‘Tis the season to overindulge!

Bloating, gas and indigestion can all be uncomfortable side effects of the traditional Christmas dinner. Here’s how to avoid them

Mince pies, turkey, Christmas pudding and spicy mulled wine.

They’re all traditional festive foods that we love, but can often come with a side order of indigestion, gas and bloating. All that rich food and drink can certainly create a heavy burden on our digestive systems.

“Festive meals typically combine all the biggest challenges for our digestive system – large meals, not chewing properly, processed foods, stress and alcohol,” says Caroline Harmer, nutritionist and digestive care expert for Renew Life UK (www.renewlife.co.uk). “However there are ways to have your cake and eat it – or rather, have your cake and digest it beautifully!”

Lighten the load

“One of the main reasons for uncomfortable symptoms of indigestion is due to eating incorrect food combinations,” says Elizabeth Montgomery, a holistic nutritionist, speaker, and health writer (www.holisticnutrition.co.uk). “Eating animal protein together with starchy carbs, topped off with sugary chocolates and wine may taste delicious, but it’s setting the stomach up for a bumpy ride. This is because different food groups take different lengths of time to leave the stomach and different enzymes are required to break down different types of food.

For example: fruits leave the stomach very rapidly and take only 30 minutes to digest. Animal protein takes up to four hours to digest. If these two foods are eaten together then it actually creates a degree of indigestion and eventual fermentation in the GI tract. This then leads on to undesirable micro-organisms in the digestive tract (think yeast mould, fungus); leading on to digestive upsets. To lighten the load on your digestive system, Elizabeth suggests combining animal proteins with low glycaemic or non-starchy vegetables only. For example turkey with Brussels sprouts and raw sauerkraut. Carbs are best combined with vegetables. For example, mashed sweet potatoes sprinkled with cinnamon and steamed green veggies. Fruit is best eaten alone on an empty stomach. Elizabeth suggests having fruits at breakfast or several hours after meals.

Beat the bloat

“Making just a few simple changes can help you avoid uncomfortable symptoms this festive season and beyond,” says Caroline Harmer. “Firstly, be sure to chew your food well – it’s not a race, slow down and enjoy every morsel. This can help avoid bloating. Try making your own bloat-busting peppermint drink: add a few drops of peppermint oil into warm water with fresh lemon. Lastly, you could try popping an enzyme – digestive enzyme supplements are designed to literally help you digest more. They help to ensure more complete digestion as well as relieving gas, bloating and indigestion. A good digestive enzyme will have 11 plant-derived enzymes as well as L-Glutamine and marshmallow root to calm the digestive tract lining.”

Be kind to your tummy

Swap the sherry for a glass of water and make sure you drink it 30 minutes before your Christmas meal. “Ensuring good hydration will allow your body to make sufficient hydrochloric acid, one of the digestion acids,” says Shona Wilkinson, head nutritionist at www.nutricentre.com. “The 30-minute gap will help you ensure that there is no water in your stomach to dilute it. Try to avoid drinking water with, or immediately after a meal as this will dilute the hydrochloric acid and make digestion less efficient.” You might also want to stock up on some activated charcoal if you suffer with excessive flatulence after eating. “Taken after each meal, charcoal is able to absorb hundreds of times its own weight in toxins,” says Shona.

Stay in control

A group of people having Christmas dinner

“This is the time of the year that plays havoc with your IBS,” says Dr Nick Read, gastroenterologist, nutritionist and psychotherapist, Chair of Trustees and medical adviser to The IBS Network (www.theibsnetwork.org). “Too much food and too much emotion can easily churn up sensitive guts. Know your limits. We consume three times as many calories on Christmas Day as on a normal day – and many of us will have more than one Christmas meal as we celebrate with friends, family and workmates. So listen to your gut. Eat to savour and enjoy the different tastes. What’s the point in stuffing yourself like the turkey?” Dr Read also recommends cutting down on fat. “It will only upset you,” he says. “Christmas food contains large amounts of fat. Ask yourself, do I really need all that gravy, the sausage meat, that extra helping of Christmas pudding and double cream and all those mince pies?” Lastly, go easy on the alcohol. “It will only upset you and your gut,” says Dr Read. “Drink enough to lubricate the conversation, but never lose control. And stay hydrated. Drink a tumbler of water for every alcoholic drink.”

Try this!

“Alternate rich meals with simple ones,” says Elizabeth Montgomery. “For example, start the day with a simple bowl of millet porridge with almond milk and green tea followed by a festive meal and a simple, light dinner. Follow on with peppermint tea as a digestive aid.”

Top tip!

“Probiotic-rich foods are great for digestion,” says Elizabeth Montgomery. “Aim to include raw sauerkraut with meals, or drizzle coconut yogurt over baked apples sprinkled with cinnamon to help give probiotics (meaning pro-life) to the digestive tract.”

Alternatively, look for a probiotic supplement from your local independent health food store.

Did you know?
As early as the 1940s, research has shown that silicic acid is beneficial in relieving a wide range of conditions. A natural compound of the mineral substance silicon and oxygen, silicic acid has been found to treat symptoms of indigestion and IBS when the particles are suspended in a colloidal and hydrated gel. A small amount of the highly dispersible gel has been clinically shown to normalise the function of the stomach and bowel quickly and without side effects. It creates a protective lining in the stomach and intestine, and acts as a magnet, physically binding toxins, irritants and pathogens, which reduces their ability to cause inflammation, and renders them harmless to pass through the digestive tract. Users of silicic acid gel typically report fast relief from their symptoms, particularly diarrhoea, stomach ache, bloating and nausea. Silicic acid recently developed for daily use in a colloidal gel form can be purchased from independent health stores

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