Feeling a little sluggish this festive season? Here’s how to soothe your tum, naturally
The build-up to Christmas wouldn’t be the same without all the festive goodies filling the supermarket shelves and seasonal get-togethers dominating the diary. No wonder, then, by the time you reach the big day itself, your belly has blown up like a balloon, leaving you feeling uncomfortable and miserable.
There’s a whole host of reasons why we can be left feeling bloated at this time of year. “Grazing and lazing – eating more and moving less – is a simple way to overload your digestive organs and clog up your gut,” says Alison Cullen, a nutritional therapist for A. Vogel (avogel.co.uk). “Look at the amount of fat and refined sugar in your meals over the festive period – if your liver and pancreas have to work harder, you’ll have less energy to use elsewhere.”
The good news, is that there are certain foods that can actually help minimise the effects of those festive excesses. Read on to discover what you can eat and what best to avoid to beat the bloat this season…
Foods high in unhealthy, saturated fat such as sausage rolls, hard cheeses, creamy sauces, rich desserts and mince pies are harder for the body to digest. “Fatty foods challenge the liver and also tend to clog up the bowel,” says Alison. Also, foods high in fat take longer to empty from your stomach and small intestine which can result in bloating. Limit your intake by watching your portion size – using smaller plates helps – and leave time between courses to give your digestion a chance.
Too much sugar is just as bad as it can slow down the digestive process, ferment in the gut and lead to painful bloating, says clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer (nutritionlifestyle.co.uk). “Sugar also knocks out the beneficial bacteria that naturally live in the digestive tract and help keep everything running smoothly,” she explains. Don’t forget that alcohol, and many of the alcohol-free alternatives, are laden with sugar, so steer clear of the mulled wine!
Eating too many salty snacks won’t help keep your tum flat either. A high salt intake – we’re talking more than the recommended 6g a day – can cause water retention, which instantly bloats the stomach. Avoid salt-laden nibbles and stick to more wholesome snacks, such as vegetable crudités and fruity skewers with pineapple and papaya, which contain natural digestive enzymes.
Probiotics or so-called ‘friendly bacteria’ are essential for a healthy digestive system. Choose yoghurts that contain live cultures of beneficial digestive bacteria such as lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium to support the good bacteria and counteract the effects of the bad. Other probiotic-rich foods to include in your diet are kefir, miso, kombucha and sauerkraut.
“Zinc helps produce gastrin, which is involved in the primary stages of digestion,” explains Alison. “Good sources include sunflower and pumpkin seeds which make a great festive snack. But remember, you have to chew them really well.”
According to nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville (marilynglenville.com), cinnamon is a good addition to a bloat-free diet. “Packed with potent antioxidants, cinnamon aids digestion, gently warming the stomach and supporting the breakdown of food more efficiently,” she says. “Add some to a cranberry, pear and clementine juice for a festive pick-me-up on the go.”
Finishing off a meal with a herbal tea is a great way to aid your digestion. A peppermint infusion is very soothing, relaxing the stomach and helping to restore bacterial balance. It also stimulates the secretion of gastric juices and bile to help expel gas, helping to beat the bloat, fast. Ginger helps soothe an upset stomach, as well as helping with digestive cramps and bloating. Fresh is best. Also, fennel tea – made by steeping the seeds in hot water – makes use of a compound contained in the vegetable that relaxes the digestive tract muscles, helping to ease gas, bloating and cramps.
Digestion starts in the mouth so take time to chew your food thoroughly. “Chewing breaks down our food into small particles, allowing the digestive juices to get to work. It also helps mix the food with saliva which contains important enzymes,” explains Marilyn. “If you don’t chew your food properly, it can lead to acid reflux and excess fermentation lower in the digestive tract which can cause bloating, flatulence and cramping. It will also make mealtimes become more satisfying and prevent you from overeating.”
Stay hydrated. It may seem obvious but constipation – a major cause of bloating – can be triggered by simply not drinking enough fluids. This slows the system down and gives gut bacteria time to ferment, creating gas and air, producing the sensation of pressure and bloating. Aim to drink 1.5 litres of water a day – avoiding anything fizzy and sugary. Drinking gassy drinks, helps create gas!
Do remember, if your bloated stomach lasts for weeks it could be the sign of something more serious, so always speak to your GP.
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