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According to gut health expert Megan Rossi, Ph.D., R.D. (aka The Gut Health Doctor on Instagram), author of How To Eat More Plants, we’re thinking about weight loss all wrong. “When we’re fixating on calories, we completely forget about the gut microbiome and how important that is for regulating metabolism,” she shares on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. Your gut is at the forefront of basically every bodily function—including your metabolism and appetite.
That said, prioritizing gut health is step No. 1 on the road to a healthy body weight, and the foods you eat can impact your gut microbiome in a major way. If you’re looking to optimize your metabolism, here are the top four foods Rossi suggests incorporating into your diet.
“A lot of people are like, ‘If I’m trying to lose fat, I don’t wanna eat fat,’ but actually, the fat can help keep you fuller for longer,” Rossi explains. “Also, the fat protects the live microbes that are within the yogurt, and those microbes can help regulate the gut-metabolism axis.”
What is the gut-metabolism axis, you ask? Well, when your gut microbes digest the fiber from certain foods, they produce chemicals called short-chain fatty acids, which help regulate your “hunger” hormones, ghrelin and leptin. “A lot of people struggling with weight loss fixate on the calories, and they forget that [you can] have something slightly more in calories, but it’s going to feed your gut bacteria and keep you full or for longer,” Rossi notes.
So it makes sense that full-fat yogurt is actually associated with lower body weight, according to a 2015 systematic review. “I’m not saying have a 500 gram tub [of yogurt] every night,” she adds. “But having two tablespoons [can be helpful].”
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You might be surprised to see a grain on this food list, but according to Rossi, whole grains are actually linked to a healthier body weight. “I’ve seen over the past 15 years [whole grains] work wonders for weight management,” she explains. Research backs up her claim, too: A 2019 meta analysis shows that higher whole grain intake is associated with lower risk of weight gain.
As for Rossi’s favorite grain, she specifically touts quinoa: “It’s got plant-based protein in it as well, which is good for the [gut] microbes,” she notes, and it also contains fiber, which is great for boosting satiety and blood sugar balance.
“Vinegars are also really good,” says Rossi. “We know that they can help nourish the gut.” Not only does the fermentation process help encourage the growth of good-for-you gut microbes, but the acidic properties of apple cider vinegar—specifically acetic acid—may even lead to feelings of fullness.
Not to mention, vinegar is beloved for blood sugar control. One study even showed that daily vinegar intake (about 2 to 6 tablespoons per day) improved the glycemic response to carbohydrate-rich meals; another even found that consuming apple cider vinegar (ACV) reduced post-meal blood sugar levels by about half in healthy participants. Here’s a quick, expert-approved tonic recipe to swig before a heavy meal, if you’re hoping to balance your glucose response.
Finally, we have chia seeds: “[These are] another great source of your plant-based omega-3’s,” Rossi notes (specifically alpha-linoleic acid, or ALA), and they’re packed with protein and fiber. Just two tablespoons of chia seeds, in fact, come out to be about 140 calories with 4 grams of protein, 7 grams of unsaturated fat, and 11 grams of fiber.
Thanks to this stellar nutrient profile, chia seeds have even been shown to regulate appetite levels by promoting feelings of fullness. Take this study, for instance, which found that chia seeds paired with yogurt as a midmorning snack worked for short-term satiety.
The gut-metabolism axis may sound complex, but here’s the gist: You’ll want to get a diverse array of foods in your diet to keep your gut microbes happy and your metabolism strong. Rossi shares even more foods to add to your grocery list—like the best nut butters and fruits to have on-hand—so make sure to tune into the full episode to hear all of her gut health tips. Perhaps whip up a yummy yogurt or quinoa bowl while you listen.