Long weekend family reunions can really tempt you to overeat. It’s difficult to turn down another serving of gravy-loaded mashed potatoes or not to indulge in another ice cream-topped slice of pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving feasts are often high in calories, rich in fats, and full of sugars—and this is part of what makes them so irresistible! However, eating heavy meals can tax your digestive system and lead to many health problems over time.
How can you enjoy all the wonders of this harvest season without suffering indigestion? Here are a few tips that can help you enjoy the food and help you feel satisfied after each meal.
1. Eat appropriate serving sizes. Sometimes we don’t want the experience of tasting a certain food to end and this is what can entice us to have another serving of our favourite dishes. But at some point, the scales start to tip from enjoying the incredible flavours to feeling sluggish or nauseous from overeating. Savouring every bite of a digestible serving size will be far more rewarding and enjoyable over the long term than gobbling a big dollop of your choice indulgence.
2. Chew well! Your teeth are meant not only to bite off pieces small enough to fit into your mouth, but they're also supposed to grind and mush food to a digestible pulp before you swallow! Avoid swallowing large pieces of unchewed food. Enzymes can't properly access or break down these morsels. My grandmother used to remind us that "la prima digestione si fa nella bocca", which loosely translates to mean that the first phase of digestion happens in your mouth. Your saliva contains enzymes that break down simple sugars and some starches. Allowing these enzymes to do their job will alleviate some strain from your stomach, pancreas, and small intestine.
3. Eat food and drink beverages that are warm or at room temperature. Avoid having cold foods and beverages, as they will slow down or halt digestion. They decrease the efficiency of enzymes and they cause constriction of blood vessels in the gastrointestinal tract.
4. Avoid drinking sugary beverages during and after the meal. Sugars tend to hinder the efficiency and activity of most digestive enzymes and therefore they contribute to indigestion—especially if you have a meal high in proteins and fats. Sip warm water or herbal teas if you’re feeling thirsty during your meal.
5. Maintain a healthy population of intestinal microbes. Eat naturally fermented foods as much as possible—ideally, every day—or take a daily probiotic supplement. Fantastic choices of probiotic-rich foods include: cultured dairy such as yogurt and kefir; fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi; fermented beans and grains such as tempeh, natto, miso, and red yeast rice; and fermented beverages such as amasake and kombucha.
6. Drink bitter teas and eat bitter foods. This suggestion might not be very popular with most people, but it’s one of the best tips of this list. Bitter herbal teas and foods have been renowned as the most effective preventatives and remedies for digestive ailments and disorders. Stimulating the taste buds that are sensitive to bitter flavours directly stimulates the release of digestive enzymes and juices from the salivary glands, stomach, pancreas, liver, and small intestine. It also induces peristalsis, the natural contractions of the gastrointestinal tract that move food and wastes along toward the end (for ultimate elimination of faecal waste). Both of these effects work wonders for alleviating indigestion.
7. Use lemon, lime, or unpasteurized vinegars. If you don’t like bitter, sour is the next best thing. Sour tastes have similar actions on your digestive system as bitter tastes do, but the effects—like the tastes—are a little milder. Spritz raw lemon or lime juice or use raw, unrefined apple cider vinegar as condiments to get the most benefit for your digestive organs. These flavourings also offer antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and beneficial phytonutrients.
8. Try plant enzymes. Some people have very sensitive and weakened digestive systems, so they may need a little extra support. All the tips I provide above are still important to help heal digestive ailments. However, if you need a little “outside help”, consider supplementing with plant enzymes such as bromelain (extracted from pineapple stems), papain (extracted from papaya), or plant sourced proteases, lipases, and amylases. Enzyme supplements can also help prevent and alleviate food allergies.
9. Chill out. Eating with a relaxed mind and a joyful heart will do wonders to support digestion. Being mindful, grateful, and present in the moment while you’re eating activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). This is the branch of the autonomic nervous system that supports relaxation, digestion, growth, repair, and other essential processes. In contrast, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is activated by the stress response. It slows digestion by inhibiting the release of digestive enzymes and shunting blood away from the gastrointestinal tract. Eating when you’re stressed or excited can lead to indigestion, so take a few deep breaths and calm yourself before you sit down to enjoy a meal.