By Margaret Apura, Registered Dietitian
The holidays are right around the corner and many of us are thinking about how to not gain those extra pounds. However, it's not just our weight we should be worried about – we should also focus on keeping our gut healthy this holiday season. Our gut does much more than digest food – it also has an important immune function. Keep your digestive tract strong and healthy for the holidays and new year by following these 5 easy tips:
Fill up on fiber: Filling up on foods rich in fiber like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains will help keep you regular during the busy holiday season. High fiber foods not only prevent constipation, but they also feed the good bacteria in your gut, keeping it healthy.
Keep portion sizes in check: Eating large portions of rich holiday foods can often cause stomach discomfort. High fat foods are digested more slowly which can lead to gas and bloating. Aim to have smaller portions of your favorite treats and fill up on fiber rich foods instead this holiday season.
Practice eating mindfully: Mindless eating can have negative consequences on our health. Over time, it can lead to overeating, excessive weight gain, and digestive issues, such as gas and bloating. Here are some tips to help you slow down while eating and really savor those favorite holiday foods:
- Put your utensils down between bites
- Sip water between bites
- Chew your food thoroughly before swallowing (this helps improve digestion)
- Try eating with chopsticks
- Set a timer to see if you can extend your meal for 20 minutes. You may find you don’t need second helpings (it takes about 20 min. for our belly to tell our brain that we are full)
- Eat without a TV, phone, or computer in front of you. No distractions!
- Eat at the dinner table
Balance with probiotics: Stress combined with eating a lot of sugary foods during the holidays can throw our digestive tract off balance. Making sure your diet includes foods rich in probiotics will help boost your good gut bacteria, keeping your digestive tract in balance. The most popular foods that contain probiotics include yogurt and kefir (a drink made from milk that is popular in Europe but can also be found in US supermarkets). Make sure to choose unsweetened yogurt (or kefir) that includes live or active cultures. Non-dairy fermented food options that contain probiotics include kimchi (a spicy Korean cabbage dish), sauerkraut (look for the unpasteurized version), and tempeh (a fermented soybean product).
Watch out for alcohol: For many of us, the holidays often include drinking wine or cocktails at parties and family gatherings. However, excessive drinking can have negative consequences on our gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It can cause digestive problems such as diarrhea, gas, and bloating. Research has also shown that chronic, excessive drinking can alter the gut microbiome (meaning fewer good bacteria and more bad bacteria). The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 2 drinks or less per day for men and 1 drink or less per day for women. If you’re looking to cut back on your alcohol intake this holiday season, try having wine spritzers (½ wine; ½ seltzer water) instead of regular wine or non-alcoholic cocktails (just watch the sugar!). And remember to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.