How To Support Your Gut Health This Festive Season
As the festive season creeps up, our calendars fill with celebrations, feasts, and gatherings that often revolve around indulgent meals, alcohol and ‘treats’. And while it’s a time to enjoy good food and good company, it can also put a strain on our digestive systems and overall gut health.
In this article, we will explore my top tips on how to support your gut health before the festive season kicks into high gear. By following these strategies, you can prep your digestive system so it is ready to take on the mulled wine this December…
The festivities can often come with a couple of colds and a nasty flu thrown in for fun. And
whilst this might be partly down to the colder weather and heavy socialising, we can’t forget the role our gut health plays when it comes to immune system health.
The food we consume has an impact on our immunity and our ability to fight off nasty germs- Everytime we make a decision on what we eat, our gut bacteria break down this food and use it to grow.
A highly processed diet can lead to inflammatory responses that can impact our immunity, so ensure to consume a gut healthy diet this winter, which will encourage a healthy balance of bacteria.
One study conducted on covid symptoms reported that individuals who consumed a plant-heavy diverse diet, were 40% less likely to have severe covid symptoms or need hospital treatment, compared with those who ate a more western, processed diet. (1)
Prebiotics are also something to consider here. Prebiotics are the fuel that live bacteria feed on, and are a form of fibre that support overall gut health. When our gut bugs consume these prebiotics, they produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) which can contribute to everything from immune function, inflammation, energy and mood.
Studies have shown the correlation between consuming a higher intake of plant foods and increased levels of short-chain fatty acids in stool (2), so up those veggies!
Our gut microbes can modulate the immune system to help limit pathogens but also to help certain pathogens colonise in the gut (3). To support your gut AND immune system function consider including:
Zinc – Zinc L-carnosine contains both zinc and L-Carnosine, and is more bioavailable for your body to absorb. Zinc L-carnosine may support the gut by protecting its mucus membrane, helping to protect further against inflammation. Studies have shown that the combination of zinc and carnosine in a chelated form may be 2-3 x more effective.(4)
Vitamin A – Key for the bi-directional mechanism that takes place in the digestive system and leads to immune tolerance across the the entire gut lining. A deficiency in vitamin A can increase your susceptibility to infections and delay recovery when you get sick. (5)
Vitamin C – Plays a key role in the immune system whilst helping to inhibit the growth of bacteria. One study found that supplementation with vitamin C helped to increase the Firmicutes/Bacteriodetes ratio, improve overall gut health and decrease Enterobacteriaceae abundance. (6)
LOAD UP ON PLANT FOODS
When December kicks off, so does the onslaught of party food, whether that’s canapés,
sweet treats in the office, or those afternoon hot chocs. To help your gut function at its finest (all year-round, not just during the festive season) I recommend incorporating plenty of plant-based, colourful foods into your diet.
Polyphenols are micronutrients found in many plant based foods that have antioxidant properties, and they play a big role in gut health, with up to 95% of the polyphenols you eat, travelling to the large intestine, where they are broken down into smaller metabolites. Polyphenols are also considered prebiotics as they feed the bifidobacteria in your gut, increasing the population of bacteria = promoting gut health.
FESTIVE FOODS FOR GUT HEALTH
Dark choc: Rich in polyphenols and gut-loving, 70%+ dark chocolate is high in magnesium, copper and manganese. Plus dark chocolate provides prebiotic, providing fuel and promoting the growth of good gut bacteria.
Try: Making my superfood festive bark, the combo of chewy goji berries and crunchy seeds embedded into the dark chocolate hits that craving for crunch, whilst providing a good hit of fibre. It also makes a great homemade Christmas gift, recipe here
Coffee: Compounds in coffee such as polyphenols have been shown to have a prebiotic effect on the body, feeding existing beneficial bacteria in the intestines. Studies have also shown that certain compounds found in coffee may help reduce inflammation throughout the body, including within the digestive tract.(7)
Try: Avoid the sugar ladened Starbucks gingerbread latte, and try making your own spin on a festive coffee by adding cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Yummy!
Pecans: Packed with fibre, pecans can help to promote good gut health and regular bowel movements. The insoluble fibre found in them promotes overall regularity and may help prevent constipation.
Try: A healthy take on candied nuts, roast in maple and natural pumpkin spice blend.
Red cabbage: The insoluble fibre in red cabbage may help to relieve some gut related symptoms. One study from 2021 found that red cabbage extract had a positive influence on the gut microbiome and may play a role in the management of obesity in adults. (8)
Try: Adding a cinnamon stick when cooking your red cabbage to give it a festive boost.
Tangerines: With 1.6g of fibre in each tangerine, these are the perfect way to give your gut a little fibre boost. In addition, this citrus fruit is particularly high in vitamin C, which has been shown to potentially support gut bigidobacteria in studies. (9)
Try: Dunking them in 70%+ dark chocolate and a sprinkle of sea salt for the perfect dessert.
Fibre is one of the best ways to help support a balanced gut. Unfortunately, most festive
goodies lack adequate fibre. When consumption levels are high but fibre levels are low, your gut becomes imbalanced, leading to inflammation, discomfort and numerous gastrointestinal issues.
In the lead up to December, try to get your body accustomed to a higher fibre diet to support your gut health through the festive season. It’s important to note that when increasing your fibre intake, low and slow is key here to avoid gastro symptoms.
Some of my favourite sources of fibre include…
Whole Grains: Foods like whole wheat bread, brown rice, oats, quinoa, and whole grain
Pasta are all excellent sources of fibre.
Legumes: Beans (e.g., black beans, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas), and peas
Fruits: Apples and kiwi’s, pears, raspberries
Vegetables: Leafy greens, broccoli, carrots, and sweet potatoes
Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and sunflower seeds
CONSIDER A PROBIOTIC SUPPLEMENT
Give your gut some extra love by taking a high quality probiotic in the lead up and
throughout the festive season. It’s thought probiotics can help rebalance the friendly bacteria in your gut, with evidence showing they can help ease symptoms of GI issues like IBS, too.
It’s important to choose a probiotic that has independent clinical trials behind it, is multi strain not singular strain, has mechanisms to support it surviving and making its way to the intestines and which has at least 10 billion CFUs (amount of bacteria).
To read more on all you need to know about probiotics and my top ones, check out this
Sleep is one of the most important factors to keeping your gut health in check. Our bodies
like routine, and when we knock this out of whack by having a few late nights and a lack of
time to recharge, this can result in an unhappy gut.
Trying to go to sleep at the same time each night to train your body clock that you are in a regular routine can do wonders for your gut bugs. However, during the festive season this can be challenging with later nights and disturbed sleep from alcohol. Instead focus on
getting the best quality sleep you can in the hours you have!
Nailing your sleep hygiene can help here…
- Black-out blinds can prevent light from disrupting the creation of melatonin, helping you to fall asleep faster
- A hot bath or shower before bed to help lower your core temperature, which is a circadian sleep signal
- Not drinking alcohol or eating 2-3 hours before bed will allow your body time to digest properly, helping your body focus on sleep mechanisms rather than digestion
- Wearing blue light blocking glasses and using blue light blocking apps on tech may help increase melatonin production before bed
- Fresh air at night can help us maintain better air circulation and regulate our body’s rhythms such as waking and sleeping
- Try to avoid central heating in the bedroom as increased heat will encourage the body to work harder to regulate overall temperature throughout the night, increasing wakefulness and decreasing sleep quality
- Deep breathing before bed has been shown to encourage melatonin production, promoting relaxation
HACKS FOR DRINKING TO SUPPORT THE GUT
SUPPORT DIGESTION- Try consuming bitter foods such as rocket, kale, dandelion greens and chicory. These can help to stimulate stomach acid and digestive enzyme production. Try having a rocket salad as your starter or a handful before a large meal to help digestion.
ELECTROLYTES- Drinking alcohol contributes to dehydration, and the body attempts to rebalance body fluids but it needs electrolytes to do this thoroughly. If you hydrate and replenish electrolytes before and after drinking, you may be able to avoid the full fledged hangover. And whilst yes electrolytes can help with hydration levels, they don’t give you permission to drink excessively without consequences. Some electrolytes can help restore the balance of fluids in the body after drinking, potentially reducing hangover symptoms.
BALANCED BLOOD SUGAR- When we consume high levels of alcohol, pressure is put on the liver to break down the booze, and whilst the liver is dealing with this job, it stops releasing glucose, leading to lowered blood sugar levels.
This can cause fluctuations in blood glucose levels, so keeping everything balanced the next day is key. Check out my blog article on everything you need to know about balancing blood sugar levels here.
GET OUTSIDE- Fresh air is one of the best natural remedies for a hangover. A brisk walk in your local park may be just what you need to shake off the night before and start feeling yourself again.
Enjoy the festive season but remember that if your gut is out of whack, you will feel off whack too. Support your gut health in small ways over the next few weeks so you head into 2024 with your gut healthy and thriving!