Festive feasts that your gut microbiome will love

As the festive season approaches, it is easy to reach for a scrumptious sweet treat or a holiday tipple rather than the microbiome-friendly choice. The good news is that you don’t have to miss out on your favourite holiday flavours if you want to nourish your gut microbiome this year. Read on for the best festive recipes that will leave you with a happy gut and glowing skin. 

How does the food we eat impact our skin?

First, the science. Your digestive tract is home to billions of bacteria – most of which live in the large intestine. The bacteria helps to digest and absorb our food, keeps your immune system functioning well, and protects the gut lining from damage or inflammation. Did you know that more than 70% of your immune system lives in your gut? It is the effect of the gut microbiome on immune function and inflammation that appears to link it most closely to the skin.1 

More specifically, the gut-skin axis is how the gut microbiome can boost skin health. Beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome produce substances called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) which are anti-inflammatory. Pathogenic bacteria have the opposite effect1. If there is an imbalance in the types of bacteria, inflammation can spread beyond the gut and manifest in skin disorders such as psoriasis and acne vulgaris.1,2 This happens if inflammation is not controlled. Small openings can appear in the gut wall through which particles of undigested food and toxins can escape into the blood stream, in turn reaching the skin and disrupting the skin microbiome.1 

festive food

Nurturing our gut microbiome 

Diet plays an important role in supporting the gut microbiome; you can nourish your gut, reduce inflammation and support the beneficial bacteria that live there. While a diet high in salt, sugar, saturated fat, and processed foods containing preservatives and additives has a myriad of health implications, it can also promote the growth of pathogenic bacteria and inflammation.3, 4 

There are three key ways that you can nourish your gut microbiome: 

  1. Introduce probiotics.  Before you reach for a supplement try fermented foods such as: water or milk kefir; ‘live’ natural yoghurt; sauerkraut and kimchi; tempeh; unpasteurised cheese; kombucha; apple cider vinegar and miso. These all contain beneficial live bacteria that will help make your gut happy.4 
  2. Increase your fibre. Fibre is a nutrient that many of us do not get enough of in our diets. It is another way to nourish the gut microbiome because it ‘feeds’ the beneficial bacteria and has also been linked to greater microbial diversity.5 The simplest way to increase fibre is to eat more vegetables, and you’ll be increasing your micronutrient intake as an added bonus.6 
  3. Add Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.  They have been shown to support beneficial bacteria, as well as having an anti-inflammatory effect on the gut lining. This protects it and helps to prevent gaps appearing that might otherwise allow undigested particles out into the bloodstream.7 The richest dietary sources for these fatty acids include fish and seafood, nuts and seeds, and plant oils such as walnut oil. 

So, what are the best ways to create nutritious and delicious festive food? 

  • Condiments are a great way to pack extra flavour into your plate. Store-bought cranberry sauce or chutneys, can be very high in refined sugar which feeds pathogenic bacteria and inflammation – opt for a home-made one instead! Try this fermented cranberry relish– it takes several days to get ‘nice and bubbly’ so make it in advance. Beneficial bacteria feed off of the sugar from the honey, making it a probiotic condiment that your gut will love. 

If fermenting your own food seems a little daunting head to your local health-food store and pick up a jar of sauerkraut or kimchi which will give a similar tangy-zing to your dishes. Top tip: make sure it’s a jar from the fridge section because if it’s not, the chances are the bacteria won’t still be live.

  • If you’re serving dinner for a lot of people, why not try a ‘Feast of the Seven Fishes’ – an Italian-American Christmas Eve tradition! Your guests’ gut bacteria will be given an omega-3-rich feast as well, and bonus points if you use a miso marinade like in this salmon recipe.  If you prefer a meat dish, opt for high quality, organic, grass-fed produce which will have a higher nutrient profile as well as a higher amount of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Sprout-haters might be surprised by this recipe for Miso Roasted Brussel Sprouts. It has a sweet and salty flavour that takes the edge of the bitterness of the sprouts. Not only are you getting the fibre from the sprouts but miso is a fermented, probiotic food which means it contains live, beneficial bacteria. If sprouts really are not your cup of tea, try this miso gravy for your roasted vegetables instead. 
  • Pumpkin pie can be given a gut-friendly twist by making it into a chia pudding – and even better, you can have it for breakfast too! Chia seeds are nutrient powerhouses, with a high level of omega-3 fatty acids and fibre. This recipe is creamy and sweet and gives you the same satisfaction as a slice of pumpkin pie, but with a lot of added benefits for your microbiome. 
  • Another traditional holiday season favorite is eggnog. This eggnog makes it friendlier to the gut microbiome by removing the alcohol and using milk kefir, which is a probiotic food. Add a teaspoon of cinnamon for some extra spice and for those with dairy intolerance you could try using plant-based kefir like coconut instead.
  • Chocolate is often a feature of the holiday season so here’s some good news: cocoa contains polyphenols which have been shown to potentially increase the quantity of beneficial bacteria in the gut, particularly Bifidobacteria and lactobacilli strains.8 Choose chocolate with 80% or higher cocoa solids and you can enjoy it (in moderation!) whilst knowing you might be helping your gut, and your skin, too. 
  • Maybe you’re a  fan of gingerbread lattes or steaming mugs of hot chocolate? Often perfect after escaping winter cold weather. Try an organic chicory root or dandelion root coffee instead – they taste a lot better than they sound, you’ll be surprised! Chicory and dandelion are rich in inulin, a type of fibre known as a prebiotic food, meaning it feeds probiotic live bacteria in the gut. Add 1-2 teaspoons of the ground chicory or dandelion to a mug with ¼ teaspoon cinnamon powder and a pinch of nutmeg to 200ml of hot water. Top up with your favourite plant milk and add a dash of honey to sweeten if needs be. 

Enjoy your microbiome-feasts and happy holidays!

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References

  1. Salem, I., Ramser, A., Isham, N. and Ghannoum, M. (2018). The Gut Microbiome as a Major Regulator of the Gut-Skin Axis. Frontiers in Microbiology, 9.
  2. Bok Lee, Y., Jung Byun, E. and Sung Kim, H. (2019). Potential Role of the Microbiome in Acne: A Comprehensive Review. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 8(7), p.987.
  3. Zinöcker, M. and Lindseth, I. (2018). The Western Diet–Microbiome-Host Interaction and Its Role in Metabolic Disease. Nutrients, 10(3), p.365.
  4. Bell, V., Ferrão, J., Pimentel, L., Pintado, M. and Fernandes, T. (2018). One Health, Fermented Foods, and Gut Microbiota. Foods, 7(12), p.195.
  5. Chassaing, B., Vijay-Kumar, M. and Gewirtz, A. (2017). How diet can impact gut microbiota to promote or endanger health. Current Opinion in Gastroenterology, 33(6), pp.417-421.
  6. Ercolini, D. and Fogliano, V. (2018). Food Design To Feed the Human Gut Microbiota. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 66(15), pp.3754-3758.
  7. Costantini, L., Molinari, R., Farinon, B. and Merendino, N. (2017). Impact of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on the Gut Microbiota. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 18(12), p.2645.
  8. Hayek, N. (2013). Chocolate, gut microbiota, and human health. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 4

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