The festive season is a time to eat, drink and be merry. But sometimes, it can leave some of us feeling a little worse for wear.
Feel like you need to do a gut reset after the holidays? Registered Nutritionist Sarah Gray says no extreme measures are required to improve your gut health after the holidays.
However, she says you can always benefit from some lifestyle and dietary tips to help support gut health any time of the year.
Why is gut health important?
Scientists are getting more clued up about the role the bacteria in your gut, also known as the gut microbiome, plays as part of your overall health.
Sarah says that the gut is connected to so many areas of health - not only digestive function alone but immune health and mood to name a few.
Scientific research suggests that there may be a gut-brain connection, a direct form of communication between the flora in our gut, the vagus nerve and our brain. While the evidence is still emerging, it does appear that supporting a healthy gut is important for a well functioning gut-brain axis to send positive, healthy messages to your brain.
Include high fibre food in your diet
Sarah says that high fibre food in your diet may help provide good quality fuel for your gut by enabling the gut to produce as much good bacteria as possible.
If you’re looking for foods to reset gut flora, fresh fruit and vegetables are naturally high in fibre, helping to support gut health.
While carbs often get a bad rap, Sarah says, “whole wheat bread and oats are really good sources of fibre.”
The more diverse a range of plant-based foods you eat, the more diverse the ‘good’ bacteria in your gut may be.
Some people cut out bread from their diet, but Sarah says you shouldn’t have gut problems caused by gluten unless you have a medically diagnosed condition.
Just remember to gradually increase your fibre intake, as some people can experience gut symptoms of too much being added too quickly.
Eat foods rich in probiotics
- sourdough bread
- miso soup
Probiotic supplements may also be of benefit to top up your good gut bacteria. If you don't Chat to a qualified health professional about which one may be right for you.
Choose foods high in prebiotics
Sarah says that foods high in prebiotics may help ‘good’ bacteria to flourish in the gut. “Prebiotics are the food or the feed for the probiotics (or ‘good’ bacteria) to keep them alive and healthy.”
Foods rich in prebiotics include:
- Fruit and vegetables: Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, beetroot, fennel bulb, green peas, snow peas, legumes (chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, baked beans, soybeans), custard apples, nectarines, watermelon, grapefruit, pomegranate, dried fruit (dates, figs)
- Bread, cereals, snacks: barley, rye bread, rye crackers, pasta, gnocchi, couscous, wheat bran, wheat bread, oats
- Nuts and seeds: cashews and pistachio nuts
Eat ultra-processed food in moderation
Sarah says to eat ultra-processed food in moderation. “They often contain ingredients that either suppress 'good' bacteria or increase 'bad' bacteria.”
Eat a wide range of plant-based foods
“The more diverse a range of plant-based foods you eat, the more diverse the ‘good’ bacteria in your gut may be. They can also help keep your gut healthy and functioning well,” Sarah says.
Alcohol and gut health
Some research suggests that heavy alcohol consumption can affect the balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in the gut and negatively impact the microbiome.
While a moderate intake over the holiday period may not have these impacts, it’s important to speak with your GP if you’re worried about your drinking in general.
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- How stress affects gut health
- Let's talk about bread and the immune system
Sarah Gray is both a Registered Pharmacist and Registered Nutritionist with a particular interest in health education and helping people to take small steps to big change in their health journey. So that’s what led Sarah to become Head of Health and Nutrition on the healthylife Advisory Panel.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board December 2021.