There is nothing as annoying as having a fabulous holiday outfit to wear but feel (and see) the effects of belly bloat. One too many bites of sweet potato casserole or even that last bite of healthy Brussel sprouts can be the tipping point to feeling and looking like you’re carrying a basketball in your belly.
When the season of decadent meals, holiday sweets, and festive drinks is upon us, a bloated belly is not too far behind. However, you can curtail or reduce the damage with a few simple tricks.
5 Tips to dodge the dreaded “holiday bloat”
Red and white and everything nice … Peppermint is more than just a seasonal favorite
In 2008 the American College of Gastroenterology published the results of an expertly designed study on the effects of peppermint oil on symptoms associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. These symptoms are similar to those experienced during the holidays; abdominal pain, spasms, belly bloating, and frequent trips to the bathroom.
Mint is noted as a favorite cure for indigestion since Biblical times. In fact, the mint-after-a-meal custom dates back to ancient Roman times. By the mid-18th century mint became the mainstream remedy for belly aches.
Modern peppermint is actually a hybrid of water-mint and spearmint, and has stronger medicinal properties than either of the two plants alone. It is thought that these mints have the ability to relieve several gastro-intestinal problems by blocking the flow of calcium into muscle cells in the intestines, which in turn reduces muscle contractions.
Bottom line – relaxed muscles don’t bloat!
Even Altoids, the “curiously strong” peppermint candies, can have a soothing effect on the gut, as can any food containing pure peppermint oil. As a precautionary measure, pop a few Altoids before or after meals, either chewing them or just swallowing a couple whole. Fresh breath and no belly bloat – what more could anyone want?
The holiday season is the perfect time to include Peppermint Tea as an after dinner aperitif. Look for organic peppermint tea from brands such as Twinning’s or Yogi Tea. Herbal teas should steep for 10-15 minutes to allow the release of their innate beneficial oils.
Meet the hard working anti-belly bloat warriors – Probiotics
The change in food, sleep, environments, and activities of the season contribute to a layering of stress that can change the microbiome (those trillions of bacteria, fungi, and yeast) that we share with our body. It’s estimated we have two to six pounds of microbes in our gut. They have a lot of say in how we feel since they control our immune system.
The microbiome is sensitive to various changes in daily routines including holiday stress. The stress of the holiday season can contribute to the disarray that can occur to the bacteria in our gut. The results of holiday stress are often felt in the gut with increased gas, bloating, skin eruptions, decreased immune function, and an intolerance to specific foods or food groups.
The use of probiotics can be part of a pre-emptive belly bloat-busting strategy, especially given that many of the foods of the holiday season are high in sugar, the favorite food of the “bad boys of neighborhood” that make up the microbiome.
Probiotics are generally thought of as the “good” bacteria in the body. Experts define probiotics as live microorganisms which confer health benefits when present in adequate amounts. What many people don’t know is that certain bacteria have been shown to confer their magic only on specific parts of the body or specific symptoms.
Researchers found that the probiotics Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Bifidobacterium Lactis eased bloating among study participants. Another study found that an over-the-counter probiotic was much more effective than a placebo in providing otherwise healthy adults with relief from intestinal gas.
Probiotic containing foods, such as yogurt, promote themselves as probiotic superstars. Unfortunately, most of the bacteria in yogurt doesn’t survive the digestive process in the stomach. That’s one reason why “seeding” the tummy with a probiotic supplement along with adding foods considered prebiotics is advised.
A course of probiotics during the holiday season may be the best selfie-gift this year to put a smile on your face as you easily slip into that smashing dress! Look for products containing Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Lactobacillus Plantarum and Bifidobacterium Longum.
Fennel funnels belly bloat out the back door …
Good things do come in small packages and not just during the holiday season! Fennel seeds, those unsuspecting small seeds often dressed up in festive colors and found in candy dishes at Indian food restaurants, belong to a group called carminatives.
Carminatives naturally contain compounds that break up the gas bubbles in the gut. History shows that even Egyptian pharaohs used fennel seeds to relieve indigestion. Cleopatra couldn’t have been wrong!
Fennel seeds have a licorice or anise seed taste – perfect for the holiday season! In place of chewing seeds, use organic fennel tea. My two favorite brands are Heather’s Tummy Teas and Traditional Medicines – both organic and delicious!
You can make homemade fennel seed tea by adding a teaspoon of organic fennel seeds to a cup and pouring boiling water over them. Leave it to sit for 5 minutes, strain and sip for relief from trapped intestinal gas and bloating in as little as 5 to 10 minutes.
Don’t forget to use fresh fennel for your holiday cooking – this aromatic root vegetable makes a good replacement for harder to digest onions in most recipes.
Love at first bite!
The very first bite of food in the mouth starts the digestive process. The enzyme amylase starts to breakdown the first taste of carb containing foods. When we eat larger than our usual portions of foods (ala Thanksgiving feast) or foods we don’t normally consume (like cocktail hors d’oeuvres and rich desserts) we burden the digestive system.
The result, indigestion and its uncomfortable symptoms such as belly bloat, can occur when we don’t produce enough of the many enzymes needed to break down the major components of foods – carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Some people either don’t make enough of or some people don’t make any amount of specific enzymes, like lactase. The lack of this enzyme results in gas, bloating, and pain after consuming foods containing lactose (the main carbohydrate found in dairy products). Note that the production of the lactase enzyme naturally decreases as we age.
Try taking a supplemental digestive enzyme. A broad-spectrum digestive enzyme will contain the same types of enzymes our bodies produce, such as, amylase, protease, and lipase.
To further prevent belly bloat from even starting, look for brands with additional enzymes like cellulose, an enzyme that breaks down fiber. Since our body’s doesn’t normally produce cellulose, taking a supplement with this enzyme can make a big difference in post-meal comfort. One of my favorites is Pure Encapsulations Digestive Enzymes Ultra.
Gimme my Gut-loving Ginger!
Another long time super hero to combat abdominal bloating and gas is ginger root. Ginger root is a natural bloat buster that has super hero strength to reduce bloat, gas, and nausea. Ginger in food, or ideally as a strong tea, helps stimulate saliva, bile and gastric juice production to aid in digestion.
Ginger’s superhero powers come from two naturally food components, gingerols and shgaols, which have muscle relaxant properties that help relieve gases trapped in a constricted digestive system. Bloating and intestinal cramps are often caused by tension and spasms in your gastrointestinal tract. By gently relieving these constrictions ginger tea can help release trapped digestive gases and alleviate bloating.
In 2008 a study showed that ginger can break down and expel gas because it speeds up digestion. Quicker digestion means the stomach empties faster, which means the gases can move quickly into the small intestine to relieve discomfort and bloating.
You can add ginger to the diet through ginger tea or fresh ginger. The ideal time to drink ginger tea would be just before a big meal or having a small cup of it while eating. The calming, relaxing effect of ginger tea on your gut is likely to be the reason why the tea is such an effective remedy for excessive bloating or flatulence.
You can easily make your own ginger tea or purchase a high quality organic ginger tea from brands such as Republic of Tea Thai Ginger Super Herb Tea. For whole leaves or tea bags steep 5-7 minutes. When using pieces of ginger root steep for 15 minutes, strain, and enjoy!
One ginger-centric nibble to avoid are candy ginger chews. The added sugar in the chews can promote further belly bloat. Instead end your day with a cup of ginger tea and wake up with a flatter tummy ready for the next holiday party!
In closing …
It is possible to avoid “holiday belly bloat” and fit effortlessly into your holiday clothes. Experiment with the above tips to find the one or two that work their magic on you. The season is meant to be a time of comfort and joy – that also includes digestive comfort
Bonnie Roill is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Health and Wellness Coach, and Hormone Support Coach that creates fun, results-driven health & happiness programs for women. Visit www.B3Nutrition.com to receive your free report “5 SMART Strategies for Healthy Weight Loss. “