During the holiday season, there’s a silent, uneasy standoff—and we don’t mean the one between you and your in-laws at the dinner table. Rather, there’s a constant tension between the season’s many excesses and a healthy gut. As delightful as holiday celebrating is, it often involves foods, drinks, and stressors that can wreak havoc on the bacteria in your GI tract.
To keep the season from leaving you sluggish, bloated, and constipated, go in with a plan to give your gut some TLC. Building in the right healthy habits can take you from Thanksgiving straight through New Year’s with happy a gut as ever, while still enjoying the festivities.
1. Know Your Gut-Friendly Foods
Believe it or not, the holidays don’t have to be a barrage of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods. Every meal eaten at home is an opportunity to nourish your body—and even if you’re headed to a gathering, you can choose to bring something gut-friendly to share.
For starters, try focusing on fiber as much as possible this time of year, since this nutrient is the top dog when it comes to a flourishing GI tract. Studies have not only linked a high-fiber diet to increased diversity of gut microbiota but also to lower long-term weight gain.
Need help working in more fiber? Dietitian and gut health specialist Amanda Sauceda, R.D.N. recommends whipping up a nourishing soup. “Soups are one of the easiest ways to get in lots of veggies, which helps keep your fiber intake consistent,” she says. “Plus, cooking veggies helps soften the fibers, making them easier on your digestive system.” Get started with these dietitian-backed soups that are perfect for the colder months, or these immune-boosting soup recipes.
To get even more gut-friendly, zero in on foods that contain prebiotic fiber—the kind that “feeds” good gut bacteria. At holiday buffets, go for dishes that contain prebiotic-rich foods like onions, apples, garlic, asparagus, oats, and chickpeas.
Read More: 5 Steps to a Happier, Healthier Gut
Then, you can always include the perennial gut favorite: yogurt. “Yogurt can be a great gut-healthy food to incorporate into your routine during the holidays since it can be a good source of probiotics,” says Sauceda. “Just always make sure your yogurt has “live and active cultures” listed on the label, along with the probiotic strain.” Want a double dose of gut health? Try starting your morning with a yogurt parfait or smoothie with high-fiber berries.
2. Minimize Major Gut Offenders
While the holidays are a time to enjoy your favorite seasonal treats and other indulgences, many of these foods and beverages—specifically alcohol and foods high in fat and sugar—are at the top of the naughty list when it comes to gut health.
Of course, eating for a happy gut doesn’t mean you have to nix holiday treats altogether! “Being mindful of portion sizes is the easiest way to enjoy not-so-gut-friendly but yummy holiday food,” says Sauceda.
A good place to start being more mindful? With super-rich dishes like cream-based pies, potatoes swimming in butter, cheesecakes, and the like. “Rich foods are usually high in fat, and high-fat meals can slow down your digestion,” Sauceda explains. “Some rich foods (think cakes and cookies) can also be high in simple carbs, and can make you feel hungrier in the long run.”
Another reason to keep your sugar consumption reasonable? “Any sugar that your small intestine is unable to digest ultimately travels to the large intestine, which may increase the production of unhealthy bacteria, resulting in gas production and bloating,” explains naturopath Dr. Mel Schottenstein, N.M.D.
You’ll also do well to try and stick with a single alcoholic beverage at your next holiday party, Schottenstein recommends. “Your liver is your major organ for detoxification. When it becomes stressed, inflammation increases, which negatively impacts the gut microbiome,” she says. This inflammation can also slow the digestive process and lead to gas and bloating.
3. Make Sleep a Priority
Before you laugh at the idea of getting enough shut-eye when there are gifts to wrap, turkeys to bake, and planes to catch, consider this: A good night’s rest could help your gut get through to New Year’s Eve feeling solid. “The gastrointestinal system plays an integral role in our nervous system and is often considered to be our second brain,” says Schottenstein. “For this reason, it is no surprise that sleep impacts our overall GI health, including our gut microbiome.”
There’s science to back up these claims! Recent studies have found that disruption of the circadian rhythm can alter the body’s microbial communities, leading to negative outcomes like weight gain and increased inflammation. This can then become a vicious cycle, as microbial dysregulation ends up perpetuating poor sleep.
Besides getting yourself to bed at a reasonable time each night, Schottenstein advises tapping into the power of the nap. “Nap time may be a healthy option to protect your overarching gut health because naps provide the body a moment to rest and repair itself,” she says. As you wait for your cookies to emerge from the oven, go ahead and power down for a bit.
4. Stay Hydrated
In the summertime, when the sun’s beating down, it’s only natural to reach for your water bottle. In the cooler months, though, hydration isn’t always top of mind. But don’t let a change in the weather keep you from drinking up. Your gut will thank you!
“Hydration is huge in helping you maintain a healthy gut, and even more so during the holidays,” says Sauceda. With all the heavy foods and higher stress levels of the season, many folks experience slower intestinal transit a.k.a. constipation. “You may notice that during the holidays your gut feels a little sluggish, and that may be because of being dehydrated. Staying hydrated keeps things moving.” If cold beverages aren’t appealing this time of year, try drinking warm tea instead. Just be sure it’s not highly caffeinated so you don’t end up jittery all day long.
5. Consider Supplementation
Even if you don’t typically take gut-focused supplements, the holiday season might be a good time to try them out. Digestive enzymes or a fiber supplement could make the difference between spending the holidays celebrating versus kicking it in the bathroom.
“Your gut loves fiber, and what it loves even more is consistency,” says Sauceda. “When we lose that consistency with fiber [during the holidays], you may notice that your pooping isn’t on point or that you even feel a bit bloated.” Consider a gentle supplement that supplies a few additional grams of fiber—too many and you could create other problems for your digestion. Yerba Prima Psyllium Husks Powder is a popular option that provides an additional four grams of fiber per serving.
Digestive enzymes are another option for helping food pass through your GI tract without giving you grief. Try The Vitamin Shoppe brand Digestive Enzymes, which contain protein-, carb-, fat-, lactose-, and fiber-digesting blends.