Frozen pizza, hot dogs, potato chips and microwaveable meals are a fast ticket to weight gain. Those highly processed foods make you overeat because they’re full of refined carbohydrates, added sugars, salt and fat that taste good even though they’re not good for you.

Beyond what these foods contain as ingredients, what they lack is equally problematic. They have little or no fiber, protein, vitamins and other important nutrients. So besides making you gain weight, these foods might be wreaking havoc with your digestive system.

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What’s Going on in Your Gut?

Did you know that living inside your digestive system are 300 to 500 different kinds of bacteria containing nearly 2 million genes? Paired with other tiny organisms like viruses and fungi, they make what’s known as the microbiota, or the microbiome. And they affect everything from your metabolism to your mood to your immune system. Who knew, right?
Like a fingerprint, every person’s microbiota is unique – determined partly by your mother’s microbiota — the environment that you’re exposed to at birth — and partly from your diet and lifestyle. Imagine a busy city on a weekday morning. People are rushing to work or to appointments. The activity is nonstop. At a microscopic level, this is what your gut looks like – trillions of microbiota, (also called microorganisms and intestinal bacteria) of different species each going about their business.

The science isn’t entirely clear yet, but what is becoming evident is that a diet rich in processed products – such as fast food, chips, cookies and frozen pizza – can cause the microbiota in the intestines to change. And because those microbiota play a key role in promoting the smooth daily operation of our body, any changes – good or bad – can have significant consequences.

Please Don’t Feed Them That

Microbiota stimulate the immune system, break down potentially toxic food compounds, and synthesize certain vitamins and amino acids, including the B vitamins and vitamin K.

Many additives, such as emulsifiers and excessive sugar, along with the lack of fiber in highly-processed foods, cause problems for microbiota. And those problems can lead to a higher risk of diseases such as diabetes. They can also stimulate cravings for those same unhealthy convenience foods. It becomes a vicious cycle that causes weight gain and compromises your long-term well-being.

Treat Your Bacteria Like Good Friends

More research is still needed to understand digestion and the connection of different foods to weight gain. But what is clear, is that providing our microbiota with plenty of fiber and natural foods, and reducing our consumption of highly processed foods, is a definite step in the right direction..

A diet made up of natural foods such as fresh produce, beans, sweet potatoes, grains and other whole foods, has clear advantages for your gut, your weight and your health. If you are good to your bacterial roommates by eating nutritious foods, they’ll reward you with strength, vigor and a slimmer physique!

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