It’s the time of year when we all start to look forward to a much needed summer holiday, but for many, our longed-for vacation can turn into a health nightmare that ruins the break. The change in diet, routine, time zone, and even just the flight can adversely affect the gut and digestion, resulting in constipation, or the other extreme, diarrhoea, quite often as a result of stress.
It doesn’t have to be that way! Just making some simple choices can make the difference between a holiday you never want to forget…and one you really do. Award-winning nutritionist, Lucy Williamson specialises in gut health and has provided some tips for staying gut happy, as well as resisting unwanted bugs, feeling energised and glowing… so you can have the break you need to thoroughly restore and refresh, both physically and mentally.
Can I help my gut before we have even left home? A resounding yes!
Address your stress: It can play havoc with our digestion, not least when we’re busy preparing to go away on holiday. Have you heard of the term ‘Rest and Digest’? This is a very real need by our body: carrying tension creates a poor digestive environment. Compare this to a wonderfully calm gut. Our relaxing vagus nerve, part of our vital gut-brain axis, has nerve endings all along our gut wall and if we give it a chance to work well with simple daily relaxation techniques, our gut health and digestion will thank us for it. Simply enjoying a 10-minute breathing meditation or listening to music can be enough to break the stress cycle each and every day.
Gut health: Eating a bigger variety of plants (this includes spices and herbs as well as fruit and vegetables, beans and pulses, like lovely lentils and chickpeas, nuts, seeds and grains) is the single, best thing we can do to nurture our gut health. Why is this worthwhile? Most of our immune system sits within our gut wall so looking after our billions of beneficial gut microbes really helps to build our resistance to those holiday bugs.
Getting into good habits: Problems getting to sleep? Avoid eating anything after 7.30pm (herbal teas and water are fine though) and try a simple box breathing exercise when you get into bed. Once you’re away, keeping going with these habits of ‘self-love’ can be really helpful. Sleep is a vital part of your gut health.
Eating to feel holiday-ready
Skin: It feels good to glow! Our body has a very natural detox system to clear everyday toxins that build up. Eating to nurture our gut health really helps; a great rule of thumb is the 3Ps – 1. Probiotic 2. Prebiotic and 3. Polyphenols
In other words:
- Fermented food little and often (food with live cultures like kefir, yogurt, kombucha and sauerkraut).
- A wide variety of plants (see above).
- Antioxidants in all colourful fruit and veg like berries, beetroot and sweet potatoes are rocket fuel for our good gut microbes. Plant oils are a fabulous way to get skinboosting Vitamin E too – enjoy olive oil on your salads or use cold-pressed rapeseed oil for roasting.
Weight control: we all enjoy feeling our best before we jet off; try this simple advice for a few weeks before you leave:
- Avoid very processed foods which will be higher in additives, sugar, energy and less healthy fats, all of which tend to drive weight gain. Sweeteners (yes, sweeteners!) can be a real enemy to our waistline because they actually trick our body into absorbing more sugar from the food that follows.
- Always choose the more natural version of a food – for example, whole yoghurt is far more filling than fat-free so you’re less likely to snack between meals.
- Swap energy-rich carbs like pasta, rice, potatoes and bread for their high-fibre equivalents – try buckwheat, quinoa and sourdough for gut healthy alternatives.
At the airport
Breathe to ease stress: If stress is creeping in, remember those breathing exercises you’ve already started to love? Do them while you’re queueing. Nobody will know, and your gut will be thankful for the de-stress!
Keep hydrated: hydration is so important when it comes to travel and supporting your immune system. Once on the plane changes in the air pressure can alter water balance between tissues in the body often resulting in swelling or bloating but it can also make the gut medium become more watery. A decent amount of fibre in your breakfast, such as porridge, could be helpful in absorbing extra water and therefore avoiding excessive bowel movements in the gut. Alcohol may also upset the water balance during flights so try to avoid it however tempting a celebratory holiday toast might be.
While you’re away
So, you’ve arrived at your destination at last. Now it’s time to keep going with those eating habits which have really helped you in the few weeks before you left. Of course, we all need holiday treats, but as far as possible try these:
Alcohol: Savour one or two glasses of wine each day but try not to over-indulge! A lot of preserved foods contain sulphites, including wine. These can upset our beneficial gut bacteria, so go easy or build in some ‘dry days’. However, the good news is that red wine and cider are high in those gut-loving polyphenols so as always there’s a balance to be had!
Overnight fasting: an easy way to help that calm gut situation. If you’re eating a bit later in the evening, have your breakfast a bit later too. At least 12 hours fasting overnight will help you to stay guthappy.
Take advantage of local, seasonal food: The Mediterranean diet, with plenty of colourful fruit and veg and olive oil is well known to be a gut healthy diet so make the most of it while you’re away
Vitamin D: Take advantage of some Vitamin D from the sun. Exposure to UV rays directly on your skin for 10 minutes earlier in the day or late afternoon will boost your Vitamin D and your immunity too.
Help those hormones: Remember, sleep is so important here so keep going with those breathing exercises at bedtime. Try to keep up the variety of veggies and other plants while you’re away, hydrate well and look for foods rich in natural phytoestrogens – great choices are apricots, flaxseed, soy products, cashew nuts, coffee (espresso is best!), garlic, onions, and legumes like green beans.
Once home - coping with the jet lag
Hopefully you’ve had a wonderful holiday and feel much the better for it…apart from the jet lag! Our body is wired to like the natural rhythms of light. It’s how we’ve evolved. Try to get to bed early and wake up with the natural light rather than sleeping on into the day. Allowing our body to wake up naturally with its in-built circadian rhythm greatly reduces low-level stress and will help to ease you back into life back home.
Lucy Williamson is the founder of Lucy Williamson Nutrition. To find out more about gut health and its overall effect on the whole body’s health, and for delicious recipes, visit: lwnutrition.co.uk