How Sugar Can Change Your Gut Microbiome (And Why That’s A Bad Thing)

I absolutely love baking, and my girls love my baking. The downside of baking is however, that there’s always a lot of sugar in the recipes. Last weeks Mango Muffins had 3/4 cup of sugar in them. The banana cake uses at least 1/2 cup of brown sugar. But sugar, especially added sugar (not so much sugars already present in natural foods such as fruits) is one of the biggest threats to your health, according to Lisa Richards from Changing Habits Australia.

We all know that too much sugar can cause weight gain and obesity, but there are other, less known, ways in which sugar is damaging to your health, for example the healthy bacteria in your gut (microbiome).

What is the microbiome and why do we need it?


Scientists have been interested in the diversity of the human microbiome for 100’s of years. Antonie van Leewenhoek is one of the first scientists who, in the 1680’s, compared his oral and fecal microbiota to discover great differences between the bacterias in these habitats.

Basically, microbiome refers to all the bacteria living in and on your body, and the particular roles these bacteria play. Our body has up to 1000 species of bacteria, and they all assist in different processes; from mood to immune function, digestion to nutrient absorption and so much more.

As you can imagine, with these bacteria influencing pretty much your whole body and all its functions, it is vital to keep our microbiome happy! Our modern western lifestyle, with its antibiotics, medications, pesticides, food additives, alcohol and stress, can be detrimental to our microbiome. And, as Lisa writes, sugar. Sugar is the worst offender, and the hardest to avoid.

Sugar and your gut

sugar-and-gut-healthSo why is sugar so bad for your good bacteria? Our gut should be a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria. The bad ones may win a bit sometimes, but the good ones will quickly fight back and all is well and in balance.

When your diet is high in sugar, you are feeding the bad bacteria. Sugar is food for yeast, like Candida and other bacteria. Candida albicans lives naturally within the human body, and actually helps with digestion and nutrient absorption. However, if your microflora is out of balance, the candida can grow out of control and cause destruction within the body.

Sugar enables the bad bacteria to grow out of control with obvious effects. Your body can’t efficiently break down the nutrients from your food, your digestion works poorly, your immune system isn’t functioning well…..

How to know if you have too much yeast or candida?

heal-your-gut-lee-holmesLee Holmes, in her book ‘Heal your Gut‘, has a simple yeast test you can try. You will need to do this within 30 minutes of waking in the morning, before your rinse, eat or drink anything.

  1. Within 30 minutes of waking, before eating or drinking anything, fill a glass of water and spit in it.
  2. Wait 15 minutes
  3. If your saliva floats on the surface of the water your yeast levels are normal. If it sinks, or goes cloudy, or has strings hanging down like a jellyfish – too much yeast in your system.

Lee recommends visited a naturopath or holistic health specialist as they can take swabs, blood, stool or urine samples to check for yeast overgrowth.

Symptoms of candida overgrowth

As your microbiome regulates so many different bodily processes, there are a huge amount of symptoms associated with candida overgrowth, including, but not limited to, the symptoms below.

  1. Chronic fatigue, tiredness, lethargy
  2. Brain fog
  3. Sugar cravings
  4. Mood swings and irritability
  5. Muscle and joint pain
  6. Thrush
  7. Urinary tract infections and rectal or vaginal itching
  8. Athlete’s foot
  9. Irritable Bowel Syndroe
  10. Bloating, gas
  11. Constipation
  12. Autoimmune disease
  13. Disorientation, poor memory and lack of focus
  14. Skin and allergy problems
  15. Chemical sensitivity and alcohol intolerance

How do we fix it?

Eating a sugar-free diet is the simple answer here, but even cutting out some of the sugar will be beneficial. Read all the labels on your food, and check for hidden sugars. Choose natural sugars where you can, but remember that these are still sugars so don’t go overboard.

Replace sweets with more satisfying foods such as nuts, seeds, avocados and vegetables and limit your alcohol intake. Changing Habits offers a fantastic Microbiome Course as well, at their Functional Nutrition Academy.

More information on sugar and your gut

Read the full article by Lisa, including tips on how to spot ‘hidden’ sugar (maltodextrin, malt extract, molasses etc), artificial sweeteners and information on honey, stevia and more, on the Changing Habits website, it is a fantastic read!


Have your heard of diatomaceous earth/heal your gut powder? Read my article ‘Your diatomaceous earth questions answered