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How to Improve Gut Health After the Holiday Season

December 20, 2021

By Sarah Craig Haverland, MS, RD, LDN, Health & Wellness Specialist

Mindful Eating

During the holiday season, most of us turn to snacks, pantry food, frozen meals, sweets and all of the baked goods we can get our hands on. In turn, this can affect our mood, anxiety levels and overall mental health. Therefore, being mindful of what we are putting into our bodies can be extremely beneficial, especially after all of the celebrations have subsided. 

Best Foods for Gut Health

Including more plants in the form of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, grains, herbs and spices can provide the brain and body with added nutrients including fiber, vitamins and minerals. Prebiotics (found in fiber) feed our probiotics (the “good” gut bacteria and found in fermented foods like yogurt) and help support a healthy gut microbiome.

Prebiotics and probiotics are key for gut health and also have positive benefits for the rest of our body including boosting our immune system, our brain, and mental health. In fact, upwards of 90% of the body’s serotonin (the neurotransmitter that promotes well-being and happiness) is found in the gut, and the gut microbiome plays a critical role in its production.

Why are plants beneficial?

Plants are also packed full of antioxidants that are especially important for helping the body carry out its natural detoxification process. Consuming more plants is also in line with the Mediterranean lifestyle, which is primarily plant based. Many studies have found that the Mediterranean lifestyle can help prevent heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Additionally, recent research has indicated that the Mediterranean lifestyle is beneficial for one’s mental health and improving depression.

Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are usually processed soon after harvesting so the loss of flavor and nutrients is minimal. Since canned and frozen goods are nutritionally comparable to fresh options, they are a great way to conveniently add variety to your diet.

Healthy, Easy Additions

  • Enhance boxed macaroni and cheese with frozen or canned vegetables
  • Add canned beans or veggie chili and a handful of spinach to a baked sweet or white potato
  • Top a frozen pizza with some frozen veggies
  • Make a burrito bowl using boxed rice, cans of beans and corn and top with a jar of your favorite salsa
  • Flavor any dish with frozen herbs or some jarred minced garlic
  • Crumble a veggie burger on top of boxed pasta and a jar of your favorite sauce
  • Create a frittata with some eggs and any extra veggies in your fridge or freezer
  • Throw in a handful or two of frozen berries to your cereal  
  • Combine dried fruits, nuts, popcorn, whole grain cereal and/or seeds to make your own trail mix

Also, remember even if a food is not packed full of nutrients it can still serve a purpose. Enjoyment is reason enough to eat something!

A food can provide comfort and remind us of good memories which also helps improve our mental and emotional health during these uncertain times. So take the time to enjoy the foods you love - including your favorite flavor of ice cream or chips (all things in moderation).

Make Cooking Fun!

It is important to find creative ways to increase both nutrients and pleasure in what you eat. For example, consider gathering at home with your immediate family to bake your great grandmother’s secret pie recipe or catch up virtually with a friend while you both cook a plant focused dinner. Food can be more than just eating. Cooking provides an opportunity to be mindful, connect with others and make lasting memories. 

 

Learn More About Nutritional Wellness

 

Editor’s note: This blog post is presented for informational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose or treat any illness. If you have any health concern, see a licensed healthcare professional in person.