Tips From a Holistic Nutritionist to Digest the Best This Holiday Season

It's the end of October already! It feels like just a few weeks ago I was prepping cold salads and avoiding turning on the oven to keep the house cool. Not anymore! The wood-stove is running, I'm making comforting warm soups, and baking most days.

The holidays are coming up, hopefully this means spending more time with family and friends. It can also mean spending more time eating all those yummy home-made baked goods, rich dishes, and those special treats that are too good to resist!

As a nutritionist, I know all about the symptoms people can experience when indulging this way. Bloating, gas, feeling over-full, becoming sleepy after a large meal, breaking out with acne. These are common reactions to a few bad habits when it comes to digestion. However, this can be corrected with simple alterations to our behaviour at meal-times.

  • Digestive enzymes. To naturally release your own enzymes that occur in saliva, the pancreas and gallbladder, take some time before the meal to think about what you're about to eat and get yourself into a state of salivating over it! Imagine the tastes, textures, and satisfying feelings that are going to occur from the meal. Really work yourself up over it! It's important to be intentional to literally "get your juices flowing". There are many foods that naturally contain enzymes you can include in your diet. Pineapples, mangoes, papayas, fermented foods such as miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi. For especially rich meals, you could include enzyme capsules 30 minutes before eating. These contain a therapeutic dose and for most people, there is no down side to ingesting them.

  • Skip the Beverages. When we go to a restaurant the server brings us a glass of water, usually filled with ice. They then ask what else we would like to drink, usually something sugary, fizzy, and also ice cold. The food we're eating needs to be washed down with something, right? What could be better at quenching thirst as we make our way through a salty entree? Room. Temperature. Water. Yup, nothing fancy and sparkly is going to help our digestive process. Ice cold drinks actually shut down the digestive process, it literally freezes up! Our bodies need to heat up the liquid before digestion can take place. Small sips of room temperature water is the most ideal thing if you need a drink with your meal. I usually drink a big glass of water a few minutes before eating, and then again after the meal. Save your fancy beverage for after, it's worth it!

  • Fruit and Nuts? Food combining for maximum digestion isn't on most peoples minds when they think about what they want for dinner. It does make a big difference to our bodies though! When you plan your meals keep this in mind: Sugars pass through the stomach quickly, digested in the intestine. Protein and fats stay in the stomach for hours. When sugars and mixed together with protein and fat in the stomach, fermentation starts, which causes that bloated feeling and gas. Many of my favorite holiday dishes break this rule big time. Stuffing without nuts, raisins, chopped up apple, and hunks of bread? Can't live without it! If you know you're going to be eating a lot of different foods, plan to eat more balanced combinations when you're preparing your daily regular meals. Protein and veggies? Great! Healthy fats and veggies? Yup! Starches and veggies? You bet! The combinations to avoid? Protein & starch, and high protein with fruit.

  • Avoid Angry Munching. This time of year can be stressful, it's important to be in a neutral state of mind when eating. When we're rushed, worried, angry, crying, etc our digestive process is halted. The gut-brain connection is sensitive. Make sure you give yourself space to process emotions regularly. Use yoga, meditation, and exercise as ways to process the things you're ready to let go of.

  • Make time for tea. Herbal teas can greatly benefit digestion, and they're so comforting at this time of year! Peppermint contains menthol which is said to help with digestive issues. It also tastes great and helps our breath smell fresher. Compounds in ginger tea can help with cramping, nausea, bloating, and gas. Fennel, the licorice tasting plant, is thought to help with constipation and can relax the bowel. Dandelion is another great. tea, containing compounds that may stimulate movement of food from the stomach to the small intestine. Herbal teas are considered to be safe, however discontinue drinking them in you experience any unpleasant side-effects.

I hope you learned something new about digestion, and have less of a need to undo your belt at the dinner table this holiday season. Check back here for more tips from your friendly Holistic Nutritionist!

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