Expert Ways To Deal With Digestive Discomfort
Expert Ways To Deal With Digestive Discomfort

Expert Ways To Deal With Digestive Discomfort

At this time of year, our gut is often in overdrive, which can lead to indigestion, bloating and other uncomfortable symptoms. Fortunately, even a few small tweaks can help you balance out the indulgences. From supplements to instant solutions, here’s what the experts recommend…
By Tor West

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Keep Beige Foods To A Minimum

Processed foods that are high in sugar and less beneficial fats are not good for the gut, explains nutritionist Rohini Bajekal. “Breakfast pastries, pigs in blankets, cheese boards, mince pies and chocolate-based desserts are in abundance during the festive season, but excess sugars can ferment in the gut, causing gas and bloating, while high-fat foods slow gut motility and can cause discomfort.” It’s no secret your gut microbes thrive on a colourful, plant-rich diet, so making simple swaps and eating the rainbow when you can make all the difference, Rohini tells us. “The more refined carbs and sugars you eat, the more unhealthy bacteria is promoted. Counteract this with seasonal vegetables – try a nut roast or fruit with dessert.”

Don’t Drink On An Empty Stomach

Lining your stomach before drinking will not only reduce the speed at which the alcohol reaches your bloodstream. It will also mitigate the effects of alcohol on your gut microbes. “Alcohol irritates the gut and inflames the gut barrier,” says Karine Patel, founder of Dietitian Fit & Co. “If you are going to drink, always make sure it’s with a meal or snack, and if you are prone to bloating, avoid prosecco and beer, which are notorious for causing digestive discomfort.” Karine also stresses the importance of staying hydrated: “When drinking more than usual, staying hydrated is vital. It will support optimal digestion and regular bowel movements. If you’re feeling delicate, a peppermint tea can help calm the gut and reduce bloating.”

Avoid Grazing

“At this time of the year, the food and drinks are likely to be flowing,” says nutritional therapist Yasmin Alexander. “The pattern of grazing throughout the day may lead to digestive issues – firstly because it means we are eating more than normal, but also because constant grazing doesn’t give the gut time to rest.” If you are prone to bloating and gas, Yasmin recommends doing your best to stick to regular mealtimes, which gives your gut time to do its maintenance work in between. Also consider starting your meals with a bitter salad, says Yasmin. “Starting your meal with a salad consisting of rocket, beetroot, walnuts and parmesan will stimulate digestive enzymes and help you better digest your main meal.”

EXCESS SUGARS CAN FERMENT in the gut, causing gas and bloating.

Slow Down

“Remember digestion starts in the mouth,” says Karine. “Chewing releases saliva, which helps break down food, so it’s more easily processed by the body and releases digestive enzymes to aid the process.” Karine recommends taking your time with meals, chewing each mouthful properly before swallowing. “This will help you better understand when you are starting to get uncomfortably full, and then be able to stop eating, even if that means leaving food on the plate. Chewing your food properly will also supercharge digestion and reduce bloating.”

Get On Top Of Stress

Stress can have a direct impact on gut health, so avoid eating when you’re stressed or upset, and take a few deep breaths before meals to aid digestion. “The vagus nerve directly connects the brain to the gut,” says Eli Brecher, nutritionist at Cytoplan. “Plus, serotonin – our ‘feel good’ hormone – is made in the gut before being transported to the brain via the vagus nerve. Digestive disturbances reduce the production of serotonin, which is why stress can often manifest as digestive symptoms, and digestive issues may be linked with increased levels of anxiety. The lead-up to Christmas can be a stressful time, so support your nervous system with relaxation techniques to move your body out of fight-or-flight mode and into rest-and-digest mode.” Do five minutes of breathwork in the morning or simply take a few slow, deep breaths before each meal. 

Incorporate Fermented Foods

Experts believe eating a small number of fermented foods daily – or a few times per week – will feed the microbial community living in your digestive tract. “Sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso and live yoghurt all contain good bacteria, which will support and nourish your gut microbiome to improve digestion,” Eli tells us. “Get into the habit of having a spoon of sauerkraut with a Christmas sandwich or your eggs at breakfast, or swap a glass of Champagne for kombucha.” A probiotic supplement could also be worth taking, but not all are created equal, says Karine. “For some people, probiotics reduce bloating and minimise IBS-style symptoms, but for others they make no difference at all. If you want to take a probiotic for gut health, look for a formula containing lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, which have been shown to help with stomach issues.”

Start your meal with a salad of rocket, beetroot, walnuts and parmesan to STIMULATE DIGESTIVE ENZYMES.

Drink Warm Water

According to Ayurveda – a form of medicine that originated more than 5,000 years ago – when your digestive fire is low, you are significantly more likely to experience bloating after a meal. “What and how you eat can influence your tendency to experience bloating,” says Colette Park, Ayurvedic practitioner at Deja. According to Ayurvedic wisdom, the causes of bloating include eating cold and raw foods such as salads, drinking cold and carbonated drinks, eating a meal that’s too heavy for your digestive fire or snacking before your previous meal is digested.” Colette recommends drinking warm water instead of ice-cold water at this time of the year as well as plenty of herbal teas, which activate the digestive tract and have a cleansing effect by flushing the stomach and intestines.

Stock Up On Peppermint Capsules

Peppermint oil capsules are a handy way to quickly relieve abdominal pain and bloating, Yasmin continues. “Peppermint’s relaxant effect on muscles means it speeds up the transit of food through the gut, which can reduce symptoms of indigestion, such as bloating and constipation.” 

Soothe With Ginger

“There is strong evidence to suggest ginger can bring relief to both bloating and gas,” says Rohini, who explains it all comes down to gingerol, the active ingredient in ginger, which improves the rate at which food moves through the gut. “Ginger can help with constipation and gas, and can be incorporated in a variety of ways. Try it grated fresh in hot drinks or smoothies, or add to stews, curries, marinades, soups and salad dressings. Dried ginger also works well in festive dishes.”

Have an SOS Plan

No one wants an upset stomach at Christmas, but if you are prone to diarrhoea, Karine says the most important thing you can do is to stay hydrated and tweak your diet. “Drink at least two litres of water a day to replace lost fluid and include low-fibre foods such as bananas, rice, toast and apple puree, which may help with the consistency of your stools. Limit alcohol and high-fibre foods like cabbage, brussels sprouts and green leafy vegetables.” Yasmin is also a fan of chia seeds for both diarrhoea and constipation. “Chia seeds are fantastic at this time of the year as they can work both ways. When digested, they provide a gel-like consistency to the stool, which either makes it easier to pass with constipation or it absorbs fluid and bulks out the stool, providing relief to diarrhoea. Add them to smoothies or make a chia seed pudding to give your gut a helping hand.”


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