The real reason you may be hooked on junk food

Style Magazine Newswire | 4/30/2018, 2:46 p.m.
You may have every intention to eat better. But when your stomach starts to growl, all bets are off. You ...
Shawn Talbott, PhD

By Shawn Talbott, PhD

You may have every intention to eat better. But when your stomach starts to growl, all bets are off. You give into your cravings for chips and soda, again! Why is this happening? The 100 trillion bacteria living in your gut are telling your brain what they want to eat. And they want junk food.

What your gut tells your brain – and vice versa – is part of what scientists call the gut/brain axis. I’m fascinated by nutritional biochemistry: the idea that what we eat changes the biochemistry of our bodies, and influences how we look, think and feel. And we’re learning that this connection influences everything from our moods and how we eat to our overall well-being.

Your gut creates most of the serotonin, dopamine and other neurotransmitters responsible for your mood. What we are now discovering is that some of the problems we associate with the brain may be the result of faulty signals between our brain and our gut. We’re learning that the underlying problem may start when your gut is out of balance. If it’s not sending the right signals to the brain, it may lead to feelings of stress, fatigue and anxiety.

This may be why you crave corn chips instead of salads

Think of your gut as a garden. If you feed the bacteria in your gut corn chips, you are preferentially growing the ones that thrive on corn chips. When they get hungry, they send a signal to your brain to send more corn chips. That’s why you get the cravings. If you started eating more fruits and vegetables instead, the “corn chip” bacteria will starve. Your cravings will change. Soon the good bacteria in your gut will ask your brain to supply more of that healthier food.

There are several things we can do to balance our gut/brain axis so that we feel better physically and emotionally. My three best tips are:

Bring on the fiber! There are two types of fiber: insoluble and soluble. Insoluble is like nature’s broom. We don’t digest it, and it carries toxins with it as it exits our bodies. Soluble fiber absorbs water and helps to normalize digestion. It can also act as a prebiotic, which means it feeds the good bacteria in our gut. I like soluble guar fiber, available over the counter as Sunfiber, because it has been shown in more than 120 clinical studies to support digestive health without the uncomfortable side effects. It also triggers the release of satiation-inducing hormones, so you may not feel as hungry.

Add fermented foods to your diet. Kimchee, yogurt, kefir and kombucha all help to maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria.

Feed your gut and brain plant-based amino acids. Amino acids are used by the body for many physiological functions. One amino acid found in matcha – called theanine – has been shown to promote relaxation without causing drowsiness, reduce nervous tension, and help prevent the negative side-effects of caffeine. It’s a great brain nutrient. L-theanine is available over the counter as Suntheanine.