The holidays are approaching and we know what that means: decadent food and treats. The holiday season is filled with temptations, from chocolates to alcohol to gluten- and dairy-laden cookies, cakes, and breads. Indigestion or heartburn tends to show up if you’ve overindulged in rich, heavy foods or after you’ve eaten too much. The symptoms include bloating, gas, belching, burning sensation, or abdominal pain and nausea.
Recently, the Therapeutic Goods Administration recalled the popular drug Zantac, also known by its generic name ranitidine, after regulators in other countries found the pharmaceutical had been contaminated with the probable carcinogen NDMA. Instead of reaching for an over-the-counter heartburn medication this silly season, why not try a few of these natural suggestions to improve and maintain your digestion.
- Avoid overeating: Overeating or combining foods that are difficult to digest leads to acute indigestion or a condition known in Chinese medicine as food stagnation. An overburdened digestive system becomes sluggish and is unable to keep pace with detoxification and elimination. Overeating often happens when we are ruled by our emotions, rather than our intrinsic nutritional needs. Many times meals are eaten while multi-tasking, which can lead to mindless over-eating. Pay attention to what you are eating. Tune into your body and ask yourself ‘Am I hungry’. Taking a dedicated 20 minutes to fully chew, swallow, and enjoy a meal can be a meaningful, restorative break in the day, while avoiding excess intake.
- Troubleshoot with herbs and digestives: Indulging and overeating happens, so don’t beat yourself up about it. Drinking a herbal tea or better yet, some Chinese herbs, for digestion after a big meal can be really helpful. Chinese herbs can help move food along the digestive tract smoothly, keeping it from accumulating and stagnating in the stomach and reducing discomfort and indigestion. One such popular Chinese herbal formula for digestion is Bao He Wan, which can be taken after a heavy meal to reduce and guide food accumulation down and through the digestive tract. Some favourite herbal teas to support digestion after meals include chamomile, peppermint and ginger. Bitters are also wonderful to take before a meal to kick off the digestive process, but you can also take them during or after if you’ve forgotten.
- Eliminate stress: Another possible cause of acute indigestion is eating while stressed. Agitation in the mind and spirit can interfere with proper digestion. When we’re feeling stressed or anxious, our body shifts into the sympathetic nervous system, which initiates our fight or flight response. This nervous system response sends energy and blood flow away from the digestive tract. We need to be at rest to digest, and when we are stressed, digestion is not a priority. Try to eat in a comfortable, relaxing environment (preferably sitting at a table, rather than standing). Taking several slow, deep breaths before eating can help to initiate relaxation and is especially helpful during family gatherings that may be tense or awkward. Practise stress reduction techniques such as yoga, meditation, walking in nature, or participating in activities you enjoy outside of the dinner table.
- Chew your food: Your saliva is full of enzymes that help to break down and digest food before it reaches your stomach. Thoroughly chewing your food lessens the stress on your stomach and other digestive organs down the line.
- Skip the salad: Yes, you may be questioning this but according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, cold and raw foods can impair the digestion. Eating too many cooling foods such as lettuce, celery, cucumber, mango, watermelon or tomato can chill or damage the middle burner or spleen-stomach in Chinese Medicine (which is equivalent to your digestive fire or digestive processes). Instead, opt for lightly cooked foods like the sautéed greens or roasted Brussel sprouts. Loading up your plate with veggies is always a good idea, but making more room for the cooked ones may leave you feeling better the next day.
Happy holidays, love Renee