Skip to main content

Your diet goal for 2023 should include hacking your gut biome — here’s why

Gut health and weight loss: What experts wish you knew about the two

If your New Year’s resolution to lose weight is stalling, consider your gut health. Last month if you logged onto the r/nutrition subreddit, the buzzy word “gut microbiome” came up.

“There is an increasing body of research concluding that gut microbiome strongly [affects] a lot of aspects of our bodies – composition, weight, mood, mental clarity, etc.,” posted u/Dr.Melbourne.

The guy may have “Dr.” in his username, but Reddit isn’t the best place for medical advice. We asked a real doctor: What is the gut microbiome?

It’s the “collection of bacteria that live in the digestive tract,” notes Dr. Kenneth Brown, a gastroenterologist and host of the podcast “Gut Check Project.” And it may be affecting your weight-loss goals.

“The gut microbiome…has been shown to influence metabolism and energy balance, suggesting that it may be a key factor in weight loss,” Brown says.

Brown and other experts shared why.

a produce flatlay on a green background

What’s the link between gut health and weight loss?

Gut health and weight loss are intertwined.

Your gut is the gateway to optimal health,” says Dr. Amy Myers, a two-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally acclaimed medical and functional medicine physician.

Research from 2018 indicated that the composition of a person’s gut microbiome might offer clues into a person’s obesity risk.

“Those with obesity have been found to have a different gut microbiome composition compared to lean individuals,” says Rachel Dykman, MS, RDN, CDN, a registered-dietician nurse with a private practice in New York City. “Our gut bacteria may impact the amount of calories we extract from food we eat. Our gut microbiome may also impact our blood sugar regulation and appetite, which can both affect our weight.”

Myers agrees that diet plays a role in gut health. Other factors include:

Like diet, these lifestyle habits and environmental exposures can affect the number on the scale.

“All of these factors can lead to weight gain and prevent you from losing weight,” Myers says. “Sometimes, your gut can be so out of balance it leads directly to weight gain, which can happen when you develop autoimmunity.”

person drinking cucumber water
Eugene Chystiakov/Unsplash

Can fasting reset the microbiome?

The early months of a New Year – and even the lead-up to summer — are famous for diet and weight loss advice that often includes “cleanses.” These are typically euphemisms for fasting. Might fasting help your gut health?

“There is some promising evidence that fasting can positively alter the gut microbiome and reduce body weight,” says Jennifer McManus, an RD, LDN, CDCES at Pendulum, a biotech company offering solutions to aid in gut health and the gut microbiome. “This weight loss could be due to the increased microbiota diversity and abundance of Akkermansia muciniphila [a keystone microbe associated with weight loss] after fasting. Calorie restriction through fasting can be a promising way to alter the gut microbiota composition.”

McManus pointed to a 2021 study that found that fasting could change the gut microbiome and help people with metabolic syndromes lose weight. It also helped lower blood pressure. She also noted a 2015 study of overweight people that found that weight reduction via a fasting program, plus a probiotic, could improve the gut microbiota.

However, what you do post-fast is as important as the fast itself.

“The microbes are essentially starved for food, so the first thing you put in your body coming off a fast is super important,” McManus says. “You are deciding who gets the jumpstart with food! So, when you break your fast, think about providing for the good bugs with things like high fiber and high polyphenol foods.”

McManus suggests speaking to a healthcare provider before starting one.

“A fasting plan might not be conducive to everyone’s lifestyle,” she notes.

a fruit basket
Image used with permission by copyright holder

How to improve your gut health

You may want a quick fix. However, it’s unclear how long it will take to improve your gut microbiome.

“The time it takes to improve your gut microbiome can vary depending on factors, such as the individual’s current gut health, diet, and lifestyle,” Brown says.

All you can do is the best you can. Experts shared best practices for trying to move things along.

Consume gut-healthy foods

McManus suggests focusing on fiber if you’re looking to add gut-healthy foods to your diet.

“High-quality dietary fiber is found mostly in whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and seeds,” McManus says. “Prioritizing foods with soluble fiber such as pears, apples, avocados, broccoli, and sweet potatoes can help lead to a healthier gut.”

Bonus: “The cool thing about fiber is that it also leads to satiety which can help prevent overeating and lead to weight loss,” McManus says.

She also suggests foods rich in antioxidant polyphenols.

“Polyphenols are abundant in certain plant-based foods such as pomegranates, cranberries, grape seeds, plums, and artichokes,” McManus says.

Myers suggests avoiding certain foods that can affect the gut microbiome, including:

  • Alcohol
  • Sugar
  • Caffeine

Consider a probiotic supplement

Supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, making them controversial at times. However, McManus says there’s evidence, such as the 2015 study, showing probiotic supplements can aid in gut health and weight reduction.

“With all of the research supporting Akkermansia muciniphila’s role in weight management, this would be an ideal microbe to introduce,” she says. “There are other strains easily available to help metabolize fiber and produce a powerful short-chain fatty acid called butyrate. Butyrate is very important for many different metabolic processes that take place in the body and can be beneficial as part of a weight loss strategy.”

Get regular physical activity

Gut-healthy foods are useful, but exercise is still a key part of weight loss.

“Regular physical activity can help to improve gut health by increasing the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut,” Brown says.

The American Heart Association recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity each week.

Improving gut health could aid in weight loss. Diet plays a critical role. Aim to eat fiber-rich, gut-healthy foods like fruits and veggies. Getting foods with polyphenols, like pomegranates and plums, is also beneficial. Regular physical activity can also improve gut health. Fasting can help, but experts know it’s not for everyone. Always discuss your concerns or any changes to your dietary plan with a doctor first. They can let you know if you’re at risk for adverse effects, and can develop a better plan for you to help you improve your gut health.

BethAnn Mayer
Beth Ann's work has appeared on healthline.com and parents.com. In her spare time, you can find her running (either marathons…
Is olive oil good for you? All about this healthy fat (and how to use it in your kitchen)
The evidence-based benefits of olive oil
Olive oil poured into a bowl

The rich flavor and golden color of olive oil are just some of the reasons people love it. You might use it as the base for a flavorful salad dressing or to cook your food and coat the pan. Olive oil is a satiating staple of the Mediterranean and ketogenic diets. Most health professionals and advocates believe olive oil is one of the superior healthy fats to bring into your kitchen.  

What is olive oil?
As the name suggests, olive oil is a rich oil derived from olives. Olives are small green or black stone fruits that grow on evergreen olive trees. The olive trees are cultivated in Syria, the Mediterranean region, and other places. 

Read more
The best pre-workout meals – everything you need to know
Maximizing athletic performance in the gym requires the right nutrition beforehand
Man eating before a workout

As in most things in fitness, there is never going to be a one-size-fits-all situation. Whether that's diet, exercise, routines, supplements, habits, the list goes on, just because something works for someone else does not mean it will work for you. A pretty commonly asked question on that fact is whether you should eat a pre-workout meal.

First thing, you need to establish which group you fall into. Do you feel fully optimized during your session, either with or without food? Some people feel less sluggish on an empty stomach and love to recover with a feast. Others feel lethargic and struggle throughout without proper fuel. If you're the latter, this article is for you. If you aren't sure, try both for a couple of weeks and compare your training performance.

Read more
The 5 best pork cuts, ranked: Here’s what you should be cooking
Which one is your favorite?
Pork in butcher counter

Bacon, ribs, ham, sausage, chops. For all of the incredible gifts pork provides, it's still one of the most under-appreciated meats on the market, and that just doesn't make sense. Not only is this gorgeous meat delicious, but in a world where grocery store prices are still absurdly high, and most proteins cost far more than they did just a few short years ago, trusty pork seems to be holding steadfast in its mission to make both our wallets and our mouths happy.

The gifts from the other white meat are hearty and diverse, ranging from tender and delicate, elegant bites to hearty, rich, and saucy barbecue fare and everything in between. But with all of the options behind the butcher counter, how do you know which pork cuts are best? How do you know which cut to choose when it comes to impressing your guests at this weekend's dinner party? Or which to select for the best pulled pork sandwiches that your kids will devour with glee?

Read more