As the holidays draw closer, we are all thinking about the traditions and rituals that help us celebrate this time of year. Even though 2020 brings extra challenges and restrictions, we all can find ways to focus on joy this season. This year, why not find ways to boost your health by practicing microbiome-supporting strategies that can fit in with holiday traditions? Read on to learn how to have a happy microbiome this holiday season.
First of all, many holiday traditions revolve around food. Dietary choices also have a major influence on the microbiome. It has been shown that diets high in fruits, vegetables, and fiber are associated with a richer and more diverse microbiome compared to diets that are high in sugar, fat, animal products, and low in fiber (1, 2). While we associate the holidays with sugary and rich foods (cookies, cakes, ham, eggnog…), it’s possible find fresher, plant-based foods to add to the list of go-to holiday foods. Or, simply find healthier plant-based substitutes for some of the ingredients in your tried-and-true family favorites.
In addition, a more diverse diet leads to a more diverse the microbiome (1, 3). Continue to enjoy the classic food traditions you love, but also find ways to add more variety. For instance, try adding extra vegetable sides to the meal (think about squash soup, roasted Brussels sprouts, thinly shredded cabbage with lemon and pomegranate seeds, or a fennel and orange salad… delicious!) and pair your favorite dessert with some fresh seasonal fruit (cutting down on the dessert portion size to make room). As you can see, you don’t have to avoid your holiday favorites, but instead find ways to work with them by adding foods that will support your microbiome and your health.
In addition to diet, exercise is an important factor that influences the gut microbiome. Regular moderate physical activity has been shown to increase microbiome diversity, which is in turn linked to improved long-term health (4,5)
Does this mean you have to run a marathon during your holiday vacation? Of course not! Simply aim to follow standard physical activity recommendations: 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous activity per week (11). This means at least 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days each week. Take a walk in the morning as a calm way to start the day, or after a meal with the whole family. Start a new tradition of doing a workout video together or having a dance party to your favorite holiday music. In the end, exercise doesn’t have to be complicated for it to positively impact you and your microbiome.
Looking for another way to have a happy microbiome this holiday season? In addition to diet and exercise, stress plays a role in the microbiome. For example, current data shows that something called the gut-brain axis acts as an important communication pathway that impacts both digestive and mental health. Evidence currently suggests that acute and chronic stress can create microbial imbalance (6). Chemicals produced by the microbiome have also been shown to impact brain chemistry (7-10). This means that not only is it important to manage mental health for the bacteria of your gut, but it is also important to optimize gut health in order to support mental health.
Holidays can be a stressful time (not to mention the added layer of stress brought by the current global pandemic). It is important to find ways to manage your stress during this time to support your microbiome and mental health. Find strategies that work for you! For instance, try regular meditation, engaging in exercise you enjoy, journaling, or calling friends and family.
To conclude, when it comes to food, exercise, and stress management, some small choices can support a happy microbiome this holiday season. Find ways to prioritize making healthy choices this time of year to support your gut health. Indeed, adding healthy behaviors in addition to your favorite holiday traditions can just improve your health – and your holidays.
Happy holidays from the Integrative Phenomics team!