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Two things are certain: The holidays are fast approaching, and if we’re not careful, they will wreak havoc on our digestive systems.
From Halloween to New Year’s Day, the holiday season is a dietary minefield. We stuff ourselves, drink too much and eat the wrong foods. We don’t even have to attend a party: calorie-dense foods are delivered directly to our offices and homes. Digestion suffers.
Celebrate good choices
Fortunately, there are some simple ways to support digestion in the face of holiday temptations. This is where mindful eating makes all the difference. Fill up with a healthy, fiber-rich snack before the party, or bring one to work. After you eat a rich treat or meal, have some fresh produce to balance your digestion. Vegetables and fruit may not seem as festive, but you’ll be celebrating how great you feel afterwards.
Limit inflammatory foods, which can cause indigestion. Dairy, deli meats, processed grains and sugars are some of the biggest culprits. Holiday beverages are also dangerous. Alcohol, coffee, sodas — they bring a lot of acidity which is never good for digestion.
Mind the basics
One of the primary ingredients to good digestion is water. Many of us are chronically dehydrated, so be sure to drink plenty of filtered water or herbal teas. Adequate hydration can curb excessive food cravings, especially for sweets.
I also recommend spending extra time on stress reduction. It’s no mystery that the holidays can be extra busy, and we can all use a little peace. In addition to being inflammatory, stress can make digestion suffer. Yoga is an excellent way to counteract stress, and has also been shown to improve digestion. Meditation and deep breathing will also help. Holidays are an opportunity to connect with friends and family, but don’t forget to make time for yourself.
There are a variety of natural remedies that can help ease digestion, such as herbal teas, supplements and “bitters.” These digestive aids can give us more room to indulge our cravings without discomfort, but they also strengthen digestion over time and promote greater long-term health.
Probiotic supplements, which add healthy bacteria to the digestive tract, can be especially helpful. These friendly bacteria actually digest sugars for their own fuel, so they are a great antidote when we eat too many sweets. Probiotics are also found in cultured/fermented foods, such as yogurt and sauerkraut. Fiber-rich foods also support good digestion and when eaten with sweets, the extra fiber absorbs the sugars and prevents blood glucose from spiking. In addition, alkaline foods, such as cucumber, avocado, spinach, broccoli and many others, counteract excess acidity from rich foods or acidic beverages.
There are also many herbs and supplements that help. Chamomile and mint tea soothe the stomach and improve digestion. Black pepper enhances digestion and metabolism and combats free radicals. Medicinal mushrooms, particularly maitake, support digestion can also help control glucose, as well as boost the immune system. And don’t forget digestive enzyme supplements, such as amylase and lipase, which support strong digestion, detoxification and immunity. Zinc is an essential mineral that also plays an important role in digestive health. Ginger root calms the stomach and helps address nausea and digestive upset.
Certain herbs known as “bitters” have a rich history of traditional use for gastric health, categorized for their bitter flavor and digestive benefits. Bitters are often prepared in tinctures, but these herbs can be used as teas, supplements or if your taste buds allow, eaten fresh, like dandelion leaves. Bitters include herbs such as dandelion leaf and root, milk thistle, chamomile, rue, yarrow and many others. The essential oils and compounds that produce the bitter flavor help to stimulate digestive enzymes and bile production, aiding in the digestion of fats, proteins and rich foods.
An ideal supplement is Integrative Digestive Formula, which combines a number of digestive enhancing botanicals such as black pepper, galangal, ginger, medicinal mushrooms, and a variety of other targeted herbs and nutrients. The formula eases stomach discomfort, improves digestion and nutrient absorption and supports immunity. The end result is better digestive health and a gentler holiday season.
Winter holidays should be a time of joy and reflection, not anxiety and discomfort. By adopting a mindful approach and preparing with targeted digestive support, we can avoid common pitfalls, prevent holiday weight gain and increase our energy for truly celebrating life.