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Tips for a Happy Belly This Holiday Season

How to enjoy the season without paying for it later

With the winter holidays upon us, holiday gatherings and celebrations with an abundance of food and drink are commonplace. “Worry about it in the new year” is an approach many opt to take with respect to the excess calories consumed this time of year. But those with irritable bowel syndrome, food allergies and sensitivities, and other health conditions may not be able to get away with “cheats” the way some other people can. Here are some strategies to help the health-conscious get through this holiday season:

Plan ahead

Fortunately, many food-related problems can be avoided with appropriate planning. If you’re invited to a potluck, resist the urge to showcase your fanciest dish or a family favorite, and instead prepare a dish or two that serve your health needs. Although the concepts of an anti-inflammatory or Paleo diet are common terms in some settings, there are many people who don’t have any familiarity with these food plans. If you enjoy cooking, this can be an excellent chance to show family and friends that eating healthy also can taste amazing as well. And when you bring dishes such as this you can more easily eat a diet that works for your health needs too: even if everybody else brings a dish that you can’t eat, you’ll be able to rest easy knowing there’s at least one dish you can – the one you brought.

Pick your favorites to enjoy

Depending on your health issues, you may have some flexibility in your diet. Although holiday gatherings are often filled with foods such as appetizers, multiple course meals, and dessert, this doesn’t mean that you have to eat full servings or every item that comes your way. Making choices to try a bite of a savory appetizer and avoiding grabbing a dinner roll, packaged cookies, or other snack foods sitting about will help to minimize excess yet maximize enjoyment. If you have selected something to eat and you find that you don’t like it, it isn’t absolutely necessary that you finish it. Even sharing a dessert or just enjoying a few bites will be enough to enjoy the holiday flavors while minimizing your exposures to foods which may not be a part of your normal diet.

Support yourself with supplements

One way to minimize the gastrointestinal issues and other reactions to gluten, dairy, and other food triggers is to take a digestive enzyme. Enzymes that contain both endopeptidases and exopeptidases support gluten degradation much more completely than those that only contain dipeptidyl peptidase IV (DDP IV), an exopeptidase. A combination of lactase, protease, and lipase will help to digest the lactose, proteins, and fats associated in dairy and in many other foods. Proteolytic enzymes such as papain (papaya) and bromelain (pineapple) and pancreatin, a mixture of digestive enzymes secreted by the pancreas, also may be helpful.

One way to minimize the gastrointestinal issues and other reactions to gluten, dairy, and other food triggers is to take a comprehensive digestive enzyme. Proteolytic enzymes such as papain (papaya) and bromelain (pineapple) and pancreatin, a mixture of digestive enzymes secreted by the pancreas, also may be helpful.

If high fat foods cause digestive problems, another support option to consider is ox bile. Supplemental bile supports emulsification and digestion of fats and can minimize problems that may be associated with gallbladder insufficiency. Last but definitely not least, low levels of stomach acid can be a common cause of poor digestion of all foodstuffs, but particularly can be associated with digestive symptoms after protein consumption. Similar to supplementation with ox bile, stomach acid support with supplements containing betaine hydrochloride can improve symptoms associated with poor function at the level of the stomach.

The digestion of foodstuff begins in the oral cavity, as chewing breaks down foods and coats them in a salivary enzyme called amylase, which breaks down dietary starches. So take the time to chew your food well, as this also will help!

Boozy beverages

Although over-indulgence in boozy beverages can often be the source of holiday related gastrointestinal problems, an appropriately selected beverage can support digestion as well. Apéritifs and digestifs have a long history of being served with meals to support digestion.  Apéritifs are beverages served before a meal to stimulate the appetite, while digestifs are served after a meal, and in theory aid digestion. Selection of an apéritif that includes bitters (which stimulate stomach acid secretion) and following a meal with a digestif that includes carminative herbs (which include fennel, orange peel, or ginger) can support your overall digestive function. Cocktail selections that may support digestion include liquors such as vermouth, ouzo, or chartreuse – all of which employ herb such as these in their production. Higher quality liquors are more filtered and pure, and a cocktail made with one of these will be more enjoyable than a cheaper alternative and also less likely to leave you feeling undesirable effects the next day.

If you chose not to imbibe, or if your holiday parties include prolonged cocktail hours, try a sparkler with soda water, cocktail bitters, and a twist or wedge of lime.

If you chose not to imbibe, or if your holiday parties include prolonged cocktail hours, try a sparkler with soda water, cocktail bitters, and a twist or wedge of lime. This is a low calorie, non-alcoholic option that supports digestion, health, and does not look any different than the cocktails that others are having. Make sure to balance out alcohol intake with food as well as water. If transportation is an issue, carpool to the festivities and select a member of your party to drive that can be abstinent, or seek alternative transportation if this is not an option. By keeping some of these suggestions in mind, you can still enjoy the holiday festivities without adverse health impacts or feeling like you don’t want to eat for the next week!

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