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“I read somewhere that a high-fat diet can damage your gut bacteria and promote weight gain,” writes this week’s house call. “Should I be concerned if I’m eating a high-fat diet?”
It is true that what you eat can affect your gut bacteria, for better and for worse and changes in your gut bacteria or microbiome cause weight gain. Indeed, some studies demonstrate that high-fat diets can adversely affect your gut flora and promote inflammation and weight gain. However, it’s important to note that the type of fat you eat matters. Most of these studies are focused on diets that incorporate high levels of inflammatory, refined omega 6 vegetable oils like soybean oil.
Refined omega-6 rich vegetable oils fall into the “bad fats” category and should be avoided. While most of us have been convinced, by the food industry and our government, that vegetable oils are safe and a heart-healthy alternative to saturated fats, we now know differently.
Polyunsaturated fats from soybean, canola and other seed oils are inflammatory. Avoid them if you want to be healthier. Even if you consume some omega 3 fats while consuming these inflammatory oils, you won’t reap the healthy fat benefits.
For most of human history, we consumed a much higher ratio of omega 3 fats to omega 6 fats. Wild foods like grass-fed beef and wild-caught fish provide a great source of omega 3s, but these foods are not a big part of our modern diet. Unfortunately, the factory-farmed animals that do make up much of our modern diet have almost zero omega 3 fats.
The vast quantities of omega 6 fats in our diet contribute to heart disease, diabesity and cancer. Studies also link high omega 6 fat consumption to depression, suicide and other major health problems due to increased inflammation.
To reverse these and other problems and create optimal health, replace these damaging omega 6 fats with healthy ones—like coconut oil, avocados, grass-fed butter, fish rich in omega 3s and extra-virgin olive oil.
Interestingly, when we look at studies that use the healthy, anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats, we see just the opposite effect. These healthy fats promote healthier gut bugs, lower inflammation levels and increased weight loss.
I said it before and I’ll say it again: the types of fat we eat matters. The wrong fats increase inflammation, promote the growth of bad bugs and create resistance to weight loss. The right fats decrease inflammation and help with weight loss.
Why is Gut Health so Important?
Optimal gut health has become a prominent focus in 21st century health. Having too many bad critters hanging out in the gut has been linked to numerous problems—including autism, obesity, diabetes, allergies, autoimmunity, depression, cancer, heart disease, fibromyalgia, eczema and asthma. The links between chronic illness and an imbalanced microbiome (or gut bacteria) keep growing every day.
Many scientists have begun to refer to the gut as our second brain, an idea that is reflected in amazing books like The Good Gut, Brainmaker, The Microbiome Solution and The Gut Balance Revolution.
Having a healthy gut should mean more to you than being annoyed by a little bloating or heartburn. It becomes central to your entire health and connected to everything that happens in your body. That’s why I almost always start treating my patients’ chronic health problems by fixing their guts first.
You can begin to understand the importance of gut health when you consider there are 500 species and three pounds of bacteria in your gut. There are trillions of bacteria in your gut and they collectively contain at least 100 times as many genes as you do. The bacterial DNA in your gut outnumbers your own DNA by 100 times. You have about 20,000 genes, but there are 2,000,000 (or more) bacterial genes!
Altogether, your gut is a huge chemical factory that helps to digest food, produce vitamins, regulate hormones, excrete toxins, produce healing compounds and keep your gut healthy.
Intestinal health could be defined as the optimal digestion, absorption and assimilation of food. But that is a big job that depends on many other factors. For example, the bugs in your gut are like a rain forest—a diverse and interdependent ecosystem. They must be in balance for you to be healthy.
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