Don’t let your holiday gut health suffer this festive season. These tips will help you have fun without compromising your digestion.
In this article:
- Be Intentional with What You Eat
- Strive to Follow a Consistent Sleep Schedule
- Deal with Your Stress Stat
- Swap Bad Foods with Good Ones
- Take a Break From the Feast
- Remember, Slow Is Good
- Nourish Your Gut with Probiotics and Prebiotics
Holiday Gut Health: 7 Tips to Take Care of Your Digestive System This Season
1. Be Intentional with What You Eat
We can never talk about holiday gut health without touching on the diet, which is its core foundation. One of the best tips to maintain good digestion is to be intentional.
What does this mean? You make thoughtful choices when it comes to the food you put on your plate during holiday parties.
Here are a few ideas:
- Use a small plate. It’s an instinct to fill up a plate with food, so a small one could mean less food.
- Divide the plate into different sections. Half of your plate should be for fruits and vegetables, one-fourth for grains (preferably whole grains), and the other quarter for protein.
- Try to eat a healthy but filling meal before you attend a party. A good idea is a bowl of salad greens flavored with low-glycemic fruits such as strawberries and drizzled with lemon or apple cider vinegar and olive oil.
- Eat yogurt as a dessert. Yogurt has millions of live bacteria that serve as probiotics.
2. Strive to Follow a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Sleep affects the body in many ways, including the interaction and nature of your microbiome. A 2016 study showed sleep deprivation can lead to changes in the gut flora even for healthy individuals.
Some people called the gut the second brain. Not only does it connect to the brain through the vagus nerve, but it also produces neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that help brain cells communicate. They also help induce sleep factors such as melatonin.
During the holiday season, it may be challenging to sleep well. Think about the parties, stress, booze, and noise.
The season itself can also affect your sleep. The body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm is sensitive or responsive to light.
During winter, skies can be overcast most of the time. It’s not impossible to find yourself sleepy in the middle of the day.
To keep good sleep and maintain holiday gut health, follow these tips:
- Know your ideal sleep schedule and follow it regardless of your situation. If you have to sleep by 10:00 p.m., make sure the party’s over for you by 8:00 p.m.
- Avoid any adrenaline-pumping activities an hour before you go to bed.
- Skip coffee at least three to four hours before your scheduled sleep time.
- Turn off the lights including those of your mobile devices. Block outdoor lights with dark heavy curtains.
3. Deal with Your Stress Stat
Holiday stress is real. From meeting relatives to traveling and planning parties, it seems you can never take a rest.
Sadly, it can take a toll on your healthy gut.
According to a 2011 research, it can:
- Increase the risk of intestinal permeability or leaky gut, when the junction of your intestines loosen
- Reduce the emptying time of your stomach, which explains why stress can lead to constipation
- Accelerate the movement of material in your intestines, which may result in poor nutrient absorption
- Change the way the intestines secrete mucus that strengthens the walls
- Alter the manner in which the brain and the gut interact or communicate
You can lower stress by:
- Doing yoga and other low-impact exercises
- Saying no when you’re swamped with work and obligations
- Delegating some tasks to others
- Walking or exercising
- Listening to slow or relaxing music
- Getting enough sleep
- Avoiding eating heavy food, which is usually rich in bad carbs, fats, and sugar
4. Swap Bad Foods with Good Ones
Let’s face it, it’s hard to resist sinful spreads when they’re in front of you. You may say it’s hard to say no to an offer of a friend or a family member like your mom.
It’s also easier to reach out your hand to that big slice of pork ham or a can of beer than to eat a salad or drink only water. If you can’t handle the temptation, then you can try swapping bad foods with good ones.
Here are a few examples:
- Hummus for your mayo dip
- Maple syrup or applesauce for corn syrup
- Yogurt parfait for ice cream
- Sweet potatoes for white potatoes
- Brown, black, or wild rice for white rice
- Turkey breast for chicken breast
- Mushroom patty for a beef patty
- Vanilla chai tea for eggnog
- Ginger ale or red wine for beer
5. Take a Break From the Feast
Here’s another sensible holiday gut health tip for you: learn how to survive the holiday food coma by taking a break.
Ask yourself this question, “Do you need to attend all parties you’ve been invited to?” The answer can help you pace your activities during the holidays and avoid adding a lot of calories.
Another option is to choose one meal where you have more freedom to choose your food. If you eat three times a day, this could be dinner or lunch.
The holidays may even be a good time to try a plant-based diet. You can start by eating whole foods (with no meat and dairy) at least 75% to 90% of the time.
Lastly, there’s intermittent fasting. Also known as IF, it is a diet approach where you eat for only a certain period.
It can be:
- 16-hour fasting, 8 hours eating
- Fasting every other day
- Reduced calorie intake (500 calories three times a week)
- 24-hour fast
Many studies, such as this 2018 research showed that IF may help keep your gut healthy by altering the microbiome and mycobiome. It may increase the diversity of microorganisms in the digestive tract.
Note: IF also has drawbacks such as feelings of weakness or low energy, as well as potential nutrient deficiency. Don’t do this without the approval and guidance of your doctor.
6. Remember, Slow Is Good
If you can only do one thing to take care of your holiday gut health, then it’s to chew your food slowly. After all, digestion begins in the mouth.
Chewing slowly can:
- Help break down the food from large to small particles so they’re easier to digest
- Reduce the chances of bloating as large particles take up a lot of space in the stomach
- Ensure an enzyme called protease, produced by the salivary glands can cover the food particles and break down protein
- Decrease stress to the esophagus
- Give your brain enough time to tell your digestive tract you’re already full
How many times should you chew? Experts suggest you should chew softer food like fruit five to ten times.
When you’re eating something hard like meat, you have to chew more up to 30 times. This explains why it may be easier to eat fruits and veggies than meat.
7. Nourish Your Gut with Probiotics and Prebiotics
All those added sugars, unhealthy fats, and food that increase gut sensitivity like dairy can potentially change your microbiome.
You may have more of the bad bacteria and fungi than the good ones. The diversity of your microorganisms may also go down.
You can support your digestive health by consuming probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are those that introduce additional friendly bacteria and fungi into your gut.
Prebiotics, meanwhile, help feed your good microorganisms so they can reproduce faster. Usually, high-fiber food already contains some prebiotics.
Since it’s the holidays, you may have less access to probiotic and prebiotic foods. You can supplement that with products such as the Nourish Regimen.
Maintaining your holiday gut health doesn’t have to be too restrictive or boring. These tips will show you that you can be merry and still welcome the following year with better well-being.
What are your strategies to survive the holidays? Share your tips in the comments section below.