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5 Tips to Support Gut Health at Thanksgiving

Roast turkey as the main meal, mashed potatoes with gravy on the side, a heap of stuffing, and pumpkin pie for dessert. There’s no doubt classic Thanksgiving dinner can be indulgent. 


According to the Calorie Control Council, the average American may consume a whopping 3,000 during a typical Thanksgiving dinner! That’s way beyond what the average person should eat during a single day.


This many calories in one meal is bound to be taxing on your digestive system. And while you may think your body will easily bounce back, an article in the Journal of Translational Medicine explains that changes in diet can produce shifts in the balance of gut bacteria in as little as 24 hours. If you’ve ever experienced holiday heartburn, reflux, constipation, and bloating, you know there’s truth to this.

If you’d like to enjoy his year’s Thanksgiving side-effect free and make it more gut-friendly, remember these 5 tips to support gut health at Thanksgiving.

1. Make Your Plate Colorful

While turkey is the star of Thanksgiving dinner, most families prepare plenty of sides for everyone to choose from. From green bean casserole and cranberry sauce to Brussels sprouts, glazed carrots, and sweet potato casserole, there’s no shortage of colorful plant foods to indulge in on Thanksgiving.

Including more plant foods on your plate is a great way to keep calories to a minimum. That’s simply because most plant foods are relatively low in calories compared to animal foods. But eating this way will also help you get enough fiber. Dietary fiber is essential for gut health, helping regulate bowel movements and serving as a source of energy for good bacteria in your gut. 

2. Swap Soft Drinks for Lemon Juice

A glass of a sugar-sweetened soft drink usually has around 150 calories. That’s a lot considering that these are empty calories and you’ll probably have more than one glass during the feast.


But it’s not only the calorie count that’s the issue with soft drinks. Studies found a strong association between soft drink intake and gastric reflux. And even if you choose diet soft drinks, the artificial sweeteners and additives in these beverages may negatively affect your microbiome. Research has namely found that soft drinks increase the number of disease-causing bacteria in the gut.


So, instead of soda, choose lemon juice. Why lemon juice specifically? Because a recently published study in the Journal of Nutrition found lemon juice lowers blood sugar levels and boosts gastric secretions better than water or tea.

3. Stay Physically Active

The health of your gut depends on more than your dietary choices. Physical activity increases blood flow to your digestive organs and the muscles surrounding them. This, in turn, causes food to move more quickly through our digestive tract. 


There’s also evidence that physical activity improves the composition of the microbiome. How this happens is a mystery. However, researchers suggest it may have to do with the impact exercise has on bile acids, immunity, fat metabolism, stress reduction, gut motility, and glucose levels. All these factors can play a role in the health and composition of your microbiome.

To stay active this Thanksgiving, you can help wash the dishes, take a short walk, play with the kids or pets, and avoid the couch as much as possible. 

4. Chew

Chewing is an underestimated art form that’s necessary for good nutrition. Not only does chewing well break food down in a way that makes nutrients more available, but it also exposes it better to digestive enzymes in your saliva. In other words, properly chewed food reduces the stress of food breakdown on your gastrointestinal system.

Another benefit of chewing is that it reduces bacterial growth that can happen if pieces of poorly digested foods enter your colon. 


But how are you supposed to chew for a healthier gut? First, be patient and take your time. Second, don’t overload your spoon or fork since smaller bites are easier to chew than large chunks. And lastly, don’t drink anything while there’s still food in your mouth. 

5. Eat Fat in Moderation

While that’s easier said than done, especially on Thanksgiving Day, there are a couple of ways to control your fat intake. Choose lean cuts of meat, like turkey breast, and skip the pork roast. Drizzle just enough gravy for taste but don’t go for seconds. And go for roast veggies as much as possible and keep casserole portions small. 


And because most desserts include loads of saturated fat, keep your intake moderate. Skip the whipped cream when having pumpkin pie and have your desserts with tea, sparkling water, or lemon juice instead of cocktails. 


Why keep fat in moderation? Because too much fat delays gastric emptying, which can cause heartburn and constipation. Besides that, saturated fat was found to have a negative impact on gut microbiome diversity and health.

Summary

Tis the season to be jolly and indulge in delicious food. But that doesn't have to be at the expense of your gut health. 


While we normally don’t associate Thanksgiving dinner with moderation and health, that doesn't mean this is impossible. By crowding your plate with veggies, opting for non-sugary drinks, moving around, chewing as you should, and keeping a watchful eye on your fat intake, this Thanksgiving season can be gentler on your gut.

The gut microbiome is sensitive to changes in diet. And because Thanksgiving dinner can be a shock to your system, your microbiome will be affected. Follow these simple tips to keep your digestive tract and especially your microbiome in top form this holiday season.


References: 


Thanksgiving: The Battle of the Bulge. Calorie Control Council. Accessed November 2022. https://caloriecontrol.org/thanksgiving-the-battle-of-the-bulge/


Singh RK, Chang HW, Yan D, et al. Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health. J Transl Med. 2017;15(1):73. Published 2017 Apr 8. doi:10.1186/s12967-017-1175-y


Holscher HD. Dietary fiber and prebiotics and the gastrointestinal microbiota. Gut Microbes. 2017;8(2):172-184. doi:10.1080/19490976.2017.1290756


Wolff E, Dansinger ML. Soft drinks and weight gain: how strong is the link?. Medscape J Med. 2008;10(8):189. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2562148/


Basha S, Enan ET, Mohamed RN, Ashour AA, Alzahrani FS, Almutairi NE. Association between soft drink consumption, gastric reflux, dental erosion, and obesity among special care children. Spec Care Dentist. 2020;40(1):97-105. doi:10.1111/scd.12443


Gultekin F, Oner ME, Savas HB, Dogan B. Food additives and microbiota. North Clin Istanb. 2019;7(2):192-200. Published 2019 Jul 17. doi:10.14744/nci.2019.92499


Freitas D, Boué F, Benallaoua M, et al. Glycemic response, satiety, gastric secretions and emptying after bread consumption with water, tea or lemon juice: a randomized crossover intervention using MRI. Eur J Nutr. 2022;61(3):1621-1636. doi:10.1007/s00394-021-02762-2


Campaniello D, Corbo MR, Sinigaglia M, et al. How Diet and Physical Activity Modulate Gut Microbiota: Evidence, and Perspectives. Nutrients. 2022;14(12):2456. Published 2022 Jun 14. doi:10.3390/nu14122456


Hollis JH. The effect of mastication on food intake, satiety and body weight. Physiol Behav. 2018;193(Pt B):242-245. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2018.04.027


Wolters M, Ahrens J, Romaní-Pérez M, et al. Dietary fat, the gut microbiota, and metabolic health - A systematic review conducted within the MyNewGut project. Clin Nutr. 2019;38(6):2504-2520. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2018.12.024