In recent years, a war has been waged against fats – but is it warranted? The research says no. In fact, healthy fats actually play a vital role in nutrient absorption, mood and hormone regulation along with gut health – from digestion to balancing our microbiome. Sugar, on the other hand? This innocent-looking additive is known to wreak havoc on our gut, leading us to inflammation, dysbiosis and addiction. Here’s how.
Fat and Gut Health
Fat is vital for gut health as it aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and provides a concentrated source of energy – this includes essentials like vitamin D, K and E. Consuming sources of healthy fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and fatty fish can support gut health by reducing inflammation and promoting a diverse gut microbiota. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds have anti-inflammatory properties and may contribute to a healthy gut by reducing the risk of inflammatory bowel diseases, improving digestion and helping us clear the pipes, so to speak. Now we’re not talking about trans fats here! These inflammatory fats are not your gut’s friend – they leave us feeling sluggish and bloated, not to mention the damage they do to our microbiome. You’ll find these fats in deep-fried foods, fast foods and commercial-baked cakes. Stick to minimally-processed, whole foods and you’ll easily avoid coming into contact with trans fats.
Sugar and Gut Health
Consuming excessive amounts of sugar, especially refined sugars and high-fructose corn syrup, can have detrimental effects on gut health – it’s one of the biggest pitfalls of the ultra-processed food industry, and it’s something they’d rather you not dwell on. You might hear them say “our food isn’t bad, it’s people that overeat it”, but this claim falls flat when we consider the extremes producers go to in order to make their foods highly palatable – we’re talking high sugar, high trans fat, high preservative recipes all with the goal of getting you hooked. And it works. Think about it – when’s the last time you were able to stop at just one square of chocolate? Sugar hotwires our brain, triggering those feel-good hormones – dopamine – that give us that temporary high. After a long, stressful day, we’ll often find ourselves desperate for reprieve, with little restraint and a low mood making a dangerous duo. Now if you’ve formed a habit of leaning on sugar for that high, it can be incredibly hard to break the binds. But don’t worry, that’s why we’re here. We’ve figured out the trick to stopping those cravings in their track – recalibrating your taste buds may take a few weeks, but once you get there, you’ll be better equipped to manage cravings and find other means to boost your mood. Healthy fats are one of the keys to making this happen – they keep us feeling fuller for longer, silence those cravings and boost our mood. Now that is the opposite of what junk food does, and food companies know it. They’re banking on it – literally.
But what exactly does sugar do to our gut? Well, it disrupts the balance of the gut microbiome, favouring the growth of harmful bacteria and yeast, while reducing beneficial bacteria that protect us from infections. Excess sugar consumption can also lead to chronic low-grade inflammation in the gut, leading to digestive discomfort, compromised gut barrier function, and an increased risk of gut-related disorders. Not so sweet, right?
Gut-Brain Connection and Sugar
You may have heard that the gut is our second brain – and it’s a pretty apt description considering the shared neurotransmitters and hormones. These two body parts have a close connection, so when one’s not working right, the other shows it. Let’s take a look at what sugar does to our second brain – and, therefore, our whole body.
Destroys mood and mental health: Excessive sugar consumption can lead to blood sugar imbalances, which may contribute to mood swings, anxiety, and depression through the gut-brain axis.
Triggers cravings and gut dysbiosis: Sugar consumption can fuel cravings and promote an unhealthy cycle, negatively impacting the gut microbiota and perpetuating the desire for more sugar.
Finding Balance – It IS Possible
The first step to getting back to good gut health is to identify the biggest offender: sugar. Healthy fats, on the other hand, are a vital addition to any gut-boosting diet – but it’s not the only element! Fibre, probiotics and protein are all essentials, alongside a balanced diet rich in Emphasize a balanced diet that includes a variety of whole foods like vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean proteins, along with minimally-processed foods like yoghurt, pickled veggies and broths.