How To Enjoy Festive Foods Without The Discomfort
Roast turkey, crispy roast potatoes, pavlova with lashings of cream, champagne… Indulging in delicious meals is one of the best things about the holiday season! But all the different flavours, sugars and fats can be taxing on your digestive system, creating uncomfortable symptoms like bloating, constipation and loose bowels.
Not only the food, the change of routine, going on holiday and staying with family and friends, can trigger your digestive system to become mighty unhappy at this time of year.
So, how can you keep your gut happy and healthy this holiday season?
Why do we suffer bloating and digestive discomfort over the holidays?
- Over eating - The main reason many of us feel bloated and uncomfortable after Christmas lunch is simply overeating. With all the turkey, trimmings, desserts and champagne, it can be easy to eat two or three times the number of calories you actually need in a day!
- Low stomach acid – The hydrochloric acid in the stomach is essential to breaking down food, but many people suffer from low stomach acid. When food is not broken down sufficiently in the stomach it can arrive in the intestines in a form that is still too large. Here our gut bacteria will begin to ferment whatever food is delivered to them and produce gas, leading to the bloated feeling.
- Not chewing food properly
- Difficult food combinations - Certain combinations of foods are more challenging for the body to break down and can lead to digestive discomfort, for example fruit and meat, meat and dairy or heavy starches with protein.
- Alcohol – We all love a holiday tipple, but large amounts of alcohol can be challenging on the liver and digestive system. Champagne and beer can be particularly bloating due to the carbonation.
- Food sensitivities – Wheat and dairy can be sensitive foods for many people, and over the holidays we tend to eat these in bucket loads: Croissants and champagne for breakfast, chocolates, wine and cheese, pavlova, shortbreads – all combining to make our tummy pretty unhappy!
How to keep your tummy happy over the holidays
Resist the urge to pile your plate –The festive season is absolutely a time to celebrate and enjoy yourself, but resist the urge to pile your plate high. Pick a little bit of everything you want then move away from the buffet – and resist the urge for seconds.
Start the day right – Get the day off to a good start and keep blood sugar levels even with a high protein, low glycaemic index breakfast. Bypass the croissants and pastries and go for smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, avocado on toast or buckwheat pancakes with yoghurt and blueberries. For the optimum digestion breakfast, go for porridge with kiwifruit and sugar-free, natural Greek yoghurt. Packed with soluble fibre, enzymes and pre and probiotics, this brekkie will keep your tummy smiling.
Get moving - Instead of blobbing out on the couch after the big lunch, get everyone together for a walk. Movement helps stimulate digestion and control blood sugar levels, reducing digestive discomfort. Even 20-30 minutes will make a big difference!
Consider food combinations – When you’re standing in front of the holiday buffet, it’s tempting to load your plate with everything in sight. But if you have a sensitive tummy, have a think about the different flavours you are putting on your plate. Food combining might have gone out in the 80’s, but there is some sense to the system. Avoid eating fruit and meat together, same with meat and dairy. For some people, avoiding combining proteins with heavy starches (e.g. rice, pasta, potatoes) can help ease digestive discomfort.
Watch the fat – The traditional festive meal can be packed with fat – cheese as snacks, high fat meats and vegetables roasted in fats for dinner, creamy pavlova or fruit cake with custard for dessert, then mince pies for after dinner treats.
High fat meals can be difficult for many people to digest – particularly when combined with alcohol. Digesting large amounts of fat is difficult for the gallbladder and liver, and can lead to diarrhea, cramps or severe bloating. If this is you, be careful with the overall fat content of your meal – remove skin from chicken and turkey, avoid crackling on pork, swap the cream on top of your pavlova with yoghurt or half cream/half yoghurt. Individual high fat foods like salmon, avocado and nuts are fine, it is the overall fat content of the meal that counts.
Cater for sensitivities – Whether you have problems with wheat and dairy or not, it’s a good idea to limit these in your holiday menu – especially if you are catering for large groups. There’s no need to become really restrictive, but perhaps consider skipping the bread basket, or bypassing the fruit cake and mince pies. There are thousands of gluten and dairy free recipes online if you’re keen to try baking something new.
Practice Good Eating Habits – It might sound silly, but chewing your food properly is one of the simplest ways to reduce bloating. Many of us have poor eating habits: eating too fast, not chewing food properly, drinking water with meals etc. Practicing good dining habits can make a huge difference to common digestive complaints.
Always stop and sit down to eat. Put your knife and fork down between bites and chew your food properly. Water dilutes the digestive juices, making it more difficult to break down food and therefore more likely you will suffer digestive discomfort, so keep the H20 for outside of meal times. You might be surprised at the difference these two things make!
Enjoy an aperitif – There’s a good reason many cultures enjoy a small tipple before main meals. Vermouth, Campari and similar stimulate digestion and enhance the production of stomach acid, preparing the body for eating. Lemon juice and apple cider vinegar fulfil the same function, so try drinking a glass of water with the juice of a half a lemon or a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar about 15 minutes prior to the buffet.
Get bendy – If you can sneak away from the family celebrations for ten minutes, think about doing some yoga. There are many yoga poses that are designed to stimulate digestion and get everything moving. Twists are particularly good for the digestive system, so jump on Youtube and find a couple of basic exercises to keep your tummy happy.
Beat the Bloat
Includes these foods in your holiday menu to support digestion and keep your tummy happy:
- Asparagus – Asparagus is high in the fibre inulin, which does not break down in the digestive tract. Instead, it passes undigested to our large intestines, where it becomes a food source for our good bacteria. Maintaining a healthy balance of gut bacteria helps improve digestion and reduce uncomfortable bloating . Asparagus’ high fibre content also helps enhance transit time and reduce constipation. It’s also packed with antioxidants to help reduce free radical damage and inflammation.
- Kiwifruit – the Kiwifruit on your Pavlova doesn’t just taste great, it can actually enhance your digestion. Kiwifruit is high in enzymes, which help to break down protein and fats and soluble fibre to promote healthy bowel motions and the growth of good gut bacteria.
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 Weaver, L. Why do I get bloated in the afternoon? http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/well-good/teach-me/68404805/ask-dr-libby-why-do-i-get-bloated-in-the-afternoon
 Dr Axe. Asparagus Nutrition. https://draxe.com/asparagus-nutrition/
 Weaver, L. Daily Habits to Keep your gut healthy. https://www.drlibby.com/daily-habits-help-keep-gut-healthy/
 11 Impressive Benefits of Sweet Potatoes. https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/vegetable/health-benefits-of-sweet-potatoes.html
Black Pepper and Digestion. https://www.livestrong.com/article/507857-black-pepper-digestion/
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