Top festive food swaps for a healthier Christmas

The holiday season is a time to catch up with family and friends and take a well-earned rest from everyday life and work commitments.

This doesn’t mean you have to take a break from taking care of your gut microbiome as you navigate all the Christmas and New Year feasts... and everything in between!

Bianca Maree Harrington, lead dietitian at Brisbane-based gut microbiome testing company Microba, says the best way to enjoy your holiday feasts and not feel left out is by making informed food choices such as substituting certain foods for healthier alternatives. These are some top food swaps that can keep your microbiome merry over the holidays and that you can share with your family and friends!

Swap 1: Simple sauces

The first food swap, which will apply to most meat eaters or those who eat meat alternatives, is sauce. You can swap gravy for sauces such as apple or cranberry that you can make from scratch! It’s not always the easiest option but it’s much better for your microbiome than bought sauces which can contain refined sugars along with artificial colours, flavourings and additives.

By trying sauces such as apple or cranberry, you also get a good boost of either pectin (apples) and proanthocyanidins (cranberries) which are great prebiotics for the microbiome and fuel your gut bacteria.

Swap 2: Switch out saturated fats

Christmas or Boxing Day brunch often brings out meat such as bacon and sausages, with a snack platter of salami or beef jerky quick to follow. Rest assured, you can still get your fill of meat, which is great news for the carnivores out there!

For the meat-eaters, I’d recommend choosing better, low-fat alternatives such as shaved chicken or turkey breast. These also make great leftovers in a wholegrain bread sandwich or with leftover sides!

A lot of the favourite processed meats people tend to gravitate toward contain high levels of saturated fat which can increase the growth and activity of bacteria in the gut microbiome associated with inflammation.

In fact, the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that saturated fats should be less than 10 per cent of your calories from food and beverages each day, which is approximately 20 to 25g for the average Australian adult.

Swap 3: Surprising side dishes

When it comes to holiday side dishes, rice, pasta and potato salads are excellent options for your table, although most people are concerned with calorie content or avoiding carbohydrates! However, the cooking and cooling process for rice, pasta and potatoes results in an increase in the resistant starch content of these foods which is an excellent prebiotic for the gut bacteria.

Resistant starch increases the growth and activity of the good bacteria, which produce anti-inflammatory substances. These substances can also assist in managing your appetite, which can help curb your cravings over the holiday season!

Swap 4: Variety of vegetables

If you aren’t keen on a table full of salads, you can make vegetables the main event! It can be easy to neglect your vegetable intake when faced with all of the other delicious options on the Christmas table, however, vegetables are powerhouses when it comes to nutrition and fuelling your gut bacteria.

Aim to fill half your plate with vegetables – both hot and cold, remembering that cooked and cooled potato ups your resistant starch intake! This could be in the form of a medley or roast vegetables or a roast vegetable salad.

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