Like the jello salad at Thanksgiving dinner, our health tends to get pushed aside during the holidays. This year, take a few extra steps to ensure proper digestion and reduce the risk of post-holiday sluggishness.
Eat Your Vegetables
While indulging in delicious holiday foods, remember to eat your vegetables! The fiber can help curb blood sugar spikes and improve GI motility. A nice rule of thumb is to make sure at least half of your plate is full of vegetables, especially dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables (think cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli, bok choy and cauliflower).
Keep Calm & Eat On
Although emotions can be rocky around the holidays, it’s best to sit down to a meal when you are calm and not feeling upset or stressed. Ensuring our bodies are in a predominantly parasympathetic mode (“rest and digest”) rather than a sympathetic mode (“fight or flight”) when we eat provides more digestive strength and less risk of indigestion.
Another idea: Try to chew your food 100 times per mouthful. Even if you can only get to around 50, the process allows for more mindfulness when eating and decreases the chance of overeating. And because the process of breaking down food starts as soon as the food hits your mouth, chewing slower and longer leads to better uptake of nutrients and a happier digestive system.
While it is very important to stay hydrated, avoiding liquids during a meal enhances digestion. If we ingest copious amounts of fluids with food, it dilutes our stomach acid and decreases the release of digestive enzymes, therefore weakening digestion. If you must drink during a meal, drink only small sips of tepid or warm liquid.
Prep the Stomach
Before meals (approximately 15-20 minutes), consider taking bitters or drinking one tablespoon of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar in a small amount of water. This kick-starts the digestive juices, has an alkalizing effect on the body and protects against indigestion after the meal. Digestive enzymes may also be taken to help break down food. Try to include digestion-promoting herbs in meals, such as turmeric, cumin, coriander, ginger and cayenne.
If you experience reflux or indigestion symptoms after meals, reach for DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice) tablets—rather than calcium carbonate products—to quickly ease the symptoms. Specifically for gas and bloating, consider carminative herbs such as fennel, ginger, peppermint and cinnamon (Gaia Herbs’ Gas & Bloating tea or capsules are typically very effective). Demulcent herbs, such as slippery elm, marshmallow root and aloe vera gel, can help coat and soothe the digestive tract (find them in Thorne’s GI-Encaps). In addition, taking a brisk, 15-minute walk after meals can help to keep our blood sugar balanced and stimulate the digestive tract.
For long-term poor digestion or leaky gut issues, L-Glutamine powder can help to repair gut mucosa. Triphala products can strengthen the digestive system, and work as a mild laxative. And Probiotics and fermented foods help the gastrointestinal terrain stay healthy, since good flora is essential to digestive health.
For occasional relief, try abdominal castor oil packs, which have anti-inflammatory action and may help with digestive pain. Materials for the castor oil pack include castor oil, an old t-shirt or cloth, wool or flannel fabric, and an external heat source such as a heating pad or hot water bottle. First, apply a thin layer of castor oil to the abdomen (roll-on castor oil can be a less messy option). Put on the old t-shirt, and then cover with the heavier wool or flannel fabric. Apply the heating pad on top of the layers, lie down and allow the relief to seep in over the next 30 minutes—or hopefully much longer!
Feel free to visit Pharmaca in Madison Park to talk with one of our licensed health care professionals and check out the digestive supplements section to learn more about natural solutions to digestion problems.