Many of us are unaware that the bacteria that accumulates in our gut— also known as the gut microbiome—is beneficial. “Over Christmas, we are all guilty of eating foods that are full of processed sugar and refined carbohydrates,” says Sarah. “These foods feed the unhealthy bacteria, leaving the good bacteria in short supply, causing us to feel bloated.”
Certain medications, such as antibiotics, can also strip us of the friendly bacteria, as can a change in our water, especially when travelling overseas. To combat this seasonal assult on our tummies, invest in a good quality probiotic and start eating fermented foods such as saukeraut, kimchi, miso, kefir or kombucha. Foods such as onions, garlic and leeks – which are all plentiful right now – and artichoke, chicory root and seaweed, also inoculate the gut with healthy live micro-organisms that will crowd out the unhealthy bacteria.
It wouldn’t be Christmas without a tipple (or two), but try and limit the amount of alcohol you consume and stick to drinks that don’t contain fizz – yes that means Prosecco and champers should be rationed! “The fizz in carbonated drinks can cause gas to get trapped in your belly, so try swapping your lemonade for a soda water and sliced lemon,” says Sarah.
Our digestion starts from the minute that food enters our mouth. Chewing slowly enables the correct activation of our digestive enzymes and helps us to avoid gulping lots of air as we swallow, easing any digestive bloating. “Studies have shown that those who cook from scratch and take time to enjoy their meal, undistracted by computers or television, enjoy the flavours of their food more and end up eating less,” advises Sarah, “They start to listen to their natural feeling of fullness.”
They are Christmas dinner table staples but you would be right if you thought cruciferous vegetables such as Brussel sprouts, cauliflower or cabbage made you feel windy afterwards. “They are packed full of nutrients and fibre but they also contain sulphur, a common culprit of bloating and excessive gas,” explains Sarah. “Foods such as beans, pulses and lentils also contain sugars called alpha-galactosides, which can cause bloating in many people. Wheat as well as grains such as barley and rye, as these can upset the digestive tract and increase bloating.”
Staying hydrated will not only help your body to flush out toxins from your cells, but will also help you to avoid constipation which can result in a fuller, swollen tummy. “Many people worry that consuming too much water can make them more water retentive, but in fact it has the opposite effect,” says Sarah. “If you are dehydrated, your body will try to hang on to the water, making you look and feel more bloated.” Hydrating regularly will actually combat water retention, since drinking stimulates your body to release fluids.
If you’re overindulging with food and booze over the festive period, try to stick with your exercise regime, even though that might take a bit of effort. “Cardiovascular exercises helps to remove trapped gas, but this doesn’t have to be too strenuous,” explains Sarah. “Light exercise, like walking, jogging or yoga, can help carry oxygen to your digestive tract and move everything through you faster, helping relieve any discomfort.” It will also make you feel energised and mean you are likely to make healthier meal options too.