Over the past few years, the term “gut health” has become increasingly popular. But what exactly is it? “Gut Health” is the function and balance of bacteria of the gastrointestinal tract. A health digestive system will break down food into a simple form that can easily enter the bloodstream and deliver the nutrients around the body. A healthy gut contains healthy bacteria and immune cells that fights against viruses and unhealthy bacteria. And because your gut is connected to your brain through nerves and hormones, the healthier it is, the better your general health and well-being.

So, what are some signs you may have an unhealthy gut?

For starters, abdominal pain, bloating, poor bowel movements (too loose or constipation or discolouration), as well as heartburn, headaches and vomiting.

What affects your gut health?

Food (obviously); avoiding fried foods and only consuming alcohol and caffeine in moderation. Consuming a diet with a variety of whole grains and lentils, eating fruit and vegetables daily, nuts in moderation and drinking plenty of water daily. If you experience the above symptoms, try keeping a food diary to see if there are links between your symptoms and certain foods. If you cannot find a common link, consult your doctor or see a dietitian.

Adequate sleep is essential for good gut health. Disturbed sleep has been linked with bloating, constipation, nausea and other digestive concerns.

Regular exercise can reduce stress levels and helps maintain a health weight. Promoting good gut health.

So, tying all this into silly season. Over the holidays, we tend to change the way we eat. There’s more fatty and sugary foods and more indulgence, putting a change and an imbalance on the microbiomes in your gut.

So how to best prepare your gut for the incoming onslaught?

Eat pre-biotic foods such as artichokes, garlic, onion and a variety of grains and insulin-enhanced yoghurts. Eating the carbs that feed the bacteria in your large intestine, such as, wholemeal bread, legumes, firm bananas, starchy veggies. A good trick is to eat cold potato salad, a Christmas favourite in most homes. Consume sugary treats in moderation and avoid excessive amounts of added sugar (this includes high amounts of fruit sugar by the way) as this can cause higher gas production. And as always, drink plenty of water, get plenty of exercise (try going for a brisk walk to keep things moving which will keep bowel movements regular).

There is no quick fixes or solutions, but a preventative mindset helps. If you do the right thing MOST of the time, its OK to indulge every now and then and it will not ruin your gut health.