By David Grotto, RD, LDN
There’s nothing worse than feeling sick and queasy during the holidays — especially if you know you could have prevented it in the first place. So, as a parting holiday gift to you for 2012, I wanted to leave you with some digestive tips:
- Cook it right: One of the most common holiday blunders that contribute to an angry digestive system is food infection. Spoiled food might not even taste or smell funny. Gift the gift of health by preparing food correctly. My favorite resource for food safety is homefoodsafety.org, a site developed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
- Say when! Do you really want another slice of pie or want to do another shot of tequila with Uncle Bruno? A more likely contributor than food infection to a sour stomach is asking your gut to do much more than it should. Large meals take longer to digest. If you feel slightly uncomfortable, that is an early warning sign to throw in the towel. A few drinks probably won’t cause a stir but combining food with too much Christmas cheer is a recipe for disaster.
- Avoid the usual suspects: Who’s often at the crime scene when your stomach starts pushing food in the wrong direction? Beware of these gastrointestinal gangsters!
- Fried and other high-fat foods – fat takes the longest to digest. Try to accompany your high-fat choices with foods that contain fiber, like fruits, veggies, and whole grains that help get them out of Dodge quickly!
- Spicy dishes – sometimes this is the match that sets off the fireworks. If you tolerate it, great, but try limiting those hot wings to maybe just a few.
- Carbonated beverages – especially when consumed quickly can lead to a bloated feeling. Keeping trapped gas inside may be socially correct but will come back to bite you if you don’t let it out quickly. Excuse yourself and head to the bathroom.
- Chew it ‘til you’re satisfied: Rushing through a meal won’t make you feel full any faster than taking your time eating. Just a few mouthfuls of food will trigger satiety hormones that assure your brain that you won’t waste away right then and there. Eating fast often means swallowing just as much air as food, which can lead to trapped gas that can make you feel like food is at a standstill.
- Take some digestive enzymes: It’s not a bad idea to pack some digestive enzymes in your purse or have some over-the-counter chewable antacids on hand just in case you do overdo it. Antacids do just that – calm the acid production and help douse heartburn. For queasy stomachs, papaya enzymes or a multi-digestive enzyme can help break down foods into smaller particles. Papaya is rich in the protein digestive enzymes papain and chymopapain and has long been known for its anti-inflammatory attributes. A randomized study using a fermented version of papaya for 14 weeks showed that papaya was very effective in reducing C-reactive protein and uric acid, both indicators of inflammation. It may or may not work depending on the extent of your digestive dilemma but might be worth a shot. You can purchase digestive enzymes at your local grocery, pharmacy. or health food store. A little baking soda mixed in water may also do the trick when you get home.
- Go-to foods: I came across some nifty foods that can help aid digestion while conducting research for my new book. You might want to bring a dish that contains them you are attending a party:
- Apples – choose less tart versions of apples such as red or golden delicious, which are less likely to aggravate your stomach. The fiber in apples help move offending foods though the digestive track. Apples are also an excellent source of plant nutrients called polyphenols located mainly in the skin of the apple. These polyphenols help protect the inside lining of the stomach called the gastric mucosa
- Artichokes – contain plant nutrients that have been found to be beneficial in short- and long-term dyspepsia and gastritis. Research also supports that it is quite helpful in reducing the spasticity that goes along with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
- Ginger - has been used for the past 2,000 years in China to help treat stomach upset and nausea. Ginger is packed with gingerols, shogaols, and zingerones, plant nutrients which help battle conditions from morning sickness to cancer. In a study of subjects with upset stomachs, ginger capsules significantly reduced reports of sour stomach. Ginger is also known for stopping nausea dead in its tracks whether related to pregnancy, chemotherapy, bad food – you name it. There was even a study showing that simply smelling ginger could help reduce the nausea experience after coming out of anesthesia!
- Peppermint – has been used for thousands of years for medicinal purposes; it helps slow movement of the stomach muscles and/or spasms which contribute to nausea or vomiting. There are a variety of peppermint forms to choose from, including the fresh herb, powder, oil, tea, or candy. Try a hot cup of peppermint flavored tea before peppermint hard candies as sometimes the sugary sweet taste can spur on more queasiness. The caffeine-free aromatic tea will help soothe in a natural way without calories! WARNING: Peppermint can aggravate heartburn by lowering pressure of the sphincter that keeps contents of the stomach from coming back up into the esophagus. If you suffer from chronic heartburn, try the previous three food recommendations.
I wish you all good digestion and the best of health this holiday season. By the way, thanks for your feedback this past year. I’d love to hear back from you for ideas on what kind of nutrition topics are of most interest to you. Talk to you next year!