Let Your Digestion Enjoy Your Feast Too.


Feast photo credit: http://tinyurl.com/6p92sw2

The Winter holidays seem a time to indulge:  Christmas cookies, Hanukkah latkes, spiked eggnog, chocolate everything, groaning sideboards with heavy food.  While  we can manage some festive indulgence provided we don’t eat that way all the time, there are things we can do to protect our digestion.

  • Begin your meal with gratitude.  Grace, brachot, an introspective moment to take in all of the plenitude, will prime your body to make good use of good food.  Feel gratitude to the Creator, the farmer, the animal or plant who provided the food, those who picked and transported the food, those who stock the stores, the cook, those who inspired him or her, and family and friends who are joining you.  (There, doesn’t your stomach feel better already?)
  • Start your meal with something bitter, be it bitter greens like arugula or radicchio, a shot of Fernet Branca or a bite of citrus peel.  Bitters cue our gallbladders to secrete bile and out stomachs to produce digestive juices.  (Herbalists may wish to concoct dandelion leaf, artichoke leaf, orange peel, angelic. gentian and ginger bitters.)
  • Also take something sour to help your liver and to reduce blood sugar spikes.  Lemon in seltzer, vinaigrette on a salad, balsamic vinegar in water, sauerkraut, pickled vegetables or lime juice all work.

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    Fernet Branca is a good commerical bitters formula. Image via Wikipedia
  • Choose foods with carminative spices like cinnamon, pepper, ginger, cardamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, Italian herbs, star anise, fennel and cumin.  These will warm the stomach and enhance digestion.  Taste isn’t just aesthetic, it is functional.
  • Chutneys, horseradish, mustard, fish sauces and hoi sin sauce have similar effects.  So do fresh fennel, cilantro, parsley and scallions.
  • Eat slowly, enjoying your food in all of its full flavor.  Mindful eating enhances your appreciation of the interplay between your food and your body and helps you choose well.
  • Eat something fermented: sauerkraut, yogurt, pickled vegetables, olives, or wine in moderation.  The organisms will help you digest (or recombine with your own biota to digest.)  They also tend to lower blood sugar spikes.
    English: Pickled Vegetables. Photo taken in a ...
    Pickled vegetables help digestion
    •  Avoid foods that give you problems, whether allergens, foods to which you have sensitivities or just carbs or fats that upset you.  Milk products, breads, gluten, soy and sugar are common culprits.  Know yourself. Really, isn’t there plenty of other food around?
  • Fill up on the vegetables, not the heavier food.
  • Stop when you are full.  That gives you time to enjoy the company and the conversation.
  • Finish your meal with gratitude.
  • There are vitamins that can help.  One friend swears by Vitamin C, B complex and E taken before dinner.  B complex vitamins can help prevent hangovers.  But so can taking a walk after indulging.
  • Walk home, or walk around the block before bed.  Burn off some of that food and drink.
  • Chinese herbal preparations for overindulgence include Po Chai pills, Curing pills and Bao He Wan.  I prefer the latter as it has Chinese hawthorn which is good for food stagnation and the heart (although less so than European hawthorn.)

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