The health and wellness industry evolves every year, but strangely, our new year's resolutions tend to stay the same. They're often about losing weight, joining a gym, saving money, and maybe even cutting out a bad habit, like drinking too much or smoking cigarettes.
Every year it seems that many of us fail to keep our resolutions. We join a gym only to stop going by February, we lose a few pounds in January only to gain them back by March, and we are back to our old habits as soon as the stress kicks in. And while it can be deterring if you've failed at resolutions before, the new year is still a great time to set new goals for the year.
When it comes to picking a focus for the new year that can have benefits that span from more energy to better mood, better digestion, improved hormones, and finally getting rid of that pesky 5-10lbs – look no further than the gut. The gut (and the gut microbiome) are top of mind and for a good reason. It's now quite well established that the gut impacts all of the body's organ systems – the brain, hormones and stress, skin, muscles and joints, lungs, and more. And by focusing on our gut, we can choose a new year's resolution that can provide a variety of benefits.
Here are four gut-friendly tips for building a better gut in 2023:
1. Fuel Up On Fiber
Fiber is an extremely important nutrient for our gut health. Sadly, only about 5% of Americans consume the recommended amount of fiber each day – 25g or more for women and 38g or more for men. Not only does fiber help with elimination and regular bowel movements in those experiencing constipation, but it can also help improve bowel movements in just about everyone. Fiber also helps feed the healthy bacteria in our gut (aka our probiotics) and is needed to help fuel a healthy gut microbiome.
There are many ways to get fiber in your diet - start by ensuring that you're getting enough high-fiber fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. You might also try a fiber supplement, like psyllium husk, to help close the gaps in your diet. When taking a fiber supplement, most people notice marked benefits in their bowel habits – both in regularity and comfort in elimination.
To get started, I often recommend to clients to track their food intake through an app or online software tool where they can see the total amount of fiber they're getting over a week or so. Once you have a baseline understanding, start adding more high-fiber foods until you achieve the minimum recommendations for your gender target.
2. Swap Out Sugars
Sugar is one of the biggest concerns in the American diet, and rightfully so. The average person consumes about 100g (about 25 tsp) of sugar per day. In addition to providing excess energy and "empty calories" that can be converted into fat storage, sugar also harms our gut microbiome. High sugar intake can contribute to imbalances in our good bacteria (also known as probiotics) and bad bacteria, can create low-grade inflammation in the gut and can lead to changes in the lining of our gut (also known as "leaky gut").
While it can be overwhelming to completely eliminate all sugar from your diet, you can start by slowly reducing your intake. Take an inventory of all of the places sugar is making its way into your diet. Is it in your morning coffee? Breakfast? Snacks? Dessert at the end of the night? Alcohol? Start by cutting down and slowly taper your intake. For example, if you usually use 2 teaspoons of sugar in your coffee, cut back to 1 teaspoon. Within a week or two, your taste buds will gradually get used to the less sweet version. If you usually eat a dessert each night, swap for a lower sugar alternative, fruit, or try enjoying a cup of hot tea to unwind instead.
3. Pop a Probiotic
Adding a probiotic to your routine is a great way to jumpstart your gut health for the new year. Probiotics contain the good, healthy bacteria needed to support a balanced microbiome. By taking a probiotic, we incorporate more of the beneficial bacteria needed by our gut to promote immune health, balance digestion, improve brain function, and protect against inflammation. These supplements work best when incorporated in suggestions 1 & 2. Probiotics need sufficient amounts of fiber to thrive in the gut, while having too much sugar can sabotage the balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria.
4. Cut Back On Alcohol
While drinking alcohol seems like all fun and games, it has a highly deleterious effect on the gut. Alcohol affects the gut in three ways: reducing digestive function, disrupting the balance of healthy bacteria (probiotics), and degrading the lining of the intestinal tract (also known as "leaky gut"). This makes digestion more troublesome and can have long-term effects by contributing to inflammation, immune system dysfunction, hormonal imbalances, and more.
If you're drinking on a regular basis but are looking to make major changes to your gut health, cutting back or significantly limiting alcohol intake can help you make fast progress. If you're doing all of the above while still drinking a moderate to heavy amount, you may be still doing more harm than good.
By making the four modifications listed, you'll make massive strides on your gut health that will last all year and beyond!
About the Author
Dr. Brooke Scheller, DCN, CNS, is a Doctor of Clinical Nutrition, Board Certified Nutrition Specialist, and expert in functional nutrition and personalized health. She specializes in gut health, mental health, and nutrition for reducing alcohol intake. Learn more at brookescheller.com or follow Dr. Brooke on Instagram.