You're used to making resolutions about what you eat and how often you head to the gym, and maybe there's some meditation or journaling in there, too. All worthy goals — but add gut health to the list.
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There are so many benefits to giving your gut some TLC, including staying regular and living without the discomfort of gas and bloating.
These five goals — which come from gastroenterologists, aka the experts on gut health — are good for your gut, but they'll improve your all-around health this year, too. Better yet: None of them involve taking a shot of sauerkraut juice.
1. Eat More Carbs
Yep, you read that right.
Very-low-carb and high-fat diets like keto are popular — especially when it comes to weight-loss resolutions — but Michael D. Brown, MD, gastroenterologist and professor of medicine at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, is asking you to do the exact opposite.
"Diets lower in fat and higher in carbs are better for your digestive tract," he says.
That also applies to a low-FODMAP diet, an elimination diet used to control symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), that's also becoming trendy to follow.
Of course, that doesn't mean you should chase down a bagel with a large glass of juice every morning, but you don't need to be afraid of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes — all foods that contain good-for-you carbohydrates.
If you're following low-FODMAP or keto for medical reasons, make sure you're working with a professional (like a registered dietitian) on ways to include plant-based foods in your diet to maximize your gut health.
2. Stop Eating Late at Night
Acid reflux and heartburn are so common. You might feel that burning pain in your chest or the sensation of gurgling something up, but it can also appear in sneakier ways, says gastroenterologist Sumona Saha, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison.
For example, too much acid in your stomach at night can cause you to wake up feeling nauseated in the morning. Or you might find that you constantly need to spit, as your body is making excess saliva to neutralize the acid, she says.
This year, get control of your reflux. Rather than pounding Tums, one of the simpler things you can do is avoid eating late at night.
"It's very easy to eat dinner and flop on the couch, but I recommend eating your last meal three hours before bed or before laying down," Dr. Saha says.
Sitting up promotes better digestion — it allows for food to leave your stomach — so make sure your waist is elevated, whether you're in bed, on the couch or in a recliner.
3. Memorize the Symptoms of Colon Cancer
If you're 45 this year, it's time to start colon cancer screening, according to the American Cancer Society. And if you put off that screening last year due to the pandemic, you'll want to resolve to get caught up.
In 2020, about 18,000 people under age 50 were projected to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the U.S., per the National Cancer Institute, in part due to unhealthy diets and inactive lifestyles.
"The age for screening has changed because we're finding polyps and cancer in younger people," says Jacqueline Wolf, MD, a gastroenterologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and author of A Woman's Guide to a Healthy Stomach.
If you have a family history of colorectal cancer or have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) yourself, you'll likely need screening even earlier. Talk to your doctor about when you'll need to start.
If you're too young for a screening just now, know the symptoms of colon cancer:
- A change in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation) for more than a few days
- Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
- Abdominal pain
- Unintended weight loss
4. Move a Little Every Day
Constipated? Boost regularity by getting physically active every day.
Sure, "exercising more" is a common resolution, but along with weight maintenance, mood and disease-prevention perks, you'll also decrease constipation, too.
"Exercise promotes 'peristalsis,' which can be helpful for mild to moderate constipation," Dr. Saha says. (Peristalsis is the movement of the wave-like muscles in the GI tract. It helps propel food through, ultimately forming stool and moving it through the large intestine where you can have a proper BM.)
In addition, says Dr. Wolf, who also wants you to exercise for the sake of your GI system, staying active has been shown to help change your gut microbiome for the better.
5. Eat Less of the Processed Stuff
"Food additives affect the gut microbiome," Dr. Saha says. Reducing your intake of processed foods that are rich in preservatives and simple sugars will limit the amount of preservatives you're eating, and help decrease flatulence, bloating and diarrhea, she says.
These foods promote the growth of gas-producing bacteria that cause discomfort and, quite frankly, can make you fart up a storm.
Diet changes take time, and you don't have to resolve to wake up one day and eat "perfectly." Rather, focus on making small changes to your diet — adding a serving of veggies to one of your meals, swapping a processed snack food for a whole-food option — that move you forward to the larger goal.
- American Cancer Society: “American Cancer Society Guideline for Colorectal Cancer Screening”
- National Cancer Institute: “Why is Colorectal Cancer Rising Rapidly Among Young Adults”
- Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology. “Exercise therapy in patients with constipation: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Peristalsis”
- Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity: “Exercise Modifies the Gut Microbiota with Positive Health Effects”