Gut health research shows a direct correlation to obesity and body positivity issues. Let’s take a closer look at what’s going on and what lies ahead for future for food and beverage manufacturers.
You can never be too rich or too thin, the old adage goes. And people have not stopped obsessing over losing weight to look [enter social media of choice]-ready all the time. Despite growing calls promoting body positivity and booing body shaming, the adage still remains true in 2021.
Obesity-related references in the media have declined by 61% since 2010, while those on body positivity have gone up by 12% during the same period.
Blame your gut bacteria
References to obesity in the media may be on the decline, but in social media conversations, weight loss remains a leading topic, accounting for 36% of health-related topics. It is also the top health claim made across all product launches. This is not very surprising given how tough losing weight can be. And this is what has given rise to the weight-loss industrial complex that focuses on quick fixes like low fat, low sugar, and so on rather than core issues. But this may be set to change.
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Top health claims among product launches, US, UK, and Australia
Lack of exercise and a balanced diet are the most quoted reasons for not losing weight, but a recently published study indicates that gut health may also have something to do with it. In this study, it was found that the likelihood of losing weight was impacted by the genes and enzymes within the gut bacteria (alongside various other factors).
Earlier research into the gut microbiome has shown that lean and obese individuals have different compositions of gut flora, but this new study shows that there are different sets of genes encoded in gut bacteria that respond differently to weight-loss interventions.
People who lost more weight in the study were found to have more beneficial bacterial enzymes in the gut. These enzymes helped break down complex carbohydrates into simple sugars, which makes them easier to digest and potentially less likely to be stored as fat. This same cohort was also likely to have genes that aided the growth and replication of good bacteria.
The presence of the weight-loss-resistant bacteria is likely due to various lifestyle and environmental factors, like Western diets, which is highly processed and high in empty calories.
This new study may offer some insight into why certain weight loss efforts show such variation in results among different users.
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A major focus area in research circles
Research into the association between gut health and obesity is not new, and the connection has been long known. In fact, our analysis of academic research papers over the last decade shows that obesity is one of the top health issues looked in connection with gut health. It’s only the specific mechanics of this connection that are now slowly emerging.
This connection between gut health and obesity (and other metabolic diseases) opens up a number of opportunities for new treatments and interventions, such as prebiotics and probiotics.
- In fact, experimental studies have shown that eating food rich in prebiotics is strongly related to beneficial effects against obesity. Prebiotic-based therapy can change the gut microbiome composition, stimulating the growth of good bacteria and also reducing the population of pathogenic microorganisms.
- Probiotics may influence appetite and energy usage by producing short chain fatty acids – metabolites produced when fiber is broken down by gut bacteria. Some probiotics may have the ability to inhibit the absorption of dietary fat, thereby increasing the amount of fat excreted with feces. Some strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium may have this functionality. They may help release appetite-reducing hormones, ultimately resulting in lower caloric gain and controlling body weight.
- Another study published earlier this year found that diets high in fermented foods boost microbiome diversity and immune responses. Foods like yogurt, kefir, fermented cottage cheese, kimchi and other fermented vegetables, vegetable brine drinks, and kombucha tea led to an increase in overall microbial diversity, with stronger effects from larger servings. It also decreased inflammatory markers, specifically four types of immune cells showed less activation. This could have significance in tackling obesity, since obesity is characterized by the presence of chronic low-grade inflammation.
All of these potential solutions are of course still being studied and there is a long way to go for the research to translate into consumer food and drink trends. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t take advantage of probiotic, prebiotic, and fermented foods that are already available on shelves to start the process of improving our gut flora diversity and health. And maybe even lose a few of those extra kilos on the way…
Ranjana works as the Lead Research Analyst for Spoonshot. Her past experience includes working with a major global market research company, specializing in food and drink trends. She has also worked with major publications as a writer and editor.