Oh, sugar! It is found in so many common treats, and although its deliciously sweet taste makes our taste buds sing, it wreaks havoc on many areas of our health, including the gut. Banning sugar from our diet forever may not be a realistic answer. Still, having a better understanding of where to find it and how it can affect our health may have us think twice about overindulging.
Sources of Hidden Sugar
Refined sugar, the kind that is added to many processed foods, masquerades under lots of different names. You will often see words like cane sugar, fruit juice concentrates, high fructose corn syrup, glucose-fructose, brown rice syrup, molasses and more. These ingredients are found in chocolates, cookies, cakes and candies, yet they are also often hidden in everyday foods such as grain breads and cereals.
What these high sugar ingredients all have in common is that they are devoid of nutrients, and high on the glycemic load, which leads to insulin spikes and rises in inflammation. Since eating sugar triggers a feeling of pleasure in the brain, it also makes it incredibly difficult to stop eating it, often leading to overindulgence. This is bad news for the body because inflammation is at the root of most health conditions, especially when it begins at the gut level.
Sugar and the Microbiome
The microbiome, which inhabits the gastrointestinal tract, comprises over tens of trillions of microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, yeast and fungi. It is an incredibly complex community, and it affects virtually all aspects of human health. A healthy microbiome allows us to make and absorb necessary vitamins, to help maintain a healthy immune system, and control blood sugar levels. When out of balance, it can be the catalyst to several other issues, affecting much more than just the gut. Eating a diet comprised of plant-based foods allows the microbiome to move naturally towards a healthy balance, in favor of the beneficial (probiotic) bacteria.
The healthy (probiotic) bacteria thrive on fibers as a food source, yet the pathogenic bacteria rely on sugar and refined carbohydrates for food. A diet high in sugars throws off the delicate balance within the microbiome, and changes within the gut can happen quickly. Increases in pathogenic bacteria often leads to a condition known as dysbiosis. The overgrowth of the pathogenic bacteria crowds out beneficial bacteria, causing changes in the internal mucosal barrier of the intestine. With fewer beneficial bacteria along this barrier, its permeability is altered, allowing unwanted substances to pass through. This then creates a condition known as Leaky Gut Syndrome wherein the body launches an inflammatory immune response targeting the substances that leak through the intestinal wall. Symptoms appear differently for everyone but may present as typical digestive complaints (constipation, bloating and gas), or may appear in other areas of the body, including brain fog, joint pain, headaches, memory loss, skin rashes, eczema, and ironically, intensified cravings for sugar.
Eat Your Way to a Better Microbiome
We have an incredible power to influence the health of our microbiome through dietary shifts.
Research clearly shows us that the ‘Western diet’, defined as a low-fiber high-fat/high carbohydrate diet is one factor that can lead to severe dysbiosis : “In contrast, ‘Mediterranean’ and vegetarian diets that includes abundant fruits, vegetables, olive oil and oily fish are known for their anti-inflammatory effects and could prevent dysbiosis and subsequent inflammatory bowel disease”.
Further, by eating a diet rich in probiotic rich foods, you will naturally increase the good bacteria in the gut. Foods like cultured veggies, kombucha, tempeh, and miso are all wonderful. Continuing to provide plant-based fibers as fuel is also an important step in cultivating a healthy microbiome. Drinking plenty of water and taking a high quality probiotic like Bio-K+ is also important in helping to heal and repair the damaging effects too much sugar consumption has on the gut, and to help reinforce the overall microbiome health. Keep in mind that when searching for a probiotic it is important to ensure that you choose a product that has the accurate number of bacterial count in the formula, along with clinical studies backing up the benefit claims.
When we eat too much sugar we are reminded of the fact that ‘what happens in the gut doesn’t stay in the gut!’ The negative effects of dysbiosis are far-reaching and, undeniably, reduce the quality of life. Taking the necessary steps to eat well along with ensuring the addition of healthy probiotic bacteria will no doubt lead to a healthier and happier life!
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