How A Gastroenterologist Is Making Gut-Friendly Changes This Year

mbg Editorial Assistant By Abby Moore
mbg Editorial Assistant
Abby Moore is an Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
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The coronavirus rocked our worlds this past year. Most people reexamined the way they care for their immune systems, mainly by amping up their hygiene (admit it; you probably didn't wash your hands quite as often before) and staying inside while sick.

While these practices are critical, the gut also has to take priority—for both immunity and overall health. Not sure where to start? Here's how gastroenterologist Niket Sonpal, M.D., plans to make gut-friendly changes in the new year: 

1. Paying attention to nutrition. 

With less access to restaurants and more time spent at home this past year, many people's diets have changed. "Some people began experimenting more with food; some people became less experimental," he says. In the coming year, Sonpal plans to be more mindful of his own food choices by following a 16:8 intermittent fasting regimen and incorporating more probiotics, prebiotics, and anti-inflammatory antioxidants. 

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Probiotics

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While Sonpal says he already gets plenty of probiotics through yogurt, he wants to increase the diversity in his sources. Adding more fermented foods and drinks, like kimchi, kombucha, miso, and tempeh could do the trick. 

Probiotics are relatively easy to find nowadays, whether that's through food or a high-quality probiotic supplement. "It's sort of the magic word in gut health," Sonpal tells mbg.

Prebiotics

These less-thought-of, but equally important, gut bugs "bolster the good bacteria so they can push the bad bacteria out," Sonpal explains. While they may not be as widely distributed in supplement form, prebiotics can be found in foods like apples, sauerkraut, asparagus, garlic, onion, leafy greens, artichokes, and green bananas, to name a few. 

According to Sonpal, the combination of pre- and probiotics promotes regularity, manages mental fog, and enhances energy levels.*

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Antioxidants

"The role for antioxidants is vast," he says. "Primarily, it's protective against oxidative stress that occurs through general day-to-day activities, medications, consumption." 

Good sources of antioxidants include berries, salmon, spinach, red bell peppers, dark chocolate, and the anti-inflammatory spice turmeric, which Sonpal says he will likely incorporate into his tea. "Increasing turmeric will help with overall body inflammation and also gut inflammation," he says. "[I am a person] who comes from India, [and] turmeric is a big part of our culture." 

2. Moving every single day.

The overarching anxiety of "having to work out" actually discourages most people from doing it. "What the shutdown taught us is you can get a 20-minute workout at home, every day, in the privacy of your own basement, while reruns of Schitt's Creek play in the background," he says.

Rather than setting lofty fitness resolutions, Sonpal is simply committing to daily movement. Going for a walk, taking a few downward dogs, or playing recreational sports are all effective ways to sneak in exercise.

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3. Managing stress.

Though the stress hormone cortisol has its benefits, "too much of a quote-unquote good thing, is not such a good thing," he states. When released in excess, cortisol can impair the gut by leading to constipation, diarrhea, or a combination of both (aka irritable bowel syndrome), he explains. These symptoms can leave you feeling sluggish, gassy, or bloated. 

The year 2020 was certainly wrought with stress, and 2021 has already brought significant challenges of its own. To protect our mental fitness and our gut health, stress management will be even more valuable in the coming year. "Exercise, yoga, therapy, mental health exercises, sex—do whatever it is that you need to do to reduce that emotional burden," Sonpal advises.

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