The holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year, but our digestive system doesn't always see it that way. The seemingly endless parade of buffets, sweets and party foods from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day does a lot more than tempt your taste buds.
Beyond breaking down food and absorbing nutrients, your digestive system serves a crucial role in the immune system, thanks to its hard-working beneficial bacteria that naturally defend the body. It is controlled by your enteric nervous system, sometimes called your "second brain," so your body's response to stress is linked to the GI tract, too. A normal response to stress is to activate the central nervous system's fight-or-flight mechanism, which naturally pauses or slows blood flow to the GI tract, putting the brakes on digestive muscles and lessening the secretions of necessary hormones and enzymes. This also can shift attention from the body's healthy inflammatory responses. To support your digestive system during this busy, food-filled time, consider these tips.
Stay Hydrated but Time it Right
Consume plenty of water to help keep your digestive system moving, but avoid drinking with meals, which according to Ayurveda can dampen our digestive fires. Choose room temperature or cool water versus iced, especially during winter months. (Warm herbal teas count toward your daily water quota, and you could also include herbs to support digestion.)
Consume Bitters Daily
The bitter taste in foods comes from a plant's alkaloids and glycosides, to which our taste buds have been sensitized.* For most of us, this is the least consumed taste, but we should aim to consume bitter foods daily. Bitterness naturally stimulates our salivary glands and digestive enzymes, and it facilitates normal digestion; in Traditional Chinese Medicine it is said to move energy downward. Our digestive system is like a game of dominos, with each step from eating to elimination relying on the previous one for its cue. If one step is skipped-such as scarfing down food instead of chewing thoroughly-it is like removing a domino. The chain reaction pauses or stops. Bitter foods act upon the salivary glands as one way we tell the stomach, "Be ready-food's coming!"
Bitter tastes can come from foods such as dark leafy greens, olives and turnips, or in the form of an herbal preparation, like Sweetish Bitters, which is a traditional Eclectic formulation that supports digestion to promote healthy assimilation of foods.* Such bitter formulations have been used to support digestion as far back as ancient Egypt.
Get Enough Fiber
Fiber is like a natural scrub brush for your GI tract. Fiber comes in two forms: Soluble fiber, found in oatmeal, legumes and apples, soaks up water and forms a gel that coats the inside of the GI tract to support healthy cholesterol levels and a healthy heart. It also naturally supports regularity of bowel movements. Insoluble fiber, found in seeds, skins and outer husks of plants, aids in satiety and bulks up bowel movements to help support regularity. Aim for 25 to 35 grams of total dietary fiber daily, especially when your diet includes more rich and fatty foods than normal.
Eat Fermented Foods
Foods such as kefir or yogurt with live cultures, kraut or miso paste, and beverages like kombucha, all contain probiotics, which are the good bacteria that are naturally found in our gut. Consuming these foods helps support the immune functions in our GI tract while also supporting healthy, normal digestion. (Many fermented vegetables also add a bitter taste!) Heat can kill those good bugs, so add them to smoothies or salads or consume on the side of any meal.
Indulge in Moderation
Food is more than fuel for the body. It's love, family and memories, too. The special treats and rich feasts that are common around the holidays should be savored. The key to keeping your mind and body happy is moderation, so choose small portions and save your appetite for your favorite foods instead of trying everything on the table.
Eating triggers the release of the feel-good hormone dopamine in the brain, but overeating naturally blunts that response, requiring more of the stimulus (food) to achieve a feeling of pleasure. It can take 20 minutes for your brain to get the message that you're no longer hungry, so pause between bites and soak in the ambiance and holiday spirit.
For those occasions when you do overindulge or eat something that does not agree with you, there is Gas & Bloating™. This formulation works quickly, with natural vegetable charcoal and Fennel seed to promote the absorption and elimination of gas, plus herbs and essential oils to improve digestive function and provide natural relief to the intestine.