How to Maintain Your Gut Health During the Holidays

How to Maintain Your Gut Health During the Holidays

With the holidays right around the corner, it’s time to ready your heart, mind, and body for the festivities, from family time to bountiful feasts. While you should by all means enjoy the holidays, it’s also important to keep your gut in check. Read on to learn more about how you can maintain good gut health during the holidays.

The Importance of Gut Health During the Holidays

When we talk about the gut, what we really mean is the diverse, complex group of bacteria that populate your gastrointestinal tract. The human gastrointestinal microbiota comprises an estimated 300 to 500 different species of bacteria with a total population believed to outnumber all other cells in the human body by a ratio of 10 to 1.

Recent studies have found that these bacteria may present some intrinsic roles to good health. Most prominently, your gut bacteria are designed to aid in digestion, including breaking down foods and absorbing nutrients. Gut bacteria are even known to play a role in the production of certain vitamins, including vitamins B and K. Gut bacteria have also been studied for their potential to help promote the immune system.

Other recent studies have also looked into the connection between the gut and the brain, referred to as the gut-brain axis. This connection suggests bidirectional communication between the gut bacteria and the central nervous system. While further research is necessary, experts have found some direct associations between mood and the state of your gut bacteria. For example, researchers know that mood concerns are often accompanied by gastrointestinal issues potentially brought on by dysbiosis (a state of imbalance between good and bad bacteria).

This all plays into how (and whether or not) you enjoy your holidays. An imbalanced or unhealthy gut could mean a consistently unsettled stomach, preventing you from all the festive foods while resulting in more occasional gas, bloating, and trips to the bathroom. The potential effects of gut health on mood may also leave you more prone to the doldrums.

Maintaining a Healthy Gut During the Holidays

The good news is that keeping your gut healthy and enjoying the holidays are not mutually exclusive. You can have plenty of fun and warm cheer while still keeping your gut bacteria happy. While there are a variety of potential things that can influence the state of your gut bacteria, the two main contributors are diet and physical activity.

Use probiotics

While you are enjoying your turkey, honey-baked ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and other holiday favorites, try to incorporate some probiotic-rich foods into your diet. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts found in a variety of foods, usually those that have undergone fermentation. Eating probiotic-rich foods can help to populate your gut with the good bacteria, keeping your gastrointestinal tract functioning smoothly. Some common probiotic foods include:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kombucha

If you’re having trouble finding these foods, take a probiotic supplement, which can take the guesswork out of the equation.

Eat some fiber

Fiber actually refers to plant material that is not digestible by the human stomach. While that might seem unpleasant, dietary fiber has been found to have several benefits to your health, including regulating your blood sugar, maintaining a healthy heart, and promoting regular bowel movements.

Dietary fiber also acts as a prebiotic. Unlike probiotics, which help to repopulate your gut with good bacteria, prebiotics feed your existing bacterial populations to promote their growth in your gut.

Fiber is divided into two categories: soluble and insoluble. The former swells and turns into a gel-like substance when mixed with water, while the latter does not absorb water or dissolve in any way. Neither is necessarily better than the other, and ideally, you should get plenty of both. Insoluble fiber is commonly found in oats, lentils, carrots, and apples. Soluble fiber is more commonly found in wheat bran and green, leafy vegetables.

Take a walk

Walking, workouts, and physical activity of any kind may help your digestion and gut health. In the long-term, researchers found a correlation between regular exercise and the diversity of gut bacteria. In terms of immediate effects, exercise may help to improve gastric motility, allowing food to move more efficiently from the stomach to the intestines.

Stay hydrated

This applies year-round, but it’s even more important during the holidays considering the frequent consumption of richer foods and alcohol. Staying hydrated keeps your digestive system running smoothly and can boost your energy. It also comes with the added benefit of staving off hangovers.

Be thoughtful when you travel

All of these rules still apply when you’re traveling, too. Whether you’re on a plane or in your car, make sure you:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Stick to healthy, fiber-rich treats (which may mean packing a salad for yourself)
  • Avoid processed foods
  • Pack some easy, on-the-go probiotic-rich foods
  • Find some time to stretch your body

Above all, do your best to keep your stress in check. Stress is known to have a negative effect on various aspects of your health, including your gut. Granted, stress seems like a natural part of the holidays, but try to find some time for yourself and know when to separate yourself from the festivities to recharge.

The holidays are a joyous time of celebrating all the important things that life has to offer. That doesn’t mean you need to revert to a completely ascetic lifestyle, but being a little more thoughtful about your food choices can go a long way to ensuring a healthy gut for the holidays.