Six ways to save your stomach from holiday food hangovers

Unhealthy eating during the festive season can throw off the balance in our gut bacteria. Try these tips from a registered dietitian to get it back on track.


Holiday overindulgence can leave us feeling tired and bloated, but there are smart choices we can make to help ward off that feeling of "gut rot," says a U of A dietitian. (Photo: Getty Images)

The festive season means lots of rich food and drink that tastes great-but too much of it can gut punch our stomachs.

"When we normally eat healthy and and then don't for a period of time-like during the holidays-an unbalanced gut microbiota has difficulty processing food and eliminating waste," said Sabina Valentine, a University of Alberta registered dietitian.

Indulging in holiday goodies high in sugar, salt and fat can leave us feeling lethargic and bloated, along with other symptoms including constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, disrupted sleep and weight gain. But there are ways to protect or get our guts back on track, Valentine noted.

"We are all going to experience that feeling of gut rot to some extent, so it's important to listen to your body and make smart choices that will help us feel better afterwards."

Here's how:

Make friends with fibre

Since poor-quality diets lead to irritation and inflammation in the gut, U of A microbial ecologist Jens Walter recommends eating foods rich in fibre, like whole grains, legumes, raspberries and broccoli. "A fibre-rich diet is also fermented by the gut's microbes into short chain fatty acids that help reduce inflammation, boost immune cells and help stabilize glucose levels," he said.

Power up with prebiotics and probiotics

Prebiotics are compounds in food that promote growth of probiotics, live bacteria and yeasts that are good for the gut. The best way to get both is by eating fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut, as well as bananas, onions, garlic, tomatoes, barley and rye. Probiotic supplements can also be used, but are usually targeted for specific conditions, Valentine noted. "For someone who has a healthy diet, supplements aren't necessarily needed."

Don't fast … either before or after gorging

Don't go to a party hungry, warns Valentine. "Usually the foods aren't healthy, so all you're doing is setting yourself up for a binge." Eat a healthy meal ahead of time and then nibble at the party. Fasting is not a good way to recover from eating too much, she noted. "If you overeat and you're not feeling well, that's probably a good reason to fast-but intentionally not eating because you binged is setting up a pattern for disordered eating." It's better to avoid binging in the first place, by eating slowly, which allows the brain time to signal when you're full.

Get some exercise

Research is starting to show that people who exercise regularly may have better gut bacteria than people who don't, Valentine said. Over the holidays, she recommends spending time with family or friends going for walks, tobogganing or finding other ways to be active.

Avoid gut irritants

Limit consumption of artificial sweeteners, caffeine, alcohol and tobacco, which can be "the perfect storm" to further irritate a gut that may already be upset by a poor holiday diet, Valentine said. "Moderation is the key-if you're a coffee drinker, don't have five cups a day. If you drink wine, limit it to a glass per day."

Treat food hangovers gently

Eat low-residue foods to soothe an upset stomach, Valentine said. "That means simple foods like bananas, apple sauce, soup, plain crackers and rice that are low in fibre to give the stomach and bowels a rest." Staying hydrated by drinking water every day also helps; she advises following Health Canada's average recommendations of about 11 cups a day for women and 12 for men. Adding juicy produce like cucumbers, oranges, grapes and melons into the daily diet can help meet that requirement, she added.