How to Have a Happy & Gut-Healthy Holiday Season

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(BPT) - The holiday season is filled with sugar and spice and everything nice — like parties, beloved traditions, festive foods and time with loved ones. And while all of these are things to be enjoyed, they can also lead to gut health woes as your eating habits and routines are thrown a bit out of whack.

“Bloating and digestive discomfort are incredibly common, even outside of the holiday season,” says gut health expert and registered dietitian Kristie Leigh, Director of Health and Scientific Affairs at Danone North America. “In fact, about 50% of the Western population experiences issues like bloating, gas, rumbling or discomfort on a regular basis. With the uptick in indulgent foods, traveling and socializing that we see around the holidays, these issues can be exacerbated — which is the last thing you want when you’re trying to enjoy this happy time of year.”

Luckily, there are some simple things you can do to help keep your gut healthy and happy amid the festivities and beyond. Here are Leigh’s top five tips to help you enjoy the holiday season to its fullest, without letting uncomfortable bloating or gut issues put a damper on your celebrations:

1. Consume fermented foods. These include foods like yogurt, kombuchas, sauerkraut and home-pickled vegetables. Consuming these regularly as part of an overall gut-healthy eating pattern may help with the minor digestive issues that come with heavy holiday foods because they help support your gut health overall and on an ongoing basis. Not only has research linked fermented foods with an increase in the diversity of bacteria in your gut (an indication of good gut health), they’re also associated with benefits such as better blood pressure and blood sugar levels and lower levels of inflammation.

2. Consider probiotics that target bloating and digestive discomfort. While it’s a common misconception that all live and active cultures, like those you find in fermented foods, are probiotics, that isn’t necessarily the case. “To be considered a probiotic, a bacterial strain must be clinically studied and shown to have a specific benefit,” Leigh explains. “So, if your goal is to help manage bloating and minor digestive discomfort, you’ll want to look for probiotic products studied to provide that benefit.” One example is Activia probiotic yogurt, which contains billions of the probiotic strain Bifidobacterium animalis lactis DN-173 010/CNCM I-2494. Leigh typically recommends getting probiotics through food versus supplements because they give you an array of other valuable nutrients along with the beneficial bacteria and because they can help buffer stomach acids, increasing the chance that probiotics will survive to the intestine where they need to go.

3. Eat plenty of fiber-rich foods, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fiber helps move things through your digestive tract, and a type of fiber called prebiotic fiber actually acts as food for the good bacteria in your gut. Prebiotic fiber is found naturally in foods like artichokes, asparagus, leeks, onions, garlic, chicory, bananas, berries, soybeans, legumes, oats, barley and wheat and is used in concentrated form to fortify some foods and beverages. Just note that, with any type of fiber, you’ll want to introduce it slowly over time if your digestive system isn’t used to it. Adding too much too quickly could lead to some abdominal discomfort, and as it stands, most Americans aren’t currently getting enough. Simple swaps and small additions to your diet can help reach your fiber goals, such as adding sliced banana and berries to your morning oatmeal or yogurt, swapping regular pasta for whole wheat or adding a side of edamame to your lunch or dinner.

4. Stay hydrated. Dehydration is one of the main contributors to constipation, something that’s all too common when we’re traveling, staying with family and friends or otherwise shifting our habits or routines. To make sure you’re drinking enough water every day, find little tricks that help you reach your hydration goals — like starting your day with a big glass of water before you do anything else, finding a reusable water bottle that you love and making sure you have it filled and with you throughout the day or getting a little fancy with some fruit infusions. “I like infusing my water with cranberries and mint or orange and rosemary around the holidays for some refreshing, festive flavor and a little extra fun,” says Leigh.

5. Prioritize self-care. This includes getting enough sleep, moving your body in ways you enjoy and taking some time for yourself to de-stress, all of which can help promote a healthier, happier gut. That’s because exercise helps keep your digestive system moving and has been linked to a more diverse gut microbiome, while stress and anxiety often worsen symptoms like bloating and digestive discomfort. “It’s easy to get so busy during the holiday season that we let a lot of our self-care go out the window,” says Leigh. “But to fully lean into the festivities and bring our best selves, it’s important to prioritize ourselves and our overall wellness.”

And when it comes to gut health, Leigh emphasizes, the key is to build these tips into your everyday life. “There isn’t a magic bullet for gut health or one food that will magically make bloating and digestive discomfort disappear,” she says. “It’s more about supporting your gut on a regular basis so that it’s better able to handle the occasional indulgence or shift in habits.”

So, as you’re gearing up for this year’s celebrations, remember the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and consider implementing these simple tips now to help promote a healthy gut and a happy holiday season!