Save more money, learn a new skill, improve your gut health by taking probiotic supplements, volunteer more: the beginning of a new year always comes with resolutions designed to support your health and happiness. If one of your goals for 2018 is to lose weight, get in shape and boost your sense of physical well-being, the best starting point may be in your gut. Achieving the right balance of good and bad bacteria in your digestive tract can vastly improve your overall health as well as making it easier to maintain a healthy weight and providing you with more energy. Here are eight New Year's resolutions that can help you improve your gut health in the coming year.

1. Diversify your diet

A healthy digestive tract has hundreds of different bacteria strains, each of which needs a different set of nutrients to maintain itself. Studies have shown that eating a diverse diet of healthy, nutritious foods is one of the best ways to nurture a gut microbiome that is itself well-balanced and healthy. Too often, however, the typical Western diet is high in fat and sugar at the expense of fiber, protein and other key nutrients. Combat this by expanding your diet to include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains.

2. Think positively and reduce your stress

Your mind and your gut may be more closely related than you think. Researchers have consistently found that psychological stress can induce a response throughout your body that negatively alters the balance of bacteria in your gut. Taking steps to reduce your mental stress--including keeping a positive outlook, practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation, improving your time management skills, and seeking support from loved ones--can have a direct effect on the health of your gut.

3. Move more

"Start an exercise routine" is a common New Year's resolution, and one of the many benefits of moving more is the positive effects it can have on your digestive health. Scientific research supports the theory that exercise can create positive changes in a person's gut bacterial balance, with researchers finding that a regular exercise routine can improve microflora diversity and support the proliferation of good bacteria in the gut.

4. Get a good night's sleep

Sleep is critical to many bodily systems, and your digestive tract is no exception. Getting too little sleep on a regular basis can affect the balance of bacteria in your gut, reduce the number of beneficial strains by half and induce negative changes in your metabolism, according to a recent study. Aim to get seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night--and keep in mind that even periodic sleep deprivation can have negative effects on your gut health.

5. Add fermented foods to your diet

Fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, and kimchi are naturally rich in certain strains of good bacteria, and making such foods a regular part of your diet can confer significant digestive health benefits. For example, one study found that those who eat yogurt daily have higher gut populations of lactobacilli--a beneficial bacterial strain--and lower numbers of inflammation-causing Enterobacteriaceae.

6. Limit your intake of artificial sweeteners

The health risks of a sugar-heavy diet are well-known, and in an effort to find an alternate way to satisfy their sweet tooth (and boost their weight loss results), many people turn to no-calorie artificial sweeteners. Unfortunately, artificial sweeteners may actually undermine your gut health. A group of researchers discovered that feeding artificial sweeteners to mice altered their gut microbiota, increasing their blood sugar levels and making them more susceptible to metabolic disease. So as you embark on your post-holiday diet, be careful not to simply replace sugar with no-calorie sweeteners.

7. Increase your intake of foods rich in prebiotics

Like all other organisms, the good bacteria residing in your gut need fuel to thrive. The ingredients in food that help support the growth of such beneficial microbes are known as prebiotics, and increasing your intake can help you achieve better gut microbiome balance. Prebiotics are commonly found in a wide range of fruits, vegetables and whole grains such as asparagus, banana and wheat bran. As an added benefit, research suggests that a prebiotic-rich diet can improve metabolic function.

8. Begin taking a daily probiotic supplement

Particularly for those who have an unbalanced gut microbiome due to antibiotic use, stress, poor diet or any other cause, adding a probiotic supplement to your daily routine can yield incredible gut--and whole body--health benefits. By introducing beneficial microorganisms into your digestive tract, probiotic supplements have been shown to help change the microbiotic composition of your gut for the better in addition to reducing inflammation and strengthening your gut barrier.

As you make your resolutions for the new year, keep in mind that the health of your gut is tied to your overall health in so many ways--and one of the best ways to ensure that 2018 is your best year yet is to take steps to promote the health and balance of your gut microbiome.


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