Even people with the strongest digestive systems get overwhelmed around the holidays due to an excess of processed foods, sugar and alcohol. Individuals with digestive disorders and chronic diseases can be particularly affected. Research has suggested these conditions (and chronic diseases) are the result of an overgrowth and imbalance of intestinal microbial flora, which consists of bacteria that help keep you healthy. This research dates back to the 1920’s when doctors like Dr. Ilya Metchnikoff recommended fermented milk (kefir) and yogurt to promote healthy gut bacteria.
What should you know about the gut?
You’ve probably heard about the “gut microbiome” by now, which contains colonies of microbes in your gut and can change (for better or worse) based on factors like diet, lifestyle, and exposure to toxins and antibiotics. A healthy intestinal flora results in a healthy immune system. Like a lush forest, we have thousands of different species of bacteria living inside our body. We start to develop this “forest” at birth and it’s mostly established within the first three years of life. These organisms perform many functions and need to be balanced for good health. Harmful microbes can cause problems for us if they start to take over, outnumbering the more beneficial ones.
Whether you have a digestive disorder or not, there are several things you can do to support the health of your gut during the holiday season, or any time.
Here are some tips to beat the bloat:
Drinking more water gives your body more energy and helps your skin look great. When you wake up in the morning, drink one litre of water before you do anything else. Drink a glass of water between each alcoholic drink at parties. This will help you stay hydrated and will help you sleep better and prevent hangovers.
Antioxidants can prevent or slow the damage of our cells. Natural antioxidants are mainly found in fruits and vegetables, marine plants, and some seafood (eat more of these foods over the holidays!). The most common dietary antioxidants include vitamins A, C, and E, beta-carotene, and lycopene. Glutathione is one of the most powerful antioxidants. Glutathione is an antioxidant that is in whey protein and certain (fresh) fruits and vegetables like asparagus, peppers, carrots, onion, broccoli, avocados, squash, spinach, garlic, tomatoes, grapefruit, apples, oranges, bananas and melon. Antioxidants are also manufactured as supplements.
Queen Street Bakery’s White Bean & Grape Skin loaf is made with grape skin flour. Grape skin contains a powerful antioxidant called resveratrol, which has been shown to help fight and prevent disease.
Gastroenterologists advocate a diet rich in fibre for those with digestive disorders. Many recommend at least 24 grams of dietary fibre per day, with a good amount coming from fruit. A 2013 study published in Gastroenterology showed the long-term intake of dietary fibre, particularly from fruit, is associated with a lower risk of Crohn’s disease. Vegetables, nuts and seeds, including sprouted seeds offer fibre. Eat more of these foods over the holidays.
Limit Sugars and Starches
The intestinal flora can be supported through clean eating. At holiday gatherings, try to avoid processed foods and eliminate foods that disrupt it, such as those containing “two-sugar disaccharide carbohydrates” (like sucrose, or table sugar) and “many-sugar” polysaccharides (like starch). Foods containing single sugars (glucose) such as fruit, honey and properly fermented yogurt would be examples of acceptable sugars.
Consider taking probiotics. Probiotics promote beneficial gut bacteria and maintain the integrity of the GI tract lining. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health and digestive system. Naturally found in the body, probiotics are often called “good” or “helpful” bacteria. You can also find them in foods and supplements. Most probiotics come in two groups:
- Lactobacillus is found in yogurt and other fermented foods.
- Bifidobacterium is found in some dairy products.
Probiotics are particularly helpful after you’ve taken a round of antibiotics or other medications.
Consume more yogurt. Properly fermented yogurt—natural, unsweetened and ideally fermented for 24 hours (you can make your own) help repopulate healthy intestinal flora of the GI tract and create balance. The bacteria in the yogurt breaks down the lactose (disaccharides) into galactose (monosaccharide). There also are dairy-free yogurt options if you can’t tolerate dairy.
Other Fermented Foods
Fermented foods have been through a fermentation process whereby natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food, creating lactic acid. The process preserves the food and creates beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and strains of probiotics. Fermentation has also been shown to preserve nutrients in food and make it more digestible. Examples in addition to yogurt: Kombucha (made from tea, clean water, sugar, yeast, and bacteria), sauerkraut (made from cabbage).
About the Author: Living with celiac disease, Lisa Cantkier is a writer and educator focused on nutrition and health.