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The Gut And Sugar

The Gut And Sugar

I have written before about the importance of the gut when it comes to overall health. It is my belief that a daily probiotic and plenty of fibre are essential to good health.

The major reason for this is that the gut plays a key role in regulating the immune system. In fact, this revelation was one of the reasons I began to seek out the link between nutrition and excellent health. That may sound like an odd thing coming from someone who is apparently committed to good health, but serious attention to diet had never really come into my equation. I was one of those people who was fortunate enough to be able to eat what I want, and I did. My body and health stayed fine regardless.

However, the advent of a bit of arthritis (sort of hard to avoid for most people who have led an active life involving heavy weights and contact sports) made me interested in solutions that regulated the auto immune system.

Every day new information comes to light that confirms the role of the gut in health. The latest is that the bacteria in your gut may be responsible for sugar cravings.

Now let’s take a small step back at this point and explain a little bit about your gut bacteria. There are 10 trillion cells of gut bacteria in your body. Since there are about 1 trillion cells that you would identify as human in your body, this means that the gut bacteria in simple numbers outnumber what makes you you by 10 to one.

Some smart guy managed to work out that the gut bacteria are roughly divided into two types.. the good guys and the bad guys. The good guys obviously having a beneficial effect on your body and the bad guys having a detrimental effect.

The numbers in each camp (good or bad) can be influenced by the lifestyle we lead,  diet, stress and things like antibiotics.

The baddies thrive on things like processed sugar, whereas the goodies thrive on things like, well fibre as it happens.

Probiotics are actually good bacteria by the way, in case you didn’t know. If you live in Australia and watch TV, you may know this, having seen the inner health plus commercials.

So, going back to the craving thing, it sounds extraordinary to think that we, as an entity, could be controlled by tiny microbes that are not part of is, but simply use us as a host, but that is apparently the case.  We like to think that we are the captain of our own ships. In fact it almost seems insulting to a thinking person that they are not in control of their actions, but instead some tiny single celled organisms but that where the evidence leads.

When it comes to appetite, it is dictated by the release of hormones into our body. For example, the hormone grehlin is the hunger hormone, telling you to eat, whereas leptin gives your brain the signal that you are full. From this it is easy to see how bacteria can control your cravings; they simply release hormones that are similar to grehlin and there you have it. Your mind is them controlled.

Now sugar is the current bad guy when it comes to foods. I’m ambivalent about this. Yes I must admit, I do like sugary food and probably have more than I should. However, it is also my belief that as long as you keep your fibre levels up, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

In fact my message is always, don’t give up what you like, just add other things that are going to balance out the bad. This is my opinion. I really can’t see the wisdom in spending your whole life denying yourself things you enjoy just to be, I don’t know, 5 per cent healthier than you would otherwise be.

Clean eating becomes an obsession with some people to the point where they can’t eat a damn thing. No meat, no dairy, no gluten, no carbs. Just rabbit food essentially. Well I’m not a rabbit. I’m an omnivore at the top of the food chain and I’ll eat  what I want.

OK, rant over, let’s get back on track. Given the role of sugar in feeding bad bacteria, it is in our interest to limit sugar intake to improve the function of the immune system. But how can you do that if the bacteria order you to feed them by creating a craving?

Well one thing I have found is that when you substitute good food for bad, you simply don’t have room for the bad stuff. Eating more fat is one way. Fat is very satiating. You stay fuller for longer. Using whey protein is another – it raises your level of the hormone leptin.

But of course there is always room for sweets due to the special sweets stomach, so what else can we do? Going cold turkey on sugar is a good option too. it is not as hard as it sounds. Well for me it isn’t anyway, since I only get sugar cravings at night. I simply don’t bother having anything sweet in the house and I’m done. OK, I’ll grant you that at 10 o’clock at night I’m like a bear rummaging through garbage cans looking for biscuits, but I survive. Let’s face it, why are you getting cravings? Because the bacteria are starving. Let them starve.. craving problem solved.


Image Source: Sandy Austin (originally posted to Flickr as Christmas fare) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons



About The Author


A guy obsessed with stripping down whatever field he studies to get the optimum return from effort expended. Sort of like Tim Ferriss, except with zero fame.

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