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Your gut is also the place where serotonin (happy hormone) is made.
Nutritionist Michele Chevalley Hedge demystifies the world of sugar and lets us know how we can improve our gut microbiome.
Oh chocolate you sweet, sweet vice. Full of sugar and fats we long for you on the daily, yet we’re always told to keep you in moderation. Why is that?
“In our stomachs we have good bacteria and bad bacteria or good bugs and bad bugs. And to feed those healthy gut bugs, we need things like real whole foods, things that are full of probiotic and prebiotics, things that are full of fibre,” she tells host Felicity Harley on the Healthy-ish episode How sugar messes with your gut mibrobiome.
“But if we're feeding it sugar, it creates things like dysbiosis or candida. The big, big words for something that I just like to refer to as sort of IBS like symptoms.”
Before we go too much further, not all sugar is bad. “I would encourage everybody to have the love of fruit and vegetables, which has natural sugar in it, and even dairy has a natural sugar in it as well,” she says. However, peak industry bodies and scientists, including the World Health Organisation recommend against the consumption of added sugar.
This is often the ‘white stuff’ but it can be disguised as many names including glucose. This is how you can reduce your intake and be more aware of it.
Eat a diet of whole foods
“This is what I say to people many, many times, almost daily. The best diet in the world is just eating real food unpackaged and unprocessed, as often as possible in a combination of fat, protein and smart carbs. When you're eating that way, for the most part, Felicity, you're having very little added sugar,” Chevalley Hedge explains. She adds that when you eat well, it quells that desire to reach for a sugary hit because you’re meeting your body’s nutritional needs.
If you’re having sugar, just consider how much “I don't live in an ivory tower at all. I have days where I have little tiny binges or pick up a cup of lollies, jelly snakes and things like that,” she says.
Chevalley Hedge recommends picking up the food you’re about to eat – that’s packaged or processed – and take a short moment to look at the label.
Read the ingredients
“If it sounds like it's made in a chemical factory, it probably is.”
If the serving size is really, really tiny it probably means there’s lots of sugar, fat or salt (things we should be mindful of consuming too much of).
“Run your finger across the sugar grams and have a little look what that number is. Now, for most of us, that will not make any sense whatsoever. Right?” Chevalley says.
“So let's say, for example, we're on a can of Coca-Cola and I run my finger across the sugar grams, 40 grams. Take that number and divide it by four, and this will give us a general guideline as to how much added sugar is in that product”
“So in the case of Coca-Cola, for example, forty divided by four is ten. Ten teaspoons of added sugar.”
The maximum amount of sugar in our daily intake should be no more than six teaspoons of sugar, however most Australians currently consume between 35 and 45.
Improving sugar intake is also good for your mental health
Often food choices are ultimately seen as a decision about the waistline, but what we put in our body also affects our overall wellbeing.
“One of the biggest things that I that I go on about regarding sugar, is the connection between sugar, a poor gut biome and unhealthy state of gut. But guess what?” she asks.
“Guess where our serotonin is created, our happy hormone, the very thing that we want more of to minimise anxiety, depression and mood disorders? Serotonin is created in our gut biome.” That’s right – if you’re feeding the bad bacteria in your gut, you’re also inhibiting its ability to make serotonin. So, instead choose to nourish the good in your gut using delicious wholefoods.
“I'm talking about abundance of good, beautiful food so that we are maximising our opportunity to create the most serotonin in our bodies.” Nuff said.
Michele Chevalley Hedge is a nutritional medicine practitioner, founder of the wellness website A Healthy View and author of Eat Drink & Still Shrink.