The holiday season is officially behind us. And while we’re bummed that the festive cocktail parties, cookie exchanges, and long weekends have come to an end, it’s undeniable to say that this time of year can lead to disruptions in our gut health. (Here’s looking at you, sugar and alcohol… as well as that jam-packed December calendar that included less sleep, more stress, so much socializing, and even more exhaustive travel.)
Digestive system still feeling a bit… off? You’re in luck. We asked Barbara Ryan, MD, MSc, FRCPI, a gastroenterologist, author, and clinical professor of gastroenterology at Trinity College in Dublin with nearly 30 years of experience in the field to share her go-to gut-healthy breakfast and why it’s a perennial favorite. As one half of The Gut Health Experts, a practice specializing in women’s gut health, Dr. Ryan also highlights other important habits that will help you keep your digestive system in tip-top shape during this month–and beyond.
Building a gut-healthy breakfast
“There are a few key elements to a gut-healthy breakfast,” says Dr. Ryan. “It should be nutritious, easy to prepare, rich in fiber, and tasty. Both fiber and protein-rich foods create a feeling of ‘satiety,’ meaning that they help you feel satisfied and energized. A fiber-rich breakfast will also stimulate motility and transit through the gut, which helps prevent constipation.”
Dr. Ryan states that any naturally fiber-rich food can be considered a “superfood” in her book because the nutrient offers so many health benefits–from reducing the risk of prominent chronic diseases and adding bulk to your stool to stimulating gut motility and promoting regular digestion. While she says most countries recommend consuming between 25-35 grams of fiber per day, the majority of us don’t get enough of this all-important nutrient, so prioritizing it in the morning is a great way to ensure you’ll get what you need for a healthy gut, heart, immune system, and more.
However, it’s important to think beyond fiber to get the most bang for our buck in promoting regular digestion. There are other crucial nutrients that Dr. Ryan believes are essential for a well-rounded breakfast, including protein, unsaturated fats, vitamin D, vitamin E, and probiotics. Additionally, she says that those who are looking to up their fiber intake should also be thinking about their hydration status.
“It’s important to remember that for fiber to do its work, you also need to drink enough fluid each day, so I’d recommend starting the day with a glass of water, as well as the beverage of your choice such as tea, coffee, or orange juice.” says Dr. Ryan. She says a good rule of thumb is to divide your body weight in half and consume that many ounces of water each day. Plus, she notes that coffee and tea can be a great add to a gut-healthy breakfast, because both are rich in antioxidant compounds called flavonols, which fight inflammation and promote longevity.
Dr. Ryan’s go-to gut-friendly breakfast
Meal prep mavens will love Dr. Ryan’s favorite digestion-boosting breakfast, as it can be prepped up to several weeks in advance for quick assembly and nourishment as soon as you need it during a busy morning. Plus, it’s portable and can be packed in your carry-on to ensure you have a healthy way to start the day no matter where your day takes you.
“I make this every week or two and most of the family eats it as well,” says Dr. Ryan. “This muesli is packed with fiber and is also super tasty. The recipe is also very suitable for people who suffer with IBS, as it tends not to cause bloating or excessive gas.”
Best part? This recipe will take you mere minutes and just a few pantry staples to put together. You can also edit the extras in it based on what you have in your kitchen (think: use chopped walnuts instead of hazelnuts) to make things easy-breezy.
A gastroenterologist’s favorite gut-friendly breakfast recipe: muesli
Ingredients500 grams (2 cups) rolled oats1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon50 grams (1/4 cup) each sliced almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, skinned hazelnuts, dried cranberries, dried banana chips, and raisins75 grams (1/3 cup) toasted shredded coconut25 grams (2 tablespoons) flaxseed100 mL (1/2 cup) milk or yogurt of choiceBerries, sliced bananas, and/or sliced grapes, to garnish
Instructions1. Preheat the oven to 400?F. Put the oats in a bowl and sprinkle over the cinnamon and vanilla extract, tossing to coat evenly, then spread the mixture onto a baking sheet.
2. On a separate baking sheet, sprinkle over the nuts and seeds (excluding flax) and place on the top oven rack with the oat mixture underneath. Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly toasted, tossing occasionally so that they cook evenly. Remove from oven and let cool.
3. Place the toasted oats and nut and seed mixture in a large bowl. Stir in the dried cranberries and banana chips, coconut, raisins, and flaxseed. Place in a large jar or airtight container and store up to two weeks.
4. To serve, measure 1/4 cup of the muesli mixture into a bowl and serve with fruit and milk or yogurt of choice.