If you’re someone who struggles with digestive issues, the holidays can be difficult and challenging at times. From explaining why you can’t eat that dessert to having to state (again) that you don’t eat meat, it can be exhausting having to keep up with it all. Luckily, there are a few options for you to feel in control, at least with what’s on your own plate. Here are some “nutritionist approved” tips. Helping you enjoy your meal and avoid that dreaded question from family members, “What happens if you eat bread?” *Well, I really can’t help with that, you’ll have to get creative with your response.
These 3 tips are perfect for anyone who suffers from IBS, Crohn’s or Colitis, or even uncomfortable burps, bloating and indigestion. If you have to undo the button on your pants post-dinner, this is for you too.
Arm yourself with the know-how on choosing wisely, digesting better and avoiding going hungry because the family chef doesn’t know about your foods restrictions.
1 // Combine like a champ
Buffets and potlucks are a nutritionist worst nightmare. You never know what’s going to be available to eat and there’s different types of foods mixing together. Hint: (a digestive no-no). Food combining really is a fine art which often goes unnoticed! I still get weird looks when I tell people that you shouldn’t combine fruit with yogurt. Fruit should be eaten alone! Seriously! But that’s a rant for another day!
How to food combine at a buffet, potluck or holiday spread.
Proteins go with starchy vegetables and low or non-starchy vegetables. For example: Turkey with asparagus, bell peppers or chard with a side of carrots, sweet potatoes or squash.
Grains digest best with low or non-starchy vegetables. For example: Quinoa or rice with onions, parsley, brussels sprouts, cabbage, etc.
Desserts are a tough one! I’m not going to say don’t go for that chocolate treat, but at least don’t reach for the fruit platter after dinner is done. Sweet fruits like bananas, dates and grapes should be eaten alone or with apples, berries or mango. Not in yogurt or as a dessert! In this case the chocolate might be the best bet (and why not?). Fruit digests much quicker than other foods like proteins and breads. When you pile it on top of everything else, fermentations happens- cue indigestion and gas.
What about dairy? For those of us who can actually digest dairy, we are a few of the lucky folks for which this isn’t a problem. If you have cheese with dinner, it’s probably a small amount so no worries there, put dairy into the protein category and have it with broccoli, green beans and kale. Skip the grains though (yes, put down the baguette) and be sure to fill up on vegetables. If dessert comes and the only options are ice cream, cheesecake or tiramisu, I’d say wait a bit or pass and go for a less dairy filled treat.
Any way you slice it (sorry, I had to), once you can zone in on what macronutrients (protein, carbs & fat) your food contains, combining can become easier.
Rather than having a little bit of everything, why not have a lot of a few great things? Your tummy will be happier you did.
2 // Digest without discomfort
Digestion is actually a long process which begins with tasting and chewing your food, it doesn’t start in the stomach. The smell of cooking can get your tummy rumbling which is a great way to get those juices flowing. When we laugh, talk and be merry during the holiday season, our digestion can go awry.
Add in alcohol, poor food combining, an increase in stress, and wanting to EAT ALL THE THINGS, we might experience bloating, burping and that acidic feeling up to our mouth.
It sucks but this is still the #1 issue people have year round and it can get exasperated during the holidays. Being uncomfortable is sometimes so normal that we start to assume that it will always be this way. It doesn’t have to! Supplementing with digestive enzymes help to break down our food so our body can work hard at actually getting the nutrients from the food. We don’t want to use them all the time but in situations like the holidays, they can be a saving grace.
Enzymes do their best work by making reactions happen faster. They break down larger molecules into smaller ones which then can be absorbed by the intestine, and put to use by your body.
When we eat starches (i.e: bread) you’ll notice a sweetness in the mouth. This is the digestive enzyme amylase breaking down carbohydrates via your salivary amylase. There are many digestive enzymes products but be sure it has Papain, the enzyme from papaya fruit, or Pepsin (supplement sourced from animals) which helps to break down protein fibres. Here’s the kicker though: some grains, nuts and seeds contain enzyme inhibitors which block this process from happening. So, sprout, roast or soak and choose your foods wisely.
Most people find that enzymes work best when taken just before eating. That way it has a chance to break down food from the start, rather than waiting until you feel uncomfortable. Take one or two with dinner and avoid that bloated feeling post dinner.
3 // BYOF
Not sure if the potluck or family “Festivus” dinner will actually have something you can eat? No worries when you pack your own or Bring-Your-Own-Food as I call it.
Get a container and pack it with your favourite and tummy approved foods. No one will mind if you bust out a salad and add some holiday turkey onto it. No one will care if you bring a gluten-free treat so you can enjoy dessert. Vegan butter, Tofurky or homemade cashew cheese, everyone will be too busy eating up their dinner to notice that you brought a little extra to have a great meal. Think about #1 (food combining) and make your plate just how you like it.
Sometimes when we have digestive issues, we need to pack our own. It helps to put less stress on the host and less knots in our belly trying to figure out if we can actually eat anything. A great thing about bringing your own container: if there are a few family favourites (like my great aunt’s coleslaw), you can snag a bit to take home, helping to reduce the waste of plastic containers. A win-win with Mother Nature.
Bonus// Make enough to share!
If you have some magic yummy gluten-free/vegan/homemade treat, why keep it to yourself? Bring enough to share with the whole family and don’t tell them that it’s free of those things! Wait until they gush how amazing it tastes and then drop the GF or vegan love bomb.
Honestly, sharing your food can be the best way to get your fam-jam to understand that having food restrictions equals creative and delicious food options!
Q // What are your food tips for thriving during the holidays?
Certified Nutritional Practitioner & Yoga Teacher
Lindsay is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner, with a passion for whole body/mind care. She believes that supporting wellness through nutrition is more than following a diet. Lindsay's years as a yoga teacher and mindfulness practitioner lead to a compassionate multi-dimensional approach to your health and wellness.