How to Enjoy Festive Foods Without the Discomfort

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?

  • Overeating - 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.[1]
  • 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 glycemic 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 diarrhoea, 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, and 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 breadbasket, 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 mealtimes. 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 half a lemon or a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar about 15 minutes before 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 [2]. 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, fats and soluble fibre to promote healthy bowel motions and the growth of good gut bacteria.

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  • Pineapple– Like kiwifruit, pineapple is packed with enzymes which help to break down protein and promote strong digestion. Enjoy a fruit salad for dessert or serve a pineapple salsa with your holiday ham.
  • Ginger- Ginger is a common folk medicine for upset stomach and nausea and is often prescribed for both travel sickness and morning sickness. Sip on a cup of ginger tea after Christmas dinner to help enhance your digestion.
  • Beetroot– Add some beetroot to your holiday roast for good digestion and a healthy liver. Beetroot is a potent detoxifier and anti-inflammatory, helping to protect the liver from oxidative damage. It’s also packed with fibre to help keep everything moving.
  • Strawberries – If you are in the Southern Hemisphere and lucky enough to be enjoying strawberry season, make sure you include some strawberries in the festive menu. Rich in fibre but very low in calories, strawberries are a fantastic way to satisfy the sweet tooth while promoting a healthy digestive system. They are also packed with antioxidants to help promote a healthy liver.
  • Leafy greens (Broccoli, Kale, Silverbeet and Spinach) – The liver loves green vegetables. The bitter taste of green vegetables stimulates the liver to produce bile, which is an important part of optimal digestion. Bile helps break down fats and make nutrients more bioavailable.[3]
  • Yoghurt– Yoghurt is a great source of probiotics to promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria and enhance digestion. Top your pavlova with Greek yoghurt instead of cream, or half yoghurt/half cream.
  • Sweet potato (Kumara) – Make sure you include sweet potato in the holiday roast! High in soluble fibre to enhance digestion and promote the growth of good bacteria, sweet potato is also a great source of magnesium to enhance gut motility and reduce transit time.[4]
  • Lemon– Lemon is great for the liver as it helps to stimulate the production of digestive juices and assist with the breakdown of fat. Sip on a glass of warm water with lemon before sitting down to roast dinner.
  • Chicken – Make organic chicken the centrepiece of this year’s holiday buffet. Chicken is high in the amino acid cysteine, which is needed to create glutathione – a powerful antioxidant which helps protect the liver.
  • Carrots– High in beta-carotene, the precursor to Vitamin A and an important antioxidant, carrots help to cleanse and detoxify the liver, supporting good digestion.
  • Pepper – Seasoning your food doesn’t just enhance the flavour, it actually improves your digestion. That’s because piperine, the active ingredient in pepper, helps stimulate the secretion of stomach acid, helping enhance the breakdown of food.[5]
  • References: 

    [1] Weaver, L. Why do I get bloated in the afternoon?

    [2] Dr Axe. Asparagus Nutrition.

    [3] Weaver, L. Daily Habits to Keep your gut healthy.

    [4] 11 Impressive Benefits of Sweet Potatoes.

    [5]Black Pepper and Digestion.