbohydrates, increase in the production of fat and increase in fat storage. Authors from another study, this one examining human twins, also found a connection between types of bacteria in the gut and body weight, particularly visceral fat – deep layers of fat that coat the organs and are tied to higher risk of certain chronic diseases such as heart disease. The authors of this study believe, like the study in mice, obese individuals may be absorbing more calories from the food they eat.

Probiotic-Rich Foods for Health & Healthy Weight

How did they swap out bacteria in studies? Poop transplants. This isn’t exactly something you should try at home. But there’s another, easier way to keep your gut healthy. Get cultured by picking up foods that contain healthy bacteria including yogurt (with live and active cultures), kefir (drinkable yogurt, it’s so good!), miso soup, homemade sauerkraut, and tempeh (made from soy, this has a nutty taste). There might be something special about yogurt – a meta-analysis (a study that combined the results of other studies) looked at dairy intake and weight changes over time. They found greater yogurt intake was associated with lower body weight. Plus the protein in Greek yogurt seems to help people feel full so they eat less at their next meal. Also, feed the bacteria by eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, particularly onions, greens, beans, legumes, berries and bananas, to get enough prebiotics (food) to support their growth.


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Putting a Fork in Forks Over Knives

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The war over good food, bad food grew larger when Forks Over Knives hit the movie theaters in 2011. Forks Over Knives, which means “use a dinner fork instead of going under the knife (surgery for chronic diseases)” contained some good information, some misleading information and left a lot of gaps in the research. So here are my good and bad impressions of this documentary.

The entire film was devoted to the supposed evils of animal based proteins. That’s right, all animal protein is bad. They didn’t distinguish between fish, red meat, packaged meats, turkey breast, free-range eggs, low fat dairy or any other type of animal protein. Instead, they lumped them into one large category of food you should avoid at all costs while adopting a plant-based diet. Go Vegan or Go Home!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m in favor of a diet loaded with fruits and vegetables but I’m first and foremost realistic and research-based. In the words of my friend and amazing colleague Sally Hara, I can work within almost anyone’s food religion unless it is absurd and harmful to them. But, I will move clients in the right direction based their lifestyle, goals, medical history and training program.

That being said here are the gaping holes I found in this documentary:

China study – this study and others like it cannot prove cause and effect. Being longitudinal studies, they cannot answer the question “ does eating meat cause disease.” The film also failed to talk about any confounding variables. Were any other factors tied to disease – such as, obesity?

All animal proteins are bad. There are so many things wrong with this statement that I’m not sure where to begin. But, first and foremost, since I’m a fan of people being functional into old age, preventing osteoporosis and sarcopenia (the gradual loss of muscle mass with age), I know the power of protein and high quality protein – the kind that is easy to digest and gives muscle tissue the amino acids it needs. Which proteins are on the top the list? Dairy, whey, casein (both are dairy proteins), eggs and soy. In fact, if you are an athlete, mix and match these and you may get even better results according to ground-breaking research presented last month (pick up the June 2012 copy of Physique 3D for my article on this study).

Protein also keeps you satiated so you eat less – add protein to every meal and you may find over time that weight management is easier. Sure, they talked about stretch receptors in your stomach, but there’s more to satiety than just how full your stomach is (ask anyone on a fruit and vegetable fast, because the people who have done this tell me they are hungry all the time!). You will stay full for a longer period if you add a good quantity of protein to that veggie rich meal. And I’m not talking a measly 12 grams. Aim for 30 grams at each main meal (unless you are on a protein restricted diet for some reason).

What about colon cancer and meat? Valid point. But, it’s red meat, and possibly just the way you cook it that is the issue.

You Can Build a Strong Body on a Vegetarian Diet

In an attempt to tell us you can build a healthy, strong body on a vegan diet, the filmmakers gave us two examples, one was the firefighter son of one of the featured physicians. The other, UFC fighter Mac Danzig. I’ve worked with vegetarian athletes, including one who is at the top of his sport but he includes BCAA supplements, whey and eggs in his diet and I’m willing to bet that Mac adds BCAAs at a minimum. Can you perform well and get all the nutrients you need on a vegan diet? Possibly but, it depends on your sport, your body and your training. Check out Tony Gonzalez’s trial of veganism here.

Last I’ll leave you with the reaction of one of my friends after seeing this movie “those two physicians look emaciated. Do you think if they actually consumed some animal protein they may look healthier and have more muscle on their bodies?” Yep, I sure do.

In summary, I’m all in favor of adding fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Most of us do not get enough of these every day. I also think a vegetarian diet can be healthy if done correctly. However, this movie left glossed over the science (but, pay attention to what Connie Diekman says in it) and left many some very important points.

If you’ve watched Forks Over Knives, I’d love to hear your impression of this documentary!