If getting healthy was easy, then 1 in 3 Americans wouldn’t suffer from metabolic syndrome. And 74% wouldn’t struggle with being overweight or obese.
The truth is, getting—and staying healthy—requires hard work. It also requires smart work.
Here are 23 science-backed ways to level up your health this year, according to our team of scientists, doctors, and nutrition experts.
1. Consume at least 30g of fiber each day
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Fiber is the healthiest thing you’re not eating enough of.
95% of us don’t consume the daily recommended amount of 30 grams, which robs your gut biome of their #1 food source.
Studies show that inadequate fiber intake is associated with certain gastrointestinal disorders, increased risk for heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and even cancer.
2. Follow the four M’s of health
Movement, Molecules, Microbes, and Mind. Finding a holistic synergy between these four pillars of health is crucial. The CliffsNotes version?
- Eat well
- Exercise regularly
- Practice mindfulness
- Expose yourself to bacteria (both through diet and external sources like gardening or owning pets)
“The Four M’s capture the physical, chemical, biological and psychological dimensions of a healthy body.” — Chris Damman, Chief Medical & Science Officer at Supergut
3. Pull up on some polyphenols
You know how fruits and veggies are all kinds of crazy colors of the rainbow? That’s caused by phytonutrients like polyphenols—which are total rockstars for human health.
Polyphenols are the compounds that give fruits and vegetables their colors. Each polyphenol is different in how it interacts with and benefits your gut. And there are at least 8,000 different polyphenols identified in nature whose main functions are as prebiotic gut balancers and health-promoting antioxidants.
Opt for lots of vibrantly colored fruits and vegetables: orange carrots, red tomatoes, purple cabbage, green broccoli, blueberries, blackberries, red berries, and more!
“Polyphenols are key to the gut-brain axis.” — Ren-Hau Lai, Head of Research & Development at Supergut
4. Eat more fermented foods
Fermented foods are packed with probiotics and are an excellent source of postbiotics, the byproducts they produce, which enhance microbial diversity and decrease inflammation.
The key is to incorporate a wide range of fermented foods in order to maximize the variety of microbes. Different sugars and fibers attract different strains of bacteria after all, and the goal is to have lots of different “bugs” in your microbiome.
Some great fermented foods to add to your diet include: sauerkraut, kimchi, olives, yogurt, kefir, tempeh, cottage cheese, and pickles.
5. Opt for omega-3’s
Due to the way many of the foods we eat are processed, we have an imbalance of fatty acids in our diets. We get too many Omega-6 fats and not enough Omega-3s. Maintaining something closer to a 1-to-1 balance is optimal for gut health.
Not to mention, Omega-3s are great for our guts because they increase anti-inflammatory compounds like short-chain fatty acids. They can also boost immunity, strengthen intestinal walls, and influence the gut-brain axis.
Foods high in Omega-3s include: fatty fish (like salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel), fatty fruits and their oils (avocado and olive), tree nuts and their butters (almond, cashew, dark chocolate).
6. Don’t just opt for probiotics… get prebiotics too
You’ve probably heard of “probiotics” when it comes to improving gut health. But prebiotics are possibly even more important.
What’s the difference, you ask? Well, probiotics are living microorganisms in your body, like gut bacteria. Prebiotics—like dietary fiber—are their #1 food source. Postbiotics are the beneficial chemical reactions that occur when probiotics feast on prebiotics, which unleashes metabolites like short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which play a crucial role in regulating metabolism and preventing certain diseases.
Often people think taking a probiotic supplement is all it takes to boost gut health. But the truth is, pumping your body full of probiotics without feeding them prebiotics (aka, fiber!) will largely just result in the probiotics dying off in your microbiome.
7. Exercise regularly
It’s maybe not what everyone wants to hear. But exercise truly is so important for total body health. It can lead to a longer healthspan and even delay the onset of more than 40 chronic health conditions and/or diseases. [link]
Even just walking 30 minutes a day can have major health benefits. Some studies suggest that exercise can even enhance your body’s number of beneficial microbial species, enrich the microflora diversity, and improve the development of commensal bacteria. AKA, when you get moving, the little bugs in your gut get moving, too!
8. Go outdoors
Did you know that just 20 minutes in nature—even just a walk through a city park—can cause profound changes in the neurological structure of our brains?
9. Find your zen
“Mindfulness” and “meditation” are more than just trendy buzzwords. They’re scientifically shown to improve your mental (and physical) health.
One study found that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)—a form of meditation therapy—can reduce stress and lower anxiety and depression symptoms, as well as alleviate chronic pain, prevent hypertension, and treat certain immune disorders. [link]
10. Organize your macronutrients appropriately
Paying attention to the order in which you eat your foods can have a big impact on your blood sugar response to meals.
In fact, one study found that you can reduce the glucose spike of a meal by 75% by eating macronutrients of a meal in a specific order.
That order? Vegetables first, protein and fats second, starches and sugars last.
11. Move after every meal
This one simple hack has enormous health benefits. Even a short stroll after eating can prevent blood sugar levels from spiking, avoiding harmful effects on our metabolism—from post-meal energy crashes (or “food coma”) to, over time, heightened insulin resistance, which can increase your risk for obesity and diabetes.
12. Feel hunger
Are we suggesting you make like Shackleton and spend the winter in Antarctica desperately rationing your measly portions of seal meat and seaweed just to stay alive? No, of course not. (Also, apologies for the weirdly specific example—currently reading Endurance.)
But is the occasional break from food good for you? You betcha!
Intermittent fasting is a form of time restricted eating (usually 16 hours fasting and 8 hours eating) that’s great for your overall wellness. It can help improve cardiovascular health, reduce inflammation, and also combat obesity.
13. Take a cold shower
Summoning the spirit of Wim Hof (that wacky Dutch dude who practically wrote the book on cold therapy), the benefits of exposing yourself to cold temperatures are slowly starting to enter the mainstream. And the benefits are wild!
Something as simple as a 5-minute cold shower has been shown to improve mental health, prevent depression, and ward off symptoms of anxiety.
14. Swap out white rice for brown rice
Simple? Sure. Hyper-specific? Also true. But in the pantheon of easy dietary decisions with major corresponding health benefits, simply swapping white rice for brown rice surely ranks high on the list of no-brainers.
The reason is because white rice is actually milled and polished and stripped of many of its natural fibers and other outer-layer nutrients. By contrast, brown (and red and purple) rice is not.
As this article argues, a shift away from white rice could cut diabetes and improve metabolic wellbeing.
15. Get up, stand up…
…Stand up for your health. The average American sits almost 10 hours each day. This can wreak havoc on your physical health.
It’s estimated that sitting for more than 4 hours each day can lead to disrupted blood sugar levels, higher insulin and blood pressure levels, and increased risks of everything from heart disease and diabetes to back aches and depression.
16. Kick kombucha to the side
According to Erika Fox—registered dietician here at Supergut:
“Kombucha is often recommended as a great drink for gut health because it’s fermented. But oftentimes it’s loaded with sugar, which can actually do more harm than good. You don’t necessarily need to stop drinking it altogether, but whenever possible, try to look for kombucha with little to no added sugar.”
17. Eat lots of different types of plants
Gastroenterologist Dr. Will Bulsiewicz is kind of the King of being fiber fueled. (As in, he literally wrote the book called Fiber Fueled.) One of the most consistent, salient, strident mantras he makes throughout is to strive for “diversity of plants.”
Diversity of plants is key not just for promoting optimal gut health, but also for improving overall well-being, healthspan, longevity, energy, the works.
When you eat lots of different plants, you nourish lots of different gut microbes, which leads to lots of different health benefits throughout the body.
“Aim to eat at least 30 different plant foods each week—fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains—in order to get a diverse range of nutrients and fibers for optimal gut health.” — Erika Fox, Registered Dietician at Supergut
18. Slow down when you eat
Turns out, mom was right all along: chewing your food slowly is good for you. After all, digestion begins in the mouth.
When you chew your food properly, you effectively jumpstart the whole digestive process. And whereas scarfing down your meals without much mastication is akin to revving an engine in park, actually slowing down to chew your food will help keep your digestive health cruising for the long haul.
It’s recommended to chew about 20-30 times before you swallow. And this might sound sort of gross, but, for promoting optimal digestion, food should be about the consistency of applesauce before swallowing.
19. Eat more potassium
Fiber’s not the only nutrient Americans are deficient in. Apparently, only 2% of us get enough potassium. Which is a real banana skin for our diets since every cell in our bodies needs potassium to function.
“Balancing sodium intake with potassium intake to achieve a ratio of 1 or less in the diet can help prevent high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.” — Chris Damman, Chief Medical & Scientific Officer at Supergut
20. Get some zzz’s
“Easier said than done,” say the nightowls in the room. But the benefits of 7-8 hours of high quality sleep a night cannot be overslept on.
Getting quality sleep can help ward off a range of disorders, such as hypertension, obesity, type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, mood disorders, and more.
As it relates to your gut specifically, quality sleep can lower your cortisol levels, which can prevent inflammation and leaky gut.
21. Combat binge eating with bacteria
Get this: a new Caltech study found that the absence of certain gut bacteria in mice actually causes them to binge eat certain foods.
Put another (almost annoyingly oversimplified) way, you can prevent bad binge eating habits by establishing, um, healthy ones.
Within this positive feedback loop, eating high-fiber foods contributes to the growth of gut bacteria like Lactobacillus, the presence of which, can thereby curb cravings for the bad stuff and encourage cravings for more of the good stuff. Win-win!
22. Skip the sugar
For gut health, sugar is anything but sweet.
According to this study, sugar overconsumption is linked to a rise in noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular complications, and cancer. Additionally, “Excessive intake of free sugars can cause many of the same health problems as excessive alcohol consumption.”
“If you do use a sugar substitute, allulose is one that might be more associated with [better] health.” — Chris Damman, Chief Medical and Science Officer at Supergut
23. Don’t fall for trendy gimmicks
Did you hear how celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Elon Musk are injecting themselves with off-label prescriptions and subcutaneous diabetes medications like Ozempic and Wegovy in an effort to lose weight?
If that sounds bonkers, well… that’s because it probably is.
As Dr. Chris Damman says: “These therapies could be good for achieving weight loss goals, particularly in obesity where metabolic risks are high. But I’m not sure it’s a good idea to use in place of exercise and diet to drop a few pounds. No intervention is without risk and we’ll get a better sense of the long term risk profile with time.”
The truth is: less is often more when it comes to wellness. Typically, it’s the intuitive and time-tested stuff that works best.
So, here’s to making 2023 the year in which you move your body more, spend time in nature, get quality sleep, eat mostly plants, and—in the wise words of Hippocrates—”Let food be thy medicine.”