Focusing on digestion can be a great way to mindfully make it through the holidays feeling happy and healthy while still enjoying a treat or two (because let’s face it, pie is awesome and deserves to be celebrated).
The holidays are nearly here! …How is that possible? For many of us, the holiday season can be a bit challenging, especially when it comes to maintaining wellbeing. Gathering with friends and family can be wonderful, but we’re often met with multiple parties, engagements, dinners, potlucks, and any other possible configuration of gathering that might involve food. And more often than not, that food is rich. And the wine is plentiful. And “oh, just one slice of pie.” Safe to say, the holiday season can often leave us feeling a bit ill and with slowed digestion, which can actually lead to lowered immunity. No fun! But it doesn’t have to be this way! Focusing on digestion can be a great way to mindfully make it through the holidays feeling happy and healthy while still enjoying a treat or two (because let’s face it, pie is awesome and deserves to be celebrated). Today we’re talking all things digestion. Why it’s important, the foods that facilitate it, and the foods that don’t. Read on…
Why is digestion important?
It sounds crazy (at least to a digestion fanatic like me), but for many people, digestion isn’t top of mind. Unless something is seriously wrong, many go through life thinking that bloating, constipation and gas are just facts of life. Something that will always happen. I was one of these people! It may sound obvious, but it took me a long time to make a connection between the foods I was eating and the way my digestive system felt. Only after an elimination diet and a solid regimen of probiotics did I learn the joys of not feeling awful all the time. But it makes sense: we begin taking antibiotics at an early, early age. Antibiotics that can decimate our gut flora. Meaning, we get used to feeling not-so-great pretty fast. But, good digestion is key to supporting immunity and full-body function. When your digestion is running smoothly, your body can focus on other important tasks, like defending against viruses and producing energy.
What foods are good for digestion?
Bromelain: The enzyme bromelain, found in pineapples, could help relax the muscles in the digestive system and help break down difficult to digest proteins, providing our system a beneficial one-two punch. Bromelain can be taken as a supplement, but fresh pineapple is just as beneficial, if not moreso (while providing some immunity-supporting vitamin C at the same time). Try adding a bit of pineapple to your meal or enjoying a few slices in place of dessert. Bromelain can also help to relax sore muscles throughout the body, making it ideal before and after meals and pre- or post-workout!
Probiotics and fermented foods: Probiotics and fermented foods are finally (finally!) getting the recognition they deserve after too many years of being relegated to the yogurt aisle. The holiday season is especially rife with good-bacteria-obliterating foods, including sugar and alcohol, along with happening when many of us are feeling low in immunity, too (antibiotics kill off good bacteria, along with the bad stuff). Good bacteria, the kind found in a high-quality probiotic and in fermented foods, like kefir and kimchi, populates our guts and helps break down the food we eat. This beneficial bacteria aids in intestinal motility (elimination), reduces gas and bloating, and improves gastric acid production. You may also feel more energized and alert once you begin incorporating these foods into your diet, as your body is less bogged down with the difficult task of breaking down hard to digest food.
Ginger: Long used to treat nausea, ginger has also been found to facilitate digestion, reduce bloating and calm upset stomach. A mug of ginger tea can help sooth and calm a sore stomach before bed, working similarly to bromelain to relax muscles and move food through the digestive tract. Even the act of simply inhaling the scent of ginger can have a calming effect on the system (now might be a great time to invest in a bottle of ginger essential oil). Along with soothing your stomach after you’ve overindulged, ginger can help relax your stomach and may even support immunity when you’re feeling under the weather and nauseous.
Digestive Bitters: Digestive bitters and other bitter foods (like bitter greens) stimulate the digestive system and can help curb overindulgence. Bitter foods were once a large part of the human diet, with sweet flavors only an occasional indulgence. Eventually as sweets became more widely available, bitter foods took a backseat and their benefits faded into the background. Bitter tastes are not only an interesting addition to our meals, but could stimulate digestive enzymes and alert the body that food is coming, allowing it to prepare and engage. A few drops of digestive bitters before a meal can help you become more aware of satiety, and a few drops after a meal can soothe your stomach and signal that you’re finished eating.
Fibre: Fibre-rich foods, like whole unprocessed grains and leafy greens, not only add dense nutrition to any meal, they help us feel full and facilitate digestion, too. A big salad at the start of a meal, or included within the meal itself can help add much-needed fibre to your diet, moving food through your system more efficiently, and help you feel satiated and full, two feelings that may be hard to come by when you’re surrounded by holiday treats!
What foods aren’t good for digestion?
Now that we know what foods help keep our digestive systems running smoothly, let’s talk about the ones that don’t. It may come as no surprise that sugar is a huge culprit in knocking our digestion off balance, and that includes sugar in all its forms: Alcohol, processed grains and carbs, soda, and sugary milk chocolate. Add to that list another huge category: dairy (save for plain, unsweetened yogurt and kefir, as long as you’re not lactose intolerant). Unfortunately, these are all the foods that tend to be the stars and supporting cast of our holiday feasts. In small amounts, these foods can be fine, as long as you’re not allergic, but when consumed in large quantities, these foods can make us feel bloated, gassy, and lethargic (not exactly the best way to spend the holiday season, or any other season for that matter). Sugar and sugary foods can dehydrate (especially alcohol) and kill off good gut bacteria, and sugary drinks like soda can lead to heartburn and indigestion. Dairy can slow digestion, cause cramping, and… let’s just say it… constipation, too. It’s best to enjoy these foods in smaller quantities and not all at once – yes, hard to do this time of year, but worth keeping in mind (and maybe worth keeping a bottle of digestive bitters in your pocket while you’re at it).
+How do you stay healthy and happy during the holiday rush? Please share!
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