My patient Lynette was almost in tears. “Every diet I’ve ever been on has failed!” she told me in frustration. “And it’s always for the same reason — my awful sweet tooth. I just don’t have any willpower.”
“Lynette,” I said, “This is not a matter of willpower. It's not a matter of discipline. It boils down to one thing: your microbiome.”
Why You Crave Sugar
If your microbiome is out of balance, your sugar cravings can feel like an alien force that has taken over your body. That’s not surprising: your cravings are the product of unfriendly bacteria that have high jacked your microbiome: the community of trillions of bacteria living within your body.
Both friendly and unfriendly bacteria inhabit your microbiome in an ongoing battle for dominance. The friendly bacteria are a crucial aspect of your health, helping to govern your digestion, appetite, metabolism, immune system, mood, mental sharpness, heart health, and bone development.
By contrast, the unfriendly bacteria find numerous ways to undermine your health. If you crave sugar, the unfriendly bacteria are frequently the culprits. Many of the unfriendly bacteria feed on simple sugars — the easily digested carbohydrates that are found in sweet and starchy foods.
Basically, they crave sugar. And when your unfriendly bacteria crave sugar, so do you.
The Solution: Balance Your Microbiome
Luckily, as I told Lynette, there is a simple solution. Shift the balance within your microbiome from unfriendly to friendly, and your sugar cravings will disappear. Eating microbiome-friendly foods is a great place to start.
Below are five foods that can help balance your microbiome and free you from your sugar cravings.
This spicy fermented cabbage is a traditional Korean dish that has grown in popularity over the last few years. You can find it in many health-food stores or order it online. Although the traditional dish is very hot and spicy, many companies now make medium and even mild versions.
As a fermented food, kimchee is loaded with live bacteria, which I admit doesn’t sound very appetizing. However, when you picture those friendly bacteria supporting your weight-loss efforts, lifting your mood, and vanquishing your sugar cravings, you will be delighted to welcome them into your micro biome.
A fermented milk drink popular in the Balkans and the Middle East, kefir tastes something like liquid yogurt. It’s delicious as a beverage or poured over a dish of fresh berries. You can even find kefir made from goat’s-milk. Kefir is also rich in live bacteria, which makes it a wonderful microbiome-friendly weight-loss food and a terrific way to end your sugar cravings. I often suggest to my patients that they use kefir in their protein shakes and smoothies, for an extra microbiome boost in the morning.
3. Jerusalem Artichokes
Kimchee and kefir are natural probiotics — sources of live bacteria. Jerusalem artichokes are your go-to prebiotic—a food that nourishes your friendly bacteria and helps them to dominate. Prebiotics in, sugar cravings out. Not to be confused with regular artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes are small, knobby, starchy root vegetables also known as “sunchokes.” They are rich in inulin, which is one of your friendly bacteria’s favorite foods. Soon they'll be one of your favorite foods, too! Scrub them clean as you would a potato and steam them, bake them, or enjoy them raw, sliced thin, with lemon and olive oil.
This elegant green vegetable is another delicious prebiotic, an inulin-rich food that alleviates sugar cravings by nourishing your healthy bacteria. Slice them into a soup, omelet or steam them lightly and dress with vinaigrette. Your microbiome will thank you, and so will your taste buds.
Drinking fruit juice — even grapefruit juice — can actually promote sugar cravings because the juice is full of simple sugars. But eating grapefruit in sections or cut in half is a terrific way to break a sugar craving. The fiber in grapefruit is a natural prebiotic that nourishes your healthy bacteria, while the grapefruit itself helps to balance your insulin levels and stabilize your blood sugar.
Free at Last
Sugar cravings can be a powerful force, one that even the most iron-willed among us finds hard to resist. But if you nourish your microbiome you can put your sugar cravings to rest.
That’s what Lynette found. After only a few days on my Microbiome Diet, she felt a sense of ease with food that she hadn’t experienced for a long time. And after just two weeks, her sugar cravings had vanished.
“Honestly, I feel liberated,” she told me at our last meeting. “My appetite is my own again, and the ‘alien force’ is gone!”
Raphael Kellman, M.D. is the author of The Microbiome Diet: The Scientifically Proven Way to Restore Your Gut Health and Achieve Permanent Weight Loss. He studied to complete his doctor of medicine degree at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and now has a private practice in New York City where he treats gastrointestinal issues, chronic fatigue syndrome, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, Lyme disease, cancer, autism spectrum disorders, and unexplained, unresolved health issues.