Lauren Glucina, naturopath & nutritionist from AscensionKitchen.com is here to help us support our gut health during this busy time of year...
Gut health is truly the foundation to whole body health, so it makes sense to nurture it – particularly during the time of the year where stress can soar, food choices become indulgent and alcohol intake is, well, shall we say, frivolous?!
The gut microbiome is an ecological community of microorganisms living in the gastrointestinal tract. This community is ginormous – with over 100 trillion living in each of us. These microorganisms contribute to our health in numerous ways. They help to break down the food we eat, promote absorption of vitamins and minerals, synthesize nutrients, modulate the immune and inflammatory response, and more.
They are however incredibly sensitive to our dietary and lifestyle choices. Poor choices can reduce the abundance and diversity of beneficial bacteria, and potentially allow less desirable bacteria to become opportunistic.
With this in mind, here are five simple ways to help support gut health over the silly season:
Stress has a far-reaching impact on digestive function as a whole. In sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ mode, digestion is dampened down – impacting your ability to break down and absorb nutrients and eliminate waste. Furthermore, stress has been shown to decrease the abundance of beneficial bacteria in the gut.Tune into a mindfulness app or commit to a daily practice of conscious breathing, to help bring the opposing ‘rest and digest’ branch of the nervous system back into dominance.
Invest in Rest
The pressure to make work deadlines before the holidays can see some working late or even into the wee hours of the morning. Add to that a handful of Christmas parties, and hello sleep deprivation. Just two days of which is enough to cause subtle changes in the gut microflora, increasing the abundance of bacteria associated with weight gain, obesity and metabolic disorders.
You may not be able to change that deadline, however, you can make the sleep you get really count. Avoid stimulants before bed – these include caffeine (even chocolate), alcohol (it increases night time waking), and blue light (emitted from electronic devices). Additionally, make your bedroom sleep-friendly: keep it dark and well ventilated, and use an eye mask and/or earplugs for a deeper sleep.
The best thing about the silly season is the food, amiright?! However, refined sugars and processed foods are not conducive to a healthy gut microbiome.
Try making your own festive treat, cake or party snack to take along to a gathering. Instead of following a conventional recipe, get creative and switch some of the ingredients out for healthier whole food options. For example – you can easily sub cane sugar for whole dates or pure maple syrup (and perhaps use a little less than what is called for in the recipe). Snack on something healthy before you head out so you don’t overeat, and watch portion sizes.
Watch the alcohol
It is well-known that alcohol negatively impacts the microbiome. Ethanol has been shown to reduce gastric acid release – your first line of defence against ingested pathogens. It also reduces intestinal motility and increases the susceptibility of microbial imbalance and leaky gut.
Be mindful of consumption, opt for a spritzer, drink sparkling water flavoured with fresh herbs and berries, or bring a bottle of kombucha to the party!
Eat pre- and probiotic-rich foods
Prebiotics are un-digestible plant fibres that provide a food source for the good bacteria in the gut. Aim to include some prebiotic-rich foods in the diet daily: oats, legumes, asparagus, artichoke, garlic, leek and onion are good sources. As for probiotics – these are the beneficial bacteria found in fermented or cultured foods. Kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and miso are all good sources.