Over the past decade, “good bacteria” have emerged as the darlings of the weight-loss world. Again and again, top doctors and nutritionists have advised us to supplement with probiotics to increase metabolism, improve digestion, and dial down hunger. And we’ve taken this advice to heart: Researchers at the National Institutes of Health report that probiotic use has quadrupled since 2007.
But for all the time and money we’ve collectively spent trying to flood our systems with good bugs, many of us aren’t seeing the slimming results we deserve. And now Travis Stork, MD, best-selling health and weight-loss author of The Lose Your Belly Diet ($13.18, Amazon) and cohost of The Doctors, has exposed the reason: too much focus on increasing the quantity of good gut bugs rather than improving the variety of bugs.
“Lean women have more gut bacteria diversity than heavier women,” Dr. Stork explains. “Think of it like a box of crayons: In lean people, you see every color of the rainbow, but in overweight people, you see a small number of reds, blues, and greens.”
Harnessing Prebiotics' Benefits Through Akkermansia
Now scientists have discovered an easy, effective shortcut to achieving a slimming diversity of gut bugs. Finnish researchers identified a species of gut bug called Akkermansia muciniphila, or Akk, that acts as a “welcoming committee” for beneficial bacteria.
When these Akk bugs are flourishing, they release short-chain fatty acids that serve as an energy source for other helpful gut bacteria. Plus, Akk bugs excrete an antibacterial protein that specifically targets bad bacteria, pushing them out of the gut and making the gut itself more hospitable to beneficial bacteria. Overall, these changes help create Stork’s rainbow-filled crayon box. The proof: Research published in the journal Gut shows that adults with the highest levels of Akk have microbiomes that are, on average, 70 percent more diverse than those with lower levels of Akk.
Stork says enjoying one bowl of soup a day is all it takes to get the benefits — no pricey prebiotic supplements required. The key is to consume soups that are rich in prebiotic foods that promote Akk, including beans, asparagus, mushrooms, and barley. “I call [these foods] prebiotic superstars,” Dr. Stork explains. “They are fantastic sources of the soluble and insoluble fiber that support our gut bacteria and increase microbial diversity.” Indeed, a team of Belgian researchers found that increasing intake of these foods leads to a 100-fold increase in Akk levels. And once Akk gets to work improving gut-bug diversity, the pounds come off fast. “One of the wonderful things about your gut,” says Stork, “is that it responds fairly quickly to proactive changes.”
Prebiotic Soup for Weight Loss
Women who improve their gutbug variety with a daily prebiotic-rich soup report losing up to 11 pounds a week. And a study conducted at the Institute of Cardiometabolism and Nutrition in Paris found that adults with higher levels of Akk have smaller fat cells and smaller waistlines overall than those with lower Akk levels — plus 48 percent lower markers of body-wide inflammation and 38 percent lower markers of prediabetes.
The positive side effects go beyond a flat stomach. FIRST readers who fill up on soup say they experience a reduction in cravings, supercharged energy, renewed confidence, and more restful sleep. And Vincent Pedre, MD, medical director of Pedre Integrative Health in Manhattan, adds, “The benefits are wide-ranging, from increased mental clarity to hormone balance. When it comes to immunity, the remarkable fact is that about 70 percent of your immune system lies all along the lining of the gut.” This is especially beneficial right now because studies have shown that increasing microbial diversity decreases the number of sick days subjects take by as much as 20 percent. Read on to discover the souping strategy that will whittle your waistline and help you feel your all-time best.
Prebiotic Soup Diet: How It Works
Increasing your levels of one specific gut bug (Akkermansia muciniphila, or Akk) has been shown to improve the overall diversity of beneficial microbes in the gut to make slimming effortless. And all it takes to get the benefits is a daily bowl of prebiotic-packed soup, says Stork. “Science is telling us we can quickly increase our chances of burning off belly fat,” he notes. “You get a lot of bang for your buck with soup. It’s easy to make, there are limitless variations, and it’s portable.”
Most women who have had success with this strategy say they prefer to prepare two or three large batches of soup over the weekend to reheat and enjoy throughout the week. Once the soup is prepared and cooled slightly, simply ladle it into storage containers. If you plan to enjoy your soup at work or only need single servings, try heatproof individual-serving-size containers like glass pint jars. For family-size meals, store the soup in gallon- or quart-size zip-top freezer bags and freeze them flat to save space. Just be sure to label your containers with the date — soup will keep in the fridge for about five days and in the freezer for up to three months. For Michelle Wells, who lost 110 pounds by incorporating soup into her diet, prepping soup in advance made losing weight feel effortless.
“The key for me was to always be prepared,” she explains. “All I had to do was come home and heat up the soup.” In addition to eating a bowl of soup each day at either lunch or dinner, Dr. Stork recommends rethinking your protein sources, opting to enjoy plant protein at least three times each week. “I’m not going to suggest that you become a vegetarian,” he says. “Just replace some of the meat in your diet with plant protein.” Because plant proteins, like beans or soy, act as food for the beneficial bacteria in the gut, eating plenty of these picks can boost overall microbial diversity to help speed slimming and ease hunger. Successful slimmer Beverly Lordman says three-bean soup was one of her go-to recipes as she lost 101 pounds: “It was so good and so easy,” she cheers. “Soup kept me feeling full without a lot of calories.”
The 4 Key Ingredients for Prebiotic Soup
Ready to make your own skinny soup — just the way you like it? To whip up your new favorite bowl of slimming soup, gather the four main types of ingredients below, and then follow the easy instructions!
1. Choose a broth.
Stork suggests starting with 32 oz. of packaged low-sodium broth to save time. Consider selecting bone broth — like Pacific Foods' Organic Chicken Bone Broth ($18.99 for a two-pack, Amazon) — which contains healing amino acids that have been shown to help support Akk.
2. Pick your veggies.
Aim to include 1 cup of prebiotic vegetables, such as leafy greens, asparagus, mushrooms, onions, or leeks. Canadian researchers report that subjects who adopted a diet rich in these prebiotics lost 101 percent more belly fat than those who didn’t.
3. Stir in spices.
Add up to 2 tsp. of turmeric, cumin, thyme, sage, cayenne, or oregano to boost the flavor of your soup. These picks are study proven to dial back inflammation and eliminate fat-packing bad bacteria to help good bugs flourish.
4. Add super carbs.
For hearty soup with more hunger-dampening power, add at least 1 cup of prebiotic carbs like beans, lentils, wheat berries, barley, or brown rice. Studies show that eating a serving of beans or legumes each day for three weeks increases Akk levels 20-fold.
Prebiotic Soup Recipe
To make four servings in a stockpot:
- Sauté base vegetables (like onions, carrots, squash, or celery) until soft.
- Stir in 32 oz. of broth, prebiotic vegetables (except leafy greens) and any spices desired.
- Add 15 oz. of diced tomatoes for flavor and texture (optional).
- Let soup simmer for 25 minutes or until vegetables are cooked to desired softness.
- Incorporate precooked prebiotic carbs and any leafy greens; let simmer for 5 minutes to heat through.
Prefer to use a slow cooker? Combine vegetables, stock and spices and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. Add precooked prebiotic carbs as well as any leafy greens for the last 15 minutes of cooking.
Dr. Stork's Slimming Soups With Prebiotic Foods
Hearty Lentil: Sauté 1⁄2 cup each of diced onions and celery. Once soft, add 32 oz. of broth, 2 tsp. of turmeric, 15 oz. of diced tomatoes, and 1 cup of dry lentils. Let simmer for 25 minutes. Stir in one cup spinach.
Chicken Barley: Sauté 1⁄2 cup each of diced leeks, celery, and carrots. Once soft, add 32 oz. of chicken broth, 4 tsp. of thyme, and 1 cup of button mushrooms. Let simmer for 25 minutes. Stir in 1 cup of cooked pearl barley and 1 cup of chicken.
Minestrone: Sauté 1⁄2 cup each of diced onions and celery. Once soft, add 32 oz. of veggie broth, 15 oz. of crushed tomatoes, and 2 tsp. of oregano. Let simmer for 25 minutes. Add 2 cups of cooked kidney beans and 2 cups of frozen mixed vegetables; let simmer 3 minutes. Garnish with parsley and grated Parmesan.
Healthy Soup Garnishes That Speed Up Weight-Loss Results
Increasing your intake of prebiotic-rich soups helps good gut bacteria flourish to make weight loss effortless. To boost microbial diversity even more, add one of these toppers to your next bowl.
For cheesy crunch: Parmesan crisps enhance the flavor of soup and provide a dose of slimming bacteria — in fact, research from Denmark suggests that the probiotics in Parmesan cheese help kick-start fat burning. To make crisps: Place generous tablespoons of Parmesan cheese on a parchment paper–lined baking sheet, then bake at 400°F for 3 minutes or until crisp.
For a pop of tang: Experts say just 2 Tbsp. of sauerkraut delivers more beneficial bacteria than 50 probiotic capsules. To ensure you get the benefits, purchase sauerkraut from the refrigerated section of the grocery store and look for “unpasteurized” or “raw” on the label.
For extra creaminess: Swirl 2 Tbsp. of Greek yogurt into soup for a fat-fighting boost. Research shows that enjoying probiotic-rich yogurt daily can increase levels of beneficial microbes by 25 percent in just 20 days — and can help women melt up to 12 pounds off their frame in just 10 weeks.
This story originally appeared in the print version of First for Women magazine.