The gut health mistakes you're making on holiday

Group of friends eating on holiday. (Getty Images)
From not packing probiotics to not drinking enough water, these are the gut health mistakes we're making on holiday. (Getty Images)

Holiday season is almost upon us and with the weather remaining steadfastly chilly in the UK many of us are heading to sunnier climes.

But though we're looking forward to long, lazy lunches and dining al fresco, some of us are mindful of our gut health when travelling abroad.

Research, by Yakult, revealed around half of Brits worrying about "eating or drinking" something on holiday that will upset their stomach (47%), with more than a third actually suffering stomach pain, cramps or diarrhoea while away.

The UK has one of the highest-regulated food industries in the world, with over 150 regulations put on our food. And while visiting new places and trying new foods is half the fun of travelling abroad, it is important to remember that not all countries have the same stringent standards.

In fact, the World Health Organisation’s latest statistics show an estimated 600 million – almost 1 in 10 people – fall ill after eating contaminated food each year, resulting in 420,000 deaths and the loss of 33 million healthy life years (DALYs).

Thankfully there are some measures we can take and mistakes we can avoid to help keep stay gut healthy on holiday.

Woman eating dinner on holiday. (Getty Images)
There are some gut health mistakes we're making on holiday. (Getty Images)

Not avoiding raw fruit and vegetables

One of the main sources of food contamination whilst abroad is raw fruit and vegetables.

"While many of us think that undercooked meats are the main cause of an upset tummy, unwashed and ill-prepared fruit and vegetables are more likely to cause discomfort as bacteria lives on their skin," explains a health expert at Verve.

"Foods with thin, penetrable skins like apples, leafy greens, and cucumber can especially put you at risk."

Before consuming any fruits or vegetables abroad, make sure you can wash it, peel it, or cook it before you eat it.

"If washing the fruit or vegetables, it’s recommended you use bottled water where possible," the spokesperson adds.

Raw vegetables and fruit can sometimes be the cause of an upset stomach on holiday. (Getty Images)
Raw vegetables and fruit can sometimes be the cause of an upset stomach on holiday. (Getty Images)

Not practising good hygiene

It may seem like an obvious tip, but ensuring you practice good hygiene while on holiday is another crucial way you can avoid food poisoning or an upset stomach.

It’s important to ensure that all food and water you consume is safe by ensuring:

  • Hands are thoroughly washed with soap and water prior to handling any food, eating and always after using the toilet.

  • You limit contact with any other travellers that have been in contact with a virus or have consumed contaminated food to limit the spread of infection.

  • You always ensure your accommodation is kept clean and sanitised to prevent the spread of any harmful bacteria.

  • If anyone you’re sharing your holiday with comes in contact with an infection or stomach bug, ensure you safely dispose of any items they may have used/soiled including bedding, cutlery, crockery and give everywhere a deep clean.

  • Making sure to pack hand sanitiser gel or anti-bacterial wipes incase you are faced with poor handwashing facilities when abroad.

Not easing into the local cuisine

Travelling with a sensitive gut? Bex Prade, clinical nutritionist and functional medicine practitioner - advises easing into the local cuisine slowly as it can take a few days for your gut to adjust to a new diet.

"Your gut bacteria need time to develop the right digestive enzymes for these new foods," she explains. "Start with familiar dishes on the first couple of days before diving into a full culinary adventure."

Experts say it is important to ease your gut in gently to holiday cuisine. (Getty Images)
Experts say it is important to ease your gut in gently to holiday cuisine. (Getty Images)

Not packing prebiotics

For those experiencing constipation or loose bowel movements while travelling, consider packing a prebiotic fibre such as PHGG.

"Available at most health food stores, PHGG can help soften hard stools and thicken looser ones," Prade advises.

"It can help to start this a few weeks before travelling. All it takes is a teaspoon each morning in a little water before food."

Not staying hydrated on the flight

Prade says dehydration is a common cause of holiday-induced constipation, and no-one wants to be feeling that.

Not treating diarrhoea the right way

If you do unfortunately end up with a tummy bug, Prade says it is generally advised to avoid antidiarrheal medication at the start as this can prolong the infection.

Instead she suggests trying:

• Eating smaller, more frequent meals. "This helps by putting less strain on your inflamed gut," she explains.

• Drinking plenty of fluids but limit food and drink that may stimulate the colon, such as chilli, high-fat meals, caffeine and alcohol.

• Taking electrolytes to replenish lost water

• Packing saccaromycess boulardi, a probiotic yeast particularly useful for traveller’s diarrhoea which you can find at most health food stores. "You can also pick up some Optibac Travel Abroad from your nearest supermarket or pharmacy," Prade advises. "Great when travelling further afield to countries like Mexico, Thailand, India, Egypt, Australia, Kenya and beyond. Start a week or so before travelling to help protect your gut," she adds.

Woman with an upset stomach. (Getty Images)
Drink plenty of fluids if you have an upset tummy on holiday. (Getty Images)

Not appreciating the gut health positives

The good news? Holidays are generally a win for your gut.

"Many of my clients with underlying gut issues report dramatic improvements while on holiday, thanks to the gut-brain connection," Prade explains. "A happy and relaxed brain leads to a happy and relaxed gut. If you struggle with "gut lag" or an upset stomach while traveling, incorporate these strategies into your holiday prep to make the most of your time away."