Stop cutting calories, start eating cheese.

By Justine Sterling
Updated May 24, 2017
© Getty Images / Dorling Kindersley

Forget the dressing-on-the-side salads and steamed broccoli dinners. One British professor says that cutting calories is not the answer to weight loss—it all comes down to cultivating the right bacteria in your gut.

The human stomach contains about four pounds of bacteria. Some of the bacteria are helpful, aiding in digestion while others are toxic. Professor Tim Spector of King’s College London believes that the secret to achieving a healthy weight and longevity is to encourage the proliferation of those good types of bacteria. So how do we help set the table for the beneficial bacteria? The answer, per Spector, is eating lots of different types of foods.

In his book, The Diet Myth: The Real Science Behind What We Eat, Spector explains his theory by comparing our guts to gardens: “It is useful to think of your microbial community as your own garden that you are responsible for. We need to make sure the soil (your intestines) that the plants (your microbes) grow in is healthy, contains plenty of nutrients; and to stop weeds or poisonous plants (toxic or disease microbes) taking over we need to cultivate the widest variety of different plants and seeds possible.” Doing so means eating a variety of foods, including cheese (“Unpasteurized cheese is one of the best things you can eat,” Spector says) and even wine and chocolate, both of which are rich in polyphenols—microbes’ favorite food.

As permissive as Spector’s diet seems, there’s one thing it doesn’t allow: junk food. Extra-fatty, sugary foods are the enemy of good bacteria—they kill them off while allowing the bad bacteria to stick around. Spector’s proof of this comes from an experiment he performed on his own son, Tom. After feeding Tom McDonald’s food for ten days straight, Spector said that his “gut microbes had been devastated—1,400 different species, accounting for 40-percent of his gut diversity, had been lost.”

So go ahead, have that glass of Cabernet and wedge of Brie—your microbes will thank you.

[h/t Daily Mail]