How Harmful are the Holidays to my Gut Health? 

How Harmful are the Holidays to my Gut Health? 

The holidays can be difficult for your stomach to…stomach.  

Our guts get run through the wringer every year around this time. Halloween candy, Thanksgiving mega spreads, Christmas cookies, and all kinds of cocktails elbow their way into our diets and leave us longing for a health-oriented New Year’s resolution by the time those Christmas trees get dragged out to the front lawn.  

While most of us are aware of the toll the holidays take on our figure, not everyone realizes how damaging they can be to our gut health.   

Four elements that typically contribute to shoddy gut health during the holidays are:  

  • A lack of fiber  
  • An excess of foods high in sugar and fat content 
  • Large portions  
  • A spike in alcohol consumption 

Dietary fiber is a must, as it softens your stool while increasing the weight and size of it. This helps to maintain overall healthy bowels while minimizing constipation. Soluble fiber, like the kind found in beans, oats and flaxseed, works to lower total blood cholesterol levels. Foods low in fiber – like pretty much every dish you’ll reach for on the holiday dinner table – can lead to increased constipation.  

On days you plan to load up on fatty, sugary foods like ham, prime rib, mashed potatoes and all those desserts, be sure to splice in plenty of fruits, vegetables, and beans to keep your fiber intake balanced.  

Another way to get your digestive system on track is to consume probiotics. Try having a cup of kefir or a couple of spoons full of Greek yogurt to go with a bowl of high-fiber cereal for breakfast. This should give your good gut bacteria a lift each morning.   

When it comes to large portion sizes, simply put, overeating makes your organs work twice as hard. The stomach produces hydrochloric acid to break food down, so the larger your portion size, the higher the chance that acid backs up into the esophagus and causes heartburn. Those overloaded holiday plates can open another road to constipation, as well, while slowing down your entire digestive system.  

Want some tips to avoid overeating? Try:  

  • Eating from a salad plate instead of a dinner plate. 
  • Putting your fork or spoon down between each bite.  
  • Turning off your TV or computer or putting your phone down while you eat to avoid distractions.  
  • Chewing each bite thoroughly, a tactic that also helps with digestion.  

It can’t be understated how harmful alcohol can be to a person’s gut function. When abused, alcohol can overwhelm your gastrointestinal (GI) tract and liver and cause inflammation to your intestines. Some studies have found that increased alcohol consumption can acutely disrupt appetite signals and the urge to snack. Around the holidays with all that fatty food at your disposal, you can see how this could lead to the kind of vicious cycle that victimizes your gut.  

Curb your holiday drinking by cutting back on spirit measurements if you’re making a mixed drink. Or, for every alcohol beverage you have, mix in a sugar-free, non-alcoholic beverage or glass of water.  

Drinking plenty of water is always a good idea, but keep in mind that dehydration can also lead to an overly acidic stomach, which in turn can cause ulcers, heartburn, and constipation. The goal for most adults is to consume between 11 and 15 cups of water per day, which is just under a gallon.  

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Photo credit: Getty Images

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