By Charlotte Traas, New Chapter ® Director of Education
2020 has been anything but normal. As we head into the holidays, that old familiar feeling of joy at the upcoming time together and the pervasive stress that has permeated everything this year might be joining to create a large knot in your stomach. Can supplements help you handle the hustle and bustle of the holiday season? Is there a strategy to help you fight your holiday foe, the buffet table? Together, let’s explore healthy holiday tips on ways to support our gut health and our mental health during this holiday season.
The holidays usher in the familiar tastes and smells of baked goods and decadent meals surrounded by family and friends. This year, while we may be celebrating with smaller groups, we may continue to take comfort in the holiday foods that we know and love. One bite of gluten-filled sage dressing and I’m instantly transported back to my mom’s house, even though I can’t be there in person this year.
While comforting, these holiday foods may not be good fuel to support our overall health goals. Our daily food choices can really impact how we feel both mentally and physically and can also affect our immune system. While we can say, “What the heck!” “Why not?,” and “I earned this” sometimes, we should pay attention to our bodies and learn how different foods make us feel. (Sugar coma after those sweet potatoes topped with baby marshmallows at Thanksgiving, anyone?)
While they may bring comfort in the short term, in the long term these foods may deter us from the path of staying healthy and empowering our immune system.
What is Gut Health?
Digestive and gut health involve the effective breakdown of food into smaller building blocks your body can use in different ways. Food and drink get digested and broken into macronutrients (fats, proteins, and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (such as vitamins and minerals). Getting nutrition from your food is essential for supporting the many systems of your body. From the mouth through the esophagus, stomach, and intestines, your digestive system organs work to transport nourishment smoothly. And it’s important to know that your digestive tract is its own living ecosystem. Your gut is home to a unique combination of trillions of beneficial bacteria, yeast, and other microorganisms. Together, they make up what’s called your gut microbiome. Microbiome health has been linked to many other aspects of health, including mood and immune activity.
Gut Health and Mental Health: How They Affect Each Other
A survey showed that 74% of Americans live with digestive discomfort. This is important because your digestive health can affect every system in your body. While many people know that inflammation from allergies or food reactions can cause discomfort, they may not know that your digestive health is integral to your overall mood health.
Tucked away in your digestive system is the ENS, otherwise known as the enteric nervous system. This system is a web of neurons embedded in the walls of your gastrointestinal system. If you’ve ever gotten a nervous stomach, you have experienced how your brain and gut are directly connected.
How Gut Health Supports Immune Defenses
When you feel stressed, it can take a toll on your digestive system AND your immune system. Stress signals are our “fight or flight response.” This is triggered in response to our body being under threat, whether that’s during Black Friday shopping, an uncomfortable interaction with someone, or a big deadline looming at work. While stress can be beneficial to help power you through tough moments, having stress last for days or months at a time may lead to long term issues like a weakened immune system.
How does this happen? Your immune system is taxed and engaged with trying to help your body to calm down from the stress hormones you are producing in large quantities. This works your immune system too hard and it eventually tires out and becomes less effective. Supporting your stress levels with adaptogenic herbs like Holy Basil, Rhodiola, and Ashwagandha can help your body adjust to stress levels and also support your immune system.
Probiotics, the good bacteria that support your body’s immune system by outnumbering and fighting dangerous microbes and pathogens, can support your body’s digestive health as well. These beneficial bacteria have numerous benefits, like supporting healthy digestion and building up a healthy microbiome.
How to Improve Gut Health Naturally
While scientists advise that we avoid saturated fats and red meats, and include plenty of fruits and vegetables in our regular diet, can a splurge during the holidays really affect us that much? According to research, the answer unfortunately is yes. Switching from a low-fat, polysaccharide-rich plant diet to a high-fat, high-sugar diet may shift the composition of your microbiota (good bacteria in your gut) within a single day. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to keep great digestive balance going through the holiday season (and all year long). Here are my 3 favorite tips for supporting a healthy microbiome and digestive system.
Tip 1: Consume the Best Foods for Gut Health
Some of the best foods for inner wellness are fermented. Think sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso—most food traditions include some kind of fermentation or culturing. Fermented foods have many benefits! One is that they are pre-broken down to be digested and assimilated easily by the body. A great example? You’d never give a six-month-old baby cow’s milk. The sugars and proteins found in cow’s milk are too difficult for the baby’s system to digest. What you can do is ferment that same milk into yogurt. Yogurt is fermented, and one of the first foods doctors recommend giving a baby who is starting to consume solid foods.
Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage made from sugar, yeast, bacteria, and tea. Through fermentation, kombucha has a natural probiotic content. Kombucha has historical roots that start in northeast China, once known as Manchuria. This beverage was popular back in 220 BCE for its detoxifying and energizing properties.
Vegetables of the Brassicaceae family are better known as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, and bok choy. These leafy green vegetables contain insoluble fiber, which is great for stimulating the digestive tract and helping to support regular bowel movements. Cruciferous vegetables also naturally contain magnesium, which also supports digestive health.
Tip 2: Make Gut-Healthy Holiday Recipes
While we all love our holiday treats, there are ways to get the flavors of the holiday season without excess sugar and processed starches. Follow our healthy holiday recipes to incorporate delicious flavor into this special season without the guilt.
Turmeric Golden Milk
One of my holiday favorites used to be egg nog, but then I found out this traditional drink is usually spiked with more sugar than a candy bar for a cup! While I dig the nog, I wanted a substitute for this comfort drink in the winter. Golden milk incorporates inflammation-balancing fermented Turmeric along with spicy Ginger, holiday favorite Cinnamon, and digestive sweetheart Cardamom.
Make a warming mug of Golden Milk.
Healthy Vegan Power Bowl
As I get ready to head to my mother-in-law’s for her epic buffet table of Swedish food and American traditional Thanksgiving dishes, I never want to go over on an empty stomach. I like to eat a healthy but nourishing meal beforehand so instead of splurging on her delicious spread, I simply sample it. This method has kept me satisfied and guilt-free! Check out this Turmeric veggie power bowl that is anything but boring. Add a dash of sriracha if you want. It will warm you up and chase the need for a second piece of pie out of your head.
Stay satisfied with a Turmeric-Veggie Power Bowl.
Acorn Squash with Vegan Stuffing
I like to bring a side dish to Thanksgiving and holiday gatherings, and this one never fails me. Maybe it’s the cornbread, maybe it’s the poultry seasoning that gives it a nice savory taste, but ultimately, these stuffed squashes are a crowd pleaser that also ticks the comfort-food box.
Bake up the ultimate side dish, Acorn Squash with Vegan Sausage stuffing.
Tip 3: Add the Best Supplements for Gut Health
Probiotics for a Healthy Gut
Clinically studied, strain-specific probiotics are a great inclusion in your wellness routine. Check out New Chapter’s Probiotic All-Flora™ probiotic supplement that blends strain-specific probiotics with the power of beneficial yeast Saccharomyces boulardii. Fermented aloe and an herbal digestive blend make this the best probiotic for keeping your microbiome happy during the holiday season.
Using Ginger for Gut Health
Feeling queasy? Ginger is great for nausea but also warming and helpful to supporting a balanced digestive tract. New Chapter’s Ginger Force™ incorporates the power of supercritical Ginger, gently extracted with CO2 to deliver powerful digestive support.*
Fermented Vitamins (Multis)
New Chapter’s multivitamins have the benefit of being fermented and formulated for absorption. These great multivitamins support your immune system and your daily need for micronutrients during the winter season, when you may need certain nutrients more. New Chapter® delivers complementary herbals in each of our multivitamins, so it’s like getting an immune supplement, a multivitamin, and an herbal all in one!
Wellness for the Holiday Season
New Chapter wishes you the best in supporting yourself and your loved ones during the holiday season and every day. Looking for more healthy holiday tips? We’ve got you covered with posts on responsible gifting and beating winter blues. We’re here for you with revolutionary natural wellness supplements formulated for your body to really, truly absorb. We call that wellness, well done.