There’s no denying it: The holidays are synonymous with food—seemingly endless buffets of sugar-heavy, rich foods—often leaving your gut health waiting in the wings until your New Year’s resolution to eat healthy comes knocking on your door. As someone who loves her sweets and deals with one-too-many gut flare-ups, I’m all for finding a happy medium and enjoying the holiday party circuit and its festive eats without worrying about whether my gut is going to pay the price. Because what’s the holiday season without indulging in figgy pudding and mulled wine surrounded by your favorite fellow partygoers (AKA family and friends)? So I asked experts how to bring our health A game throughout the holiday season sans FOMO, bloat, and digestive discomfort. Read on for their gut-friendly tips.
1. Avoid common triggers
There are foods that make you feel really good, then there are eats that can leave you with a miserable microbiome and feeling like blah. It goes without saying that most holiday spreads go heavy on the latter, causing everything from digestive discomfort to skin breakouts to brain fog and low energy. “Common triggers include dairy, refined sugar, gluten, and certain fibrous vegetables,” explained Juliana Tamayo, MS, RDN, a registered and clinical dietitian. Ask the host if there are any dishes that are lactose-free and consider passing on dishes that contain garlic, onions, broccoli, or cauliflower, which often trigger gut problems.
Better yet, BYOHD (bring your own gut-friendly dish) complete with a lean protein, healthy fats, and veggies, like this ground turkey sweet potato skillet. “Instead of forcing yourself to eat other people’s foods that might be triggering for you or hurt your gut, try making your own dish and bringing it to the party,” Tamayo suggested. “Offering to cook will always appear like a good gesture, and by doing so, you can guarantee that you are going to have something to eat that settles well with your stomach and won’t hurt your gut health.”
2. Be mindful about alcohol intake
What are the holidays without the likes of apple cider cocktails and peppermintinis? Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news: “Alcohol is not gut-friendly and can kill off the healthy bacteria in your gut,” Tamayo affirmed. “Instead of drinking alcohol excessively, try focusing on drinking 1-2 drinks at most, do not mix alcohols, and eat well beforehand.” Tamayo also recommended opting for bevvies with recipes that call for probiotics and anti-inflammatory ingredients, like kombucha, yogurt, kefir, apple cider vinegar, turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger. “All of these ingredients will help boost your gut health while keeping your microflora (gut-friendly bacteria) alive and happy,” Tamayo conveyed. Emily Brown, an integrative nutrition practitioner and epigenetics expert for rhythm, gave bonus points for drinks with fresh citrus and muddled herbs for their built-in antioxidants and detox support.
Other drinking tips Brown served up? Reach for healthier drinks, like clean wines or booze-free refreshments, and skip the mixed drinks with added sugars, like syrups or sodas, that leave you with nothing more than a hangover. And try ending the night with a cup of turmeric or nettle tea. Consider it preventive hangover care and essential for healthy digestion, adequate enzymes, and daily elimination.
3. Start with healthy habits first thing in the morning
Baby, it’s cold outside, so you may need an extra nudge to keep up with your water intake. Before you grab your morning coffee or PSL, sip on warm lemon water or tea and keep ’em coming throughout the day. “Enjoy a daily cup of tea with mucilages like aloe, slippery elm, or marshmallow root,” Brown suggested. “These fortify the lining of your gut, like a strong wall preventing inflammation, leaky gut, or irritation.” The best part? “When you stay hydrated, you also feel more energized and satisfied during the day, avoiding overeating and drinking sugary beverages,” Tamayo stated.
Brown also advised making exercise your first order of business in the AM: “Something as easy as a 30-minute walk will help set you up for better post-meal blood sugar control until dinner, better circadian rhythm and sleep, and continuity of your healthy habits so that it’s not all ‘on or off’ during the holidays.” To ensure you check fitting in movement off your to-do list? Lay out comfy, casual workout clothes the night before.
4. Get your probiotics and fiber in
The holidays are nothing if not enjoying the butterscotch pudding and creamy whipped potato casserole you wait all year for with the people you love. So if there’s one thing you do to make sure you are feeding your gut what it needs to be happy and healthy, take probiotics. “They’ve been shown to help our system metabolize alcohol along with all the other digestive and mental health benefits,” Brown said. Tamayo encouraged taking a probiotic supplement every morning or having some yogurt, kefir, or a shot of apple cider vinegar. Also, set your gut up for success by loading up on prebiotic nutrients, like bananas, oats, and flaxseeds, that will help provide fuel for said probiotics.
Most of the typical holiday foods are higher in sugar and lower in fiber, which can lead to all-too-familiar bloating and constipation. “Eat plenty of dietary fiber, which can help keep your gut regular and promote healthy bacterial growth,” Tamayo recommended. The fiber-rich foods to look out for and choose at your Christmas dinner? Sweet potatoes, legumes, berries, and avocado, just to name a few.
5. Nourish your body before and at the start of the party
“Many people will restrict themselves before holiday gatherings thinking that they’re ‘saving up’ for what’s to be consumed,” expressed Erika Fox, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Supergut. The result? You’ll have eyes bigger than your stomach once you greet that holiday feast, AKA you’re more likely to overindulge and ignore fullness cues. “Instead, give your body a good serving of fiber, protein, and healthy fats before a get-together,” Fox continued.
“Start any day–or party–with protein and fat,” Brown echoed. “Think of these as life rafts that help your body carry and metabolize simple carbohydrates: gingerbread, sugar cookies, or crackers. Your blood sugar and mood will thank you.” Do yourself and your gut a favor and make some oatmeal with flaxseeds, almond slices, and bananas to start your day off on the right foot, nosh on some nuts before you head out, and help yourself to some hummus and veggies as soon as you settle in at your soirée.
6. Enjoy yourself while eating mindfully
PSA: Having guilt or shame over what you eat is much harder on the body than a couple of glasses of bubbly or gingerbread cookies you’ve had one too many of. “Your body internalizes your thoughts and emotions, so practice gratitude, grace, compassion, and love to the best of your ability for your body and health, no matter the indulgences,” Brown said. She also explained that your parasympathetic nervous system signals your body to “rest and digest.” To stimulate it along with your vagus nerve, which delivers information from the gut to the brain and aids in reducing stress, pair your favorite holiday indulgences with a side of mindfulness, deep breaths, and gratitude. Your body will be more relaxed and the pie you finished off will digest more easily (read: no tummy troubles).
Bottom line: Instead of passing on every dish that’s calling your name, enjoy every bite on your plate while still tuning into your hunger cues. And don’t sweat the extra calories or sugar—your body has your back and will take care of detoxing on its own.