Focusing on your gut health can help you to achieve some of the most common resolutions, whether your goal is to improve your mental health, manage your finances, or lose weight. In a healthy body, good and bad microbes coexist without problems. But if there is a disturbance in that balance brought on by infections, diet, or the prolonged use of bacteria-destroying medications like antibiotics, then dysbiosis can occur which can stop these normal interactions. There are factors that you can control, like stress and diet that can help restore some normalcy to your gut. When your gut functions properly, there’s a good balance of bacteria helping your body process and get energy from the foods you eat, clear toxins, fight against disease, and boost your mood. 

After the excessive, yet delicious, food and drink that comes with the holidays, now is the perfect time to review and renew your gut health. Below are some ideas to improve your gut health in the upcoming year.


Dietary Factors that Can Improve Gut Flora

  • Consume fermented foods

    Fermented foods are another great source of probiotics. Plain yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi all contain helpful bacteria from the fermentation process. Yogurt specifically may help calm gastrointestinal conditions like diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease and constipation. One study found people who eat yogurt regularly have more lactobacilli, a gut-benefitting bacteria, in their intestines, as well as fewer enterobacterium, a type of bacteria linked with inflammation [1]. 

  • Cut back on processed foods

    “Processed foods” are foods that have been cooked, frozen, packaged or changed in nutritional composition, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Ready-to-eat foods are on the more heavily processed side. The list of ultra-processed foods includes things like crackers, granola and deli meat. The most heavily processed foods are usually pre-made meals like frozen TV dinners. Many times, heavy processing can take away from the food’s natural vitamins and minerals. 

  • Eat prebiotics and high fiber foods

    Many high-fiber vegetables, fruits and whole grains are prebiotics, which serve as “food” for good bacteria in the body. Besides fruits and vegetables, whole grains are a rich source of fiber, too. Unprocessed foods like apples, asparagus, bananas, corn, garlic, sweet potatoes, spinach, beets, carrots, fennel, flaxseeds, leeks, onions, oats, lentils and walnuts can improve gut health. 

  • Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables

    One of the best ways to increase the diversity of your gut microbiome, is to eat a wide variety of whole plant foods. Data published from The American Gut Project demonstrated that those who eat greater than or equal to 30 plant varieties per week have a more diverse gut microbiome compared with those who eat less than or equal to 10 plant varieties per week [2]. Try to “eat the rainbow” by mixing and matching plant foods with different colors. 

  • Minimize artificial sweetners

    Experts now believe that these compounds interact with the gut microbiome and evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners might disrupt your gut microbiome [3]. Although much of the research so far has involved animals, there is evidence that certain artificial sweeteners can influence gut bacteria in humans [4]. Rather than regularly consuming artificial sweeteners, it’s likely healthier to consume natural sugars in moderation.

  • Eat foods rich in polyphenols.

    Polyphenols are plant compounds that have many health benefits, including reductions in blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol levels, and oxidative stress. Some examples of foods rich in polyphenols are cocoa and dark chocolate, red wine, grape skins, green tea, almonds, onions, blueberries, and broccoli. Polyphenols from cocoa can increase the amount of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli in humans and reduce the quantity of Clostridia [5] while polyphenols in red wine have even been shown to increase levels of beneficial bacteria in people with metabolic syndrome [6].

  • Take probiotic supplements.

    Probiotic supplements have become increasingly popular as word of the importance of gut health continues to spread. While probiotic supplements aren’t a panacea for gut health, there’s some evidence they can give the microbiota a boost and restore gut health under certain conditions. Probiotics are chock-full of live bacteria that will help ensure your gut is populated by mostly the good types of microbes. There are many probiotic products out there that claim to have live cultures but do not, so it is important to do your research beforehand or even speak to your doctor or a registered nutritionist.

If you are looking for a specific diet to follow, the Mediterranean diet ranks highly and includes a lot of gut healthy foods that will fall into the categories above. Of course, there are a number of others like the GAPS Diet, low FODMAP diet, keto diet, DASH diet, etc. that can provide specific benefits, but all have their limitations and risks. In general, decreasing consumption of sugar, artificial sweetners, processed foods, and trans fats can be extremely beneficial to your overall health and help with weight loss.

Non-Dietary Factors that Can Improve Gut Flora

  • Exercise regularly

    Movement is medicine for so many parts of the human body, including the gut microbiome. Exercising is one of the best strategies for a healthier gut and may increase microbiome diversity [7].

  • Get 7 – 8 hours of sleep each night

    Scientists have shown that the gut microbiome can influence sleep and vice versa. And some studies have shown that better sleep is linked to increased gut bacteria diversity [8]. Although scientists haven’t fully explored the links between gut bacteria and sleep in humans, getting a good night’s rest will undoubtedly benefit your overall health.

  • Reduce stress

    Experts in gut health often cite the “gut-brain connection” and refer to the gut as “the second brain.” While we don’t know everything about their relationship, we do know that mental health and the gut are intimately connected [9]. Establishing balance in your life will support your mental and emotional health and optimize your gut and overall health. Finding ways to reduce your stress levels may improve your gut health. Meditating, walking, getting a massages, pending time with friends or family, laughing, practicing yoga, spending time with a pet are all examples of ways to reduce stress.


The suggestions discussed above have been shown to improve the gut microbiome and gut health in general to some degree. Kick off your new year by adopting some of them into your routine and see how your gut and overall health change. Keep in mind that changes do not occur overnight and can vary from individual to individual so you may need to be patient. While it can be beneficial to your gut health to adopt an overall healthy lifestyle, you should still talk with a medical professional if you are going to make major dietary changes, major lifestyle changes or begin taking supplements.



[1]Oskar Adolfsson, Simin Nikbin Meydani, Robert M Russell, Yogurt and gut function, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 80, Issue 2, August 2004, Pages 245–256,


[3] Suez, J., Korem, T., Zeevi, D., Zilberman-Schapira, G., Thaiss, C. A., Maza, O., Israeli, D., Zmora, N., Gilad, S., Weinberger, A., Kuperman, Y., Harmelin, A., Kolodkin-Gal, I., Shapiro, H., Halpern, Z., Segal, E., & Elinav, E. (2014). Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature, 514(7521), 181–186.

[4] Francisco Javier Ruiz-Ojeda, Julio Plaza-Díaz, Maria Jose Sáez-Lara, Angel Gil, Effects of Sweeteners on the Gut Microbiota: A Review of Experimental Studies and Clinical Trials, Advances in Nutrition, Volume 10, Issue suppl_1, January 2019, Pages S31–S48,

[5] Sorrenti, V., Ali, S., Mancin, L., Davinelli, S., Paoli, A., & Scapagnini, G. (2020). Cocoa Polyphenols and Gut Microbiota Interplay: Bioavailability, Prebiotic Effect, and Impact on Human Health. Nutrients, 12(7), 1908.

[6] Moreno-Indias, I., Sánchez-Alcoholado, L., Pérez-Martínez, P., Andrés-Lacueva, C., Cardona, F., Tinahones, F., & Queipo-Ortuño, M. I. (2016). Red wine polyphenols modulate fecal microbiota and reduce markers of the metabolic syndrome in obese patients. Food & function, 7(4), 1775–1787.

[7] Mailing, Lucy J.; Allen, Jacob M.; Buford, Thomas W.; Fields, Christopher J.; Woods, Jeffrey A.  (2019) Exercise and the Gut Microbiome: A Review of the Evidence, Potential Mechanisms, and Implications for Human Health. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews 47(2):p 75-85, April. | DOI: 10.1249/JES.0000000000000183

[8] Smith, R. P., Easson, C., Lyle, S. M., Kapoor, R., Donnelly, C. P., Davidson, E. J., Parikh, E., Lopez, J. V., & Tartar, J. L. (2019). Gut microbiome diversity is associated with sleep physiology in humans. PloS one, 14(10), e0222394.

[9] Karl, J. P., Hatch, A. M., Arcidiacono, S. M., Pearce, S. C., Pantoja-Feliciano, I. G., Doherty, L. A., & Soares, J. W. (2018). Effects of Psychological, Environmental and Physical Stressors on the Gut Microbiota. Frontiers in microbiology, 9, 2013.