New Years Eats: Foods Great for Celebrating & Good for Gut Health

Ring in the New Year without Wrecking Your Goals

If you’re still reeling from having too much food around the holidays, you’re not alone. Many people start to crave an honest home cooked meal after so many sweets and eating out around the holidays. New Years often prompts some unhealthy habits of restriction, excess, or disordered eating when it comes to setting goals about diet and exercise. It’s possible to balance both!


Scientists are finding more and more that strong connections exist between the gut and the brain. Having healthy dietary goals for the New Year centers less around focusing on restricting certain types of food to reach a specific number on a scale, and more on what can bring healing and wholeness.


Read on to discover my favorite foods to eat for New Years and New Years Eve that blend a bit of tradition, ring in the year with festivity and celebration, and also have healing ingredients to soothe a gut that is done with high-sugar holiday foods.


Mocktails


Mocktails are an alcohol-free version of cocktails, and usually they can be made sugar-free or with a fraction of the sweeteners involved in the originals that inspired them. Fruit infused options add flavor and sweetness while sparkling cider or club soda offer a great bubbly substitute for a champagne toast.


Why It’s Good for the Gut

Alcohol changes the gut environment by altering the composition of the microbiome (1). Similarly, high sugar intakes increase the risk of metabolic, cardiovascular, and chronic inflammatory disease. Like alcohol, high sugar intakes can cause a negative and detrimental response by bacteria in the gut; essentially, excessive sugar causes a decrease in “good” bacteria and an increase in “bad” bacteria (2). Mocktails are absent of alcohol and often are significantly lower in sugar. They also add fruit and fresh herbs, elements of many balanced and healthy diet plans.


A Few of Anni’s Favorites


Bento Box- Inspired Eats

In Japan, Osechi Ryori is the traditional New Year food. Resembling bento boxes, multi-layered compartments symbolize well-wishes and a wealth of hope, health, and happiness in the year ahead. Many popular Osechi Ryori foods often involve protein packed vegetables and legumes like beans. Not only do these foods honor the Japanese tradition, they also make it so you don’t have to choose! Enjoy an assortment of tasty components while also getting your daily servings of vegetables.


Why It’s Good for the Gut

A bento box approach can help to increase nutritional knowledge as each component is designed intentionally (3). The traditional bento box carries a single serving of an entire meal, making it easy to marry balance and variety (4). Adding a variety of protein packed beans, seeds, and vegetables can create healthy and exciting, nourishing bento box bites. Take it from dietitian Christina Ross, “It taps into different taste sensations and flavours, so it might feel more satisfying because you've experienced all those things within the meal”.


A Few of Anni’s Favorites


Sushi Rolls

Sushi instantly elevates any party. Making your own rolls means customizing flavors and adding exciting ingredients. Try experimenting with cucumber wrapped sushi, fruit sushi, and other variations.


Why It’s Good for the Gut

Many sea vegetables, such as edible seaweed which is sometimes called “sea lettuce”, can be packed with nutrients. Sea vegetables include:

  • Antioxidant capacity

  • Antitumor and anticancer effects

  • Immune and endocrine modulating potential

  • Therapeutic properties for obesity, dyslipidemia, diabetes, hypertension, and degenerative diseases (i.e. Alzheimer’s disease, dementia)

  • High levels of soluble & insoluble fibers

  • High levels of protein content

  • High levels of vitamins and minerals

Edible seaweed is high in nutrients and low in calories. In addition to the antioxidant fruits and vegetables that can be added to sushi rolls, properly prepared sushi can have anti-inflammatory properties and potentially play a role in regulating blood sugar levels. Seaweed also has prebiotics which are resistant to digestive enzymes and reach the lower intestine relatively undigested to then undergo selective fermentation by intestinal bacteria in the gut microbiome. Consumed with legumes, they may also be able to help break down the fibers to increase digestibility. Overall, seaweed can be supportive of gut health and the body’s natural detoxification processes (5).


A Few of Anni’s Favorites

Celebratory Charcuterie Board

Charcuterie boards aren’t just trendy -- they can also help to add variety to the diet. Limiting high-fat cheeses and meats while focusing on high-protein picks like nourishing nuts, healthy-fat packed seeds, and low-fat cheeses with whole wheat crackers can help you design the perfect party charcuterie board. Don’t know where to start? Read How to Assemble a Charcuterie Board .


Why It’s Good for the Gut

Studies evaluating the health effects of dietary patterns find that diets like the Mediterranean diet that focus on a variety of foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, unsaturated fats, and limited red meat intake reduce risk of all-cause mortality and multiple chronic diseases. Research shows that the Mediterranean diet creates a favorable gut environment, promoting “good” bacteria. In fact, scientists have found that the diversity and health of the gut parallels the level to which subjects adhere to the diet. In other words, the diversity of the diet, which can be enhanced with techniques like charcuterie, drives the stability of the gut (6).


A Few of Anni’s Favorites

Truffles & Other Tiny Treats


Bite-size treats make for a perfect side dish on New Years Eve. Instead of derailing your brand new goals, focus on the basics of healing from a holiday binge. Lowering sugar intake by using more natural sugar substitutes that contain higher levels of nutrients can help to heal the gut and get the next year off to a good start.


Why It’s Good for the Gut

As mentioned above, sugar intakes of excessive levels alter the amount of “good” bacteria in the gut (2). Using natural sweeteners can help to make sweet treats more nutritious and keep sugar consumption within normal amounts. Wondering how to tell if a food is more nutritious or more sugar? Take it from the recently released Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025:

“Nutrient-dense foods provide vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting components and have no or little added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium... A healthy dietary pattern doesn’t have much room for extra added sugars, saturated fat, or sodium...A small amount of added sugars, saturated fat, or sodium can be added to nutrient-dense foods and beverages to help meet food group recommendations, but foods and beverages high in these components should be limited.”

In other words, try first to substitute sugar with more nutritious ingredients such as honey, maple syrup, or coconut sugar. When buying prepared sweets, aim for no or little added sugars. Added sugars should be limited to less than 10% of calories per day starting at age 2 (per the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025).


A Few of Anni’s Favorites

References

  1. Lee E, Lee JE. Impact of drinking alcohol on gut microbiota: recent perspectives on ethanol and alcoholic beverage. Current Opinion in Food Science. 2021;37:91-97. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cofs.2020.10.001

  2. Satokari, R. High Intake of Sugar and the Balance between Pro- and Anti-Inflammatory Gut Bacteria. Nutrients 2020, 12, 1348.https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12051348

  3. Lau, K. H. K. "Increasing Nutrition Knowledge of Chinese Americans through a Culturally-Tailored Bento Box Workshop." Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 117.10 (2017): A141.

  4. Shucart J. Lunches -- The Bento Box Way! SuperKids Nutrition. 2020. Accessed at https://www.superkidsnutrition.com/summer-camp-lunches-the-bento-box-way/

  5. Hultin G. CPE Monthly: Health Benefits of Sea Vegetables -- Learn About Their Culinary Uses, Including How Clients Can Incorporate Them Into Their Diets. Today’s Dietitian. 2016:18(6);46. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0616p46.shtml

  6. Gentile CL. Weir TL. The gut microbiota at the intersection of diet and human health. Science. 2018:362(6416);776-780. DOI: 10.1126/science.aau5812

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