For each of us, the holiday season holds something distinctive. For some, it embodies a time of spiritual connection. Others cherish shared traditions with family. For many, it sparks generosity. Ultimately, this time of year is wrapped in its own kind of magic. Delicious treats and creamy cocktails included. Inevitably, December is also synonymous with digestive distress (hello, travel, irregular routines, and not-so-gut-friendly foods). But good news! You don’t have to sacrifice your digestive well-being to fully savor the holiday spirit. You can hold space for both: celebrating with loved ones and supporting your digestive system. This year, make it a gut health holiday season. Scroll on for tips to navigate the holiday hustle without feeling deprived.
Featured image from our interview with Roxana Saidi by Suruchi Avasthi
How to *Not* Support Your Gut Health
Let’s start here. Oftentimes, gut health wreckers are subtle. Think: skipping meals, drinking too much coffee, drink too little water, and wonky sleep. When we don’t identify and address these sneaky culprits, we can’t maintain a thriving digestive system. So, start small. Get into bed 15 minutes earlier than you usually do. Refill your water bottle—right before sleep—to easily hydrate in the morning. Throw an extra snack in your bag. And if stress is at an all-time high, don’t underestimate the power of communicating your stressors to loved ones, friends, or a trusted therapist.
Get the Most Bang for Your Nutritional Buck
When it comes to increasing your good gut bacteria, you want to make sure you’re actually absorbing what you’re putting into your body. In other words, a forkful of kimchi isn’t going to outdo a plate of highly-processed ingredients, refined sugar, and artificial additives. Capiche? With gut health holidays in mind, here are a few diet tips to optimize nutrient absorption.
Eat the rainbow
A balanced diet ensures you’re receiving a wide range of essential vitamins and minerals necessary for proper absorption. Try to add something green, orange, red, and/or purple to most meals!
Pair iron-rich foods with vitamin C
Did you know you can enhance the absorption of iron by pairing it with vitamin C-rich foods? For example, add citrus fruits, bell peppers, or tomatoes to your iron-rich meals—red meat, dark poultry, oysters, lentils, dark leafy greens, etc.
Include healthy fats
Healthy fats, such as those found in avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). Include these fats in your meals to enhance the uptake of beneficial gut bacteria.
Cook your veggies
Skip the raw produce and opt for roasting and sautéing. For example, cooking tomatoes releases lycopene, an antioxidant linked to various health benefits—including better digestive health.
Consume fermented foods
Fermented foods—like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi—contain probiotics that support a healthy gut microbiome. A well-balanced gut enhances nutrient absorption and overall digestion.
Practice mindful eating
Pay attention to your meals and practice mindful eating. Chew your food thoroughly, as the digestive process begins in the mouth with enzymes in saliva breaking down carbohydrates.
Don’t Forget Your Supplements
When it comes to keeping your gut health in check during the holidays, basic supplements work wonders. Stock up on your probiotics and magnesium before you hit the road. Both of these are key for maintaining gut health balance. Additionally, consider collagen or colostrum. By bolstering the mucosal layer, collagen aids in preventing the penetration of harmful substances and supports overall digestive health. Colostrum works in a similar (if not, more powerful!) way. Even adaptogens, like ashwagandha, can help the body adapt to stressors, thereby indirectly benefiting the gut.
10 Ways to Encourage a Healthy Gut
Inevitably, we all want to feel our best during the holidays (while relishing the season’s long-awaited comfort food). With practicality at the forefront, here are 10 ways to prioritize your digestive health as the year comes to a close.
1. Prioritize Hydration On the Go
Amidst the hustle and bustle of holiday travel, it’s easy to forget the simplest remedy for maintaining good gut health: water. Staying adequately hydrated aids digestion, helps flush out toxins, and supports overall well-being. Invest in a reusable water bottle to carry with you wherever you go, ensuring you have a convenient hydration companion during family visits, airport layovers, or road trips.
2. Pack Fiber-Friendly Snacks
Long journeys often lead to unhealthy snacking choices, especially when faced with limited options at airports or gas stations. Combat this by packing your own gut-friendly snacks, such as nuts, seeds, roasted chickpeas, or whole fruit. Not only does this keep your digestive system happy, but it also saves you from succumbing to the allure of less nutritious alternatives.
3. Embrace the Power of Probiotics
Maintaining a healthy balance of gut bacteria becomes even more crucial during the holiday season. Probiotics, found in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut, can promote a thriving gut microbiome. Making charcuterie? Incorporate these foods into your holiday spread to support digestion and boost your immune system, helping you stay resilient in the face of holiday stressors.
4. Embrace Mindful Eating Amidst Family Feasts
Holiday gatherings often mean indulging in feasts that can challenge your digestive system. Practice mindful eating by savoring each bite, chewing slowly, and paying attention to your body’s signals of fullness. This not only aids digestion but also allows you to enjoy the flavors of the season without overloading your gut.
5. Plan Balanced Meals Ahead of Time
Anticipate irregular meal times during the holidays by planning well-balanced meals in advance. Ensure your plate is a colorful array of fruits, veggies, proteins, and whole grains. This preemptive approach helps you maintain a nutrient-rich diet even when faced with the temptations of holiday treats. When in doubt, don’t skip breakfast.
6. Opt for Strategic Indulgences
While it’s perfectly acceptable (read: encouraged!) to enjoy holiday treats, strategic indulgences can make a significant difference. Choose your moments wisely, savoring those special desserts or decadent dishes without overdoing it. This way, you can indulge without leaving your gut feeling overwhelmed.
7. Incorporate Gut-Healing Herbs and Spices
Give your digestive system an extra boost by incorporating gut-healing herbs and spices into your holiday cooking. Ginger, peppermint, fennel, and turmeric are known for their digestive benefits. Experiment with adding these flavorful elements to your dishes, or enjoy them in teas to soothe your stomach after a hearty meal. Pack your tea bags with you!
8. Stay Active, No Matter Where You Are
Maintaining an active lifestyle can be challenging during the holidays, especially when routines are disrupted. Combat this by incorporating short bursts of physical activity into your day. Whether it’s a brisk walk after a meal, a quick workout in your hotel room, or a dance session during a family gathering, staying active supports healthy digestion.
9. Prioritize Sleep for Gut Health
Amidst the holiday excitement, it’s crucial not to neglect your sleep. A well-rested body is better equipped to handle the demands of the festive season, including maintaining optimal gut health. Prioritize a consistent sleep schedule, create a relaxing bedtime routine, and ensure you get enough rest to support your overall well-being.
10. Practice Stress-Reducing Techniques
Last but certainly not least, (try to) manage your stress. The holidays are emotionally charged, and stress has a direct impact on your digestive system. Incorporate stress-reducing techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or gentle yoga into your routine to keep your mind and gut in harmony.
A Holiday Season to Remember
This goes without saying, but the holidays are a time for celebration—not digestive distress. By incorporating these 10 tips into your festive routine, you can strike a balance between indulgence and prioritizing your gut health (the best of both worlds). Remember, it’s about making mindful choices, staying hydrated, and embracing a holistic approach to your well-being. Savor the season and let your gut join in the celebration.