Everyone experiences occasional digestive symptoms such as upset stomach, gas, heartburn, nausea, constipation or diarrhea.  And, when we are in the holiday season, these symptoms tend to occur more frequently due to over eating or stuffing yourself with the wrong, tempting, sugary treats that show up this time of year.

It seems a lot harder to avoid festive indulging at this time of year, but don’t worry, everyone has their favorite seasonal treat, and so long as you enjoy them in moderation, there’s no harm done.  To help you enjoy the holiday festivities without regretting your food choices by the arrival of January, follow these tips that can have a positive impact on your gut health.

1. Create an Eating Plan
Do you have goals around eating this season? How would you like to look and feel on January 1st?  You may want to decide what eating habits will be implemented this season.  For example, you may want to make sparkly holiday cookies for the family and give away half of them to the neighbors to potentially cut down on half the sugar. When going to the market, make lists of food to buy and use that extra ounce of discipline to avoid adding extra items that may look good, but will wreak havoc on your digestion.

2. Eat Real Food
The typical Western diet — high in refined carbs, saturated fat and food additives — has been linked to an increased risk of developing digestive disorders.  Food additives, including glucose, salt and other chemicals, have been suggested to contribute to increased gut inflammation, leading to a condition called leaky gut.  Trans fats are well-known for their negative effects on heart health but have also been associated with an increased risk of developing ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease.

Heard enough?  Try eating whole foods that are nutritious and boost your vitality.  The best way to eat these “real” foods is to avoid anything that comes out of a package.

3. Ease Your Stress
Stress can wreak havoc on your digestive system.  We’ve all experienced stomach pain when we’ve been upset, especially after eating.  If stress is chronic, then it can cause stomach ulcers, diarrhea, constipation and IBS.  Incorporating stress management techniques, such as deep belly breathing, meditation or yoga, may improve not only your mindset but also your digestion.  And avoid eating on the run as this will certainly add to your stomach tension levels and increase bloating.

4. Boost Your Fiber Intake
It’s common knowledge that fiber is beneficial for good digestion.  A high-fiber diet has been linked to a reduced risk of digestive conditions, including ulcers, reflux, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis and IBS.  Soluble fiber, found in oat bran, legumes, nuts and seeds absorbs water and helps add bulk to your stool. Insoluble fiber, such as vegetables, whole grains and wheat bran, acts like a giant toothbrush, helping your digestive tract keeps everything moving along.

5. Add Healthy Fats to Your Diet
Good digestion may require eating enough fat. Fat helps you feel satisfied after a meal and is often needed for proper nutrient absorption.  Studies have also shown that omega-3 fatty acids may decrease inflammation in the gut.  Foods high in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseeds, chia seeds, nuts (especially walnuts), as well as fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines.  And not only are you helping your digestion, but these foods can boost brain function.

6. Up Your Fluids
Low fluid intake is a common cause of constipation.  Experts recommend drinking 50–66 ounces (1.5–2 liters) of non-caffeinated fluids per day to prevent constipation. However, you may need more if you live in a warm climate or exercise strenuously.  In addition to water, you can also meet your fluid intake with herbal teas and other non-caffeinated beverages such as carbonated mineral water. Increasing fruits and vegetables that are high in water, such as cucumber, zucchini, celery, tomatoes, melons, strawberries, grapefruit and peaches can also increase your fluid intake.

7. Increase Your Exercise
Regular exercise is one of the best ways to improve your digestion.  Exercise and gravity help food travel through your digestive system. Therefore, taking a walk after a meal may assist your body in moving things along.

One study in healthy people showed that moderate exercise, such as cycling and jogging, increased gut transit time by nearly 30%.  In another study in people with chronic constipation, a daily exercise regimen including 30 minutes of walking significantly improved symptoms.  So make room in your calendar to take extra walks, book in additional trips to the gym or take more bike rides to keep positive.  Help your gut and feel more energized as you navigate your socially distanced holiday engagements.

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