Thanksgiving: a time for family, friends, and delicious food! It often comes with rich foods or ones we are not accustomed to eating, which may cause some digestive distress. Dr. Anna Falkowski, ND and local practitioner partner, has some expert tips on how to avoid the thanksgiving bloat!
Fall is such a beautiful season here in Canada – the changing leaves, the crisp fall air and of course the last harvests of the season! Thanksgiving is a wonderful time for many Canadians to celebrate gratitude, family, and the bounties of Fall – pumpkins, squashes, turkey and cranberries! This amazing celebration usually ends with a bloated belly and the need for a nap! Here’s some strategies to enjoy Thanksgiving without getting into digestive turmoil and sabotaging your healthy lifestyle!
Proper Food Combining: One of the issues that arises at most Thanksgiving meals is the plethora of different foods – sampling even just a little of so many options can wreak havoc on someone with weak digestive function (and even those with a stomach of steel!). Go in with a game plan – we know that proteins and starches require different enzymes and stomach acidity to digest properly AND their digestion happens in different sections of the digestive tract. If you want to enjoy the turkey, skip or minimize the starchy carbs (breads, stuffing, potatoes) and instead decide on a few veggie side-dishes. Try to stick with 3-4 sides and skip things that are covered with creamy dressings (digesting dairy along with your big meal will leave you bloated and gassy).
Dessert: To allow for proper digestion of your dinner, try to leave some time between dinner and dessert. If you consumed turkey, it can take 2 hours for it to move through your system before you’re ready to properly digest the next thing. I know it seems like a long time, but this would be the perfect time to take that fall walk or play some games with the family before moving on to dessert. Not only will your gut be thankful, but you’ll enjoy the dessert so much more!
A special note about fruit: consuming raw fruits with other foods can be really stressful on your gut! Fruit is best eaten on its own 30-60 minutes before a meal (or 2 hours after). So if apple picking is part of your plan, do so prior to dinner to allow for proper digestion!
Include Activity: We’re not just talking about burning off those extra calories that we consumed at dinner – we’re talking about the physical effect of movement on your bowels! Moving your body actually helps physically push your food through your digestive tract, and helps to release the trapped gases from the fermentation process that happens in your gut! Sitting around for an extended time will promote belly bloat and discomfort (those of you with desk jobs know what I’m talking about!). Plan to include a fall hike, a trip to the orchard, or even some family games at home that get you all moving (Wii Fit, Twister, Table tennis tournament etc). This is the perfect break between dinner and dessert!
Alcohol: Often included at celebratory meals, consuming alcohol around meals can have several negative consequences. Alcohol relaxes the esophageal sphincter, allowing the acidic contents of the stomach to make their way into your esophagus, which causes the symptoms of heartburn. For those of you with any irritable bowel conditions, alcohol will worsen both constipation and diarrhea. Another consideration is that often people will end up consuming WAY more food than they intended after consuming a few alcoholic beverages. If you can relate to any of these symptoms, you may be best sipping a glass of red wine SLOWLY over the course of the evening!
If all else fails, fall back on digestive aids! Many individuals benefit from including certain digestive aids when consuming a larger than normal (or more diverse than normal) meal. Digestive enzymesfor example can be taken with your meal to support the proper breakdown and assimilation of your foods. Your dose will depend on the size of the meal you consumed (on average, 2-4 capsules may be required). I recommend a ‘broad-spectrum’ digestive enzyme as it contains the many different enzymes required to breakdown carbohydrates, fats and proteins. I’ve even recommended them to people after a meal when they’re suffering from indigestion. Digestive bittersare another option – they have been used for hundreds of years in different cultures to ‘prime’ the digestive tract for receiving food. Bitters are strong botanical extracts that come in liquid form, usually in an alcohol base (like a typical botanical tincture). Bitters work on a reflex pathway. Once their bitterness is tasted in the mouth – they stimulate the liver to release bile and the stomach to produce hydrochloric acid (which is necessary for activating your digestive enzymes). They ‘excite’ the digestive tract so to speak, alerting it to the fact that a complex meal is about to enter the system! When taking a bitter, be sure to actually ‘taste’ it (don’t try to dilute it in a sweet juice – it will numb the effect). I recommend taking bitters 15 min. before a meal, but you can also take them after the meal to help with bloating and gas. Another amazing factoid about bitters is that they curb sweet cravings, so perhaps you’ll eat less dessert!
I hope that you enjoy the beautiful celebration of Thanksgiving, and that you spend it with your loved ones focusing on all the joy in your life (not distracted by indigestion!). Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Dr. Anna Falkowski is a Naturopathic Doctor, Wellness Educactor & Clinic Director at Vitality for Life Health Center in Barrie, Ontario with a specialty in Women’s Health, Weight-loss and Pediatrics. She is a healthy-living advocate teaching the Life watchers course at Goodness Me and creating programs for ‘Mom on the Glow’, her wellness blueprint for busy Moms. For more information you can visit www.vitalityforlife.ca or call 705-733-2033.