Those of us who suffer with gut problems such as IBS and bloating may be dreading Christmas. While the period is a time of joy and family fun, there is a LOT of eating involved, which while brilliant, can wreak havoc on our digestive systems. With this in mind, the following tips from experts could help you to maintain good gut health over Christmas.
Firstly, slow down and chew properly. By the time Christmas lunch or dinner has arrived on the table, I can become a total animal and forget to keep calm, pace myself, and actually enjoy a relaxed meal. But not chewing properly can result in bloating, which is never fun. "Chewing is meant to break down our food into small particles, creating the maximum surface area for the digestive juices and enzymes to process it," explains nutritionist and fitness instructor Cassandra Barns.
"If you don’t chew properly, the rest of the digestive process cannot take place as it should and the result can be bloating. If you know you eat too fast, then try to go back to basics.
"Focus on eating slowly, put your cutlery down between each mouthful, and chew each mouthful of food at least 30 times to begin with. The change should gradually become a habit.”
Secondly, be aware of your fluid intake. While many of us love a glass of prosecco or mulled wine on Christmas day, it's important to be aware of our fluid intake — and not just when it comes to alcohol consumption. Remember to drink as much water as you usually do in order to stay hydrated.
Barns advises the following regarding timings:
"Make sure to drink most of your water away from meals to prevent over-diluting your digestive juices. In particular, avoid drinking very cold or iced water with a meal. Try instead sipping on warm water with lemon or a warm herbal tea: ginger tea in particular may be helpful for stimulating digestion.”
Thirdly, try to stay calm & stress-free. While Christmas is most likely to be filled with family fun and joy, there can be stress involved (think awkward extended family encounters or cooking for a big group of people). Stress is unfortunately notoriously bad for the gut, and can be a trigger for things like IBS.
"There is a strong link between stress and digestive problems," confirms Barns. "When we’re stressed or anxious, we’re in ‘fight or flight’ mode rather than in ‘rest and digest’ mode." Try to avoid particularly stressful situations on Christmas day so you can enjoy yourself and avoid any added gut problems.
Fourthly, you may chose to avoid certain foods. While a huge Christmas lunch is the stuff of dreams, those of us with gut issues may need to slightly alter our plates in order to feel comfortable for the rest of the day. So what should you be avoiding? Dr Marilyn Glenville PhD, the UK’s leading nutritionist explains:
“Cruciferous vegetables like Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage may cause bloating and excess wind. For some people these vegetables are not digested completely in the small intestines maybe due to a lack of enzymes. It means that when they reach the large intestines, bacteria in that part of the gut can cause gas and bloating when breaking down those foods.”
Dairy-eaters may want to be careful with their intake of milk and cheese on the big day, too. "Some people don’t produce the enzyme lactase which helps them breaks down lactose, a sugar found in milk," Glenville adds. "You need the enzyme lactase in your body in order to break down the lactose, otherwise it ferments in the gut causing pain, gas and bloating”.
Follow these tips and you'll enjoy Christmas day everywhere in your body, including your gut.