Sugar and gut health

Sugar and gut health – what’s the connection?

Sugar and gut health – there most certainly is a connection. We now know that diet plays a considerable role in the health of our gut microbiome (read more about that in detail here).

A varied diet rich in nutrients from wholefoods creates a robust, well-balanced microbiome. Whereas, a typical Western-style diet full of highly processed foods and added sugars can do the exact opposite.

This way of eating makes us crave (and consume) more sugar, which in turn creates an imbalance in the finely tuned ecosystem within our guts. With a high sugar intake, we generally find two things happen:

  1. The amount of beneficial or ‘good’ bacteria in the gut decreases
  2. The amount of bacteria that can behave in a more pathogenic way in larger numbers in the gut, increases (1).

But how does that happen exactly? Researchers found that excess sugar could serve as a signal in the body. It may shut down production of a protein that beneficial bacteria need to colonise the gut. This enables the overgrowth of ‘bad’ bacteria, which over time will impact on gut health (2). And of course, on overall health and wellbeing.

Why is an imbalanced gut microbiome problematic?

When we continue to eat a diet high in sugar as well as processed / highly refined foods, we see a perpetuating cycle of:

Additionally, if it remains this way for long periods of time, we see things like increased inflammation and an array of other health conditions appearing too. In fact a high sugar diet combined with equally high (and poorly chosen) fats, is considered to be a risk factor for the development of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (3). It is also a likely contributor to the onset of several other autoimmune diseases (4).

How do I know if I have an imbalanced gut microbiome?

There are several signs and symptoms that suggest your gut is unhappy. These might include:

  • Bloating and gas
  • Heartburn and indigestion
  • Constipation and/or diarrhoea
  • Bad breath
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Food intolerance
  • Loss of appetite or irregular appetite
  • Inability to concentrate + many more

What can I do about it?

There is plenty that can be done to address this and diet is one of the best places to start. Doing simple things like keeping a food diary for a few days is excellent. We are often very unaware of what we eat over the course of a day or week. A food diary lets you capture all of this along with any associated symptoms. If you see the volume of sugar you eat is way too high, you can work on reducing it. You might also see that every time you eat sugar, you get one of the above symptoms.

You can also work with your chosen health professional to have a gut microbiome analysis done. This will assess the balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in the large intestine. It also identifies whether a microbial imbalance or intestinal inflammation may be present too.

Bacteria in the gut

So, I shouldn’t have any sugar at all?

With all of the above said – I am all about living our best lives… within reason. And if that means something a little sweet for you on occasion it’s absolutely fine. The World Health Organisation has set healthy limits for sugar consumption. Keeping to those and enjoying more natural forms of sugar would be best.

It’s really important to remember that not all sugar is created equal. Adding simple sugars to your meals is not the same as having sugar in a wholefood form. This might be foods like fruit, starchy vegetables, dairy and grains as examples. Why? Because wholefoods provide additional nutrients like fibre, protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. These nutrients assist in the slow digestion of these food and the natural sugar they contain provides a steady supply of energy to our cells throughout the day. You can learn more about the types of sugar, where they’re found and their impact on the body here.

If all of that has you thinking you want to assess and improve your gut health, book in for a consultation. I would love to work with you on getting your gut in tip top shape.

For more information on the ways in which sugar can impact us, or how you can reduce your sugar intake have a look at:

Resources

  1. Non-nutritive sweeteners possess a bacteriostatic effect and alter gut microbiota in mice
  2. Dietary sugar silences a colonization factor in a mammalian gut symbiont
  3. Diet and nutritional factors in inflammatory bowel diseases
  4. Translocation of a gut pathobiont drives autoimmunity in mice and humans

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