The holiday party season is approaching, which means there will be an abundance of savory dishes and sugary sweets not only dancing in your head but being piled high on your plate—soon. How can you enjoy yourself without wreaking havoc on your digestive system?
Some digestive upset is clearly associated with overindulgence, while other times it’s associated with specific types of holiday foods. For the most part, vegetables, salads and lean meats are easy on your digestive system. In contrast, heavy, saturated fats, cream and cheese can overwhelm your digestive capacities if consumed in excess. Eating in moderation is always a good idea, but many of us tend to let that slide a bit during holiday festivities.
Let’s look at how you can spot some of the most notorious hard-to-digest foods, and what you can eat (and do) instead to enhance healthy digestion.
Mind your meat
Lamb, beef brisket, roasted duck and turkey drumsticks: what do they all have in common? For one thing, they all contain high levels of saturated fat that can be tough on digestion. It’s best to choose meats lower in fat, such as turkey breast or chicken breast. Or, consume very lean beef or bison meat to decrease your fat intake. Another option is to consider a vegetarian meal with squash, potatoes, stuffing and Tofurky (tofu turkey) or another delicious, bean-based protein dish.
Steer clear of cheese and high-fat dairy
What about the delicious casseroles that grace so many holiday spreads? More often than not, they contain high amounts of cheese, cream or butter. The saturated fats – not to mention the calories – can quickly add up. Consider making a casserole using lower-fat cheese, such as ricotta, and use olive oil instead of butter. Throw in lots of vegetables, and use egg whites to help hold the casserole together. There are plenty of great recipes to choose from online. See what piques your interest, and try something new!
Embrace olive (and other) oils
Instead of sweet potatoes coated in butter, try adding a drizzle of infused olive oil to your potatoes to give them an extra edge of flavor. Vitacost carries a number of infused oils in eight different flavors, including blood orange, lemon, California lime, garlic, Tuscan herb, citrus, Thai chili and basil.
Revise the pie
Pie à la mode can give your stomach a hard kick, especially if consumed after indulging in a large turkey dinner. The butter or lard often used to make crusts, along with the ice cream scooped on top of the pie, can challenge anyone’s already-full stomach. Consider making a nut crust, and use nonfat yogurt ice cream to top off your pie.
My favorite nut crust recipe is easy and fun to make. First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, then coat a 9-inch pie pan with a thin layer of olive oil. Next, mix in a bowl one cup of finely ground walnuts, pecans or almonds (or a mixture of all three) with 2 to 3 tablespoons of almond butter, ½ teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 tablespoon of agave syrup. As you mix these ingredients, you may want to use your hands to get them all to stick together. If the mix is too dry, add some olive oil. Press the nut mixture into the well-oiled pie pan, forming it into the shape of your pie crust. Bake the crust for 10 to 15 minutes, let cool and then add your pie filling.
Natural ways to support healthy digestion
Drinking warm lemon water before eating a meal can help to “prime” your stomach for healthy digestion. According to Chinese health practices, a strong ginger tea with added lemon and honey can give your body’s digestive power extra edge if ingested prior to eating. Chinese theory holds that the tea warms your stomach and supports the transformation of food into energy (or Qi) that your body can use.
You can also take supplements, such as digestive enzymes, to support naturally healthy digestion.* These supplements contain proteases, amylases and lipases that help with the digestion of protein, carbohydrates and fat. They can be taken with each meal to give your digestive system support, especially if you’re eating a wide variety of new foods, or if you overindulge and overwhelm your digestive system.
Some digestive supplement products also contain betaine hydrochloric acid (HCl), which is the acid found in digestive juices. You can try taking a serving before each meal to support healthy digestion.* Be sure to wash it down with plenty of water.
Another wonderful way to support digestive health is with herbal bitters.* These are herbs that stimulate digestive juices that you can sip before, during or after meals to assist in optimizing your digestion.
Enjoy your holidays with plenty of good food, good cheer – and great digestion!