Ah, the holidays: a time for nostalgic memories, new feel-good experiences, and precious time with family and friends. And to ring in all that holiday cheer, your schedule’s likely packed with parties, dinners, cocktail hours, and brunches all the way till the end of 2018!
Of course, with those social engagements comes the seemingly endless parade of holiday food packed with dairy, sugar, and starches. It’s enough to derail any healthy eating plan you’ve stuck to all year long… but it doesn’t have to.
Yes, you may be faced with tons of great holiday food, but that doesn’t mean your digestion has to suffer. Keep reading to find great alternatives that can help you turn traditional dishes into healthy dishes – as well as a few preemptive things you can do to keep your digestion on track.
Keep it Moving in 2018 (and Beyond)
Now, one effective way to combat those heavy, traditional holiday foods is to keep things moving – in every possible way. After all, you want to boost your digestion if you’re planning to indulge in all of those delicious treats.
Here are some things you can do that might prove helpful:
Walk off the Treats
The simplest way to help your body’s digestion, as well as your waistline, is to take a walk after a large meal. Even a moderately-paced walk can have huge health benefits for you.1
Remember your Fiber
It might not be the most glamorous part of the holidays, but consuming fiber is key to maintaining digestive regularity when eating foods that differ from your usual healthy choices. Fiber can help ease bloating and constipation, keeping your stomach and digestion in check.2
Drinking water is extremely important year-round (it’s not too late to set good habits in 2018!), but during the holidays, it becomes a next-level priority. Simply put: When your body gets enough water, it digests foods more easily. Adequate hydration also helps your body maintain healthy energy levels, absorb fiber and nutrients, and flush out toxins that come with overindulgent eating and drinking.3
Try a Natural Sugar Substitute
Cookies, hot chocolate, and gingerbread houses all have two things in common: they are delicious, and they contain a lot of sugar.
Of course, few holiday food traditions are more popular than baking cookies or sharing marshmallow-topped hot cocoa with your family – but with those memorable traditional dishes comes a ton of extra sugar in your diet.
The average adult diet should contain between 27-45 grams of sugar each day. This translates into about 22 teaspoons of sugar. And although that may seem like a lot, it’s actually less than you might think.
During the holidays, it’s extremely easy to eat more sugar than usual.
Even choosing just one sweet holiday food can send your daily sugar intake soaring.
For example, a single cup of hot chocolate can contain as much as 43 grams of sugar – equal to, or more than, your recommended intake for the whole day.4
If you feel strongly about not skipping over those traditional dishes during the 2018 holiday season, there are a few ways to make the sweets gentler on your digestive system. The easiest way to do this? Try making the traditional dish a healthy dish.
The next time you decide to bake, try baking with natural sweetener substitutes instead of traditional sugar. There are many great alternatives to choose from, such as stevia, which is naturally derived and calorie-free, and does not affect your blood sugar levels in a negative way.5
Pro Tip: When baking with a natural sugar substitute to create your favorite traditional dish, the quantities of sugar cane do not correspond to those of stevia as a 1:1 ratio. Stevia is much sweeter than regular sugar. Make sure you convert your favorite holiday food recipe before you start baking, so the sweet flavor you love will stay the same.6
Go Deliciously Dairy-Free
Dairy is one of those foods that may not love you as much as you love it (unrequited food love is the saddest kind). Unfortunately, plenty of holiday dishes contain dairy. And then, there’s eggnog!
If dairy gives you an upset stomach or causes serious digestive issues for you, you’re not alone – it’s a very common digestive problem. Choosing to leave dairy out of your holiday foods can be a smart choice for your stomach and digestive health in 2018 and beyond.7,8
While many traditional dishes around the holidays include dairy ingredients like butter, cream, and cheese, there are plenty of simple alternatives you can make so those heavy holiday foods become deliciously healthy dishes!
→ Coconut Cream instead of Heavy Cream. You’d be shocked at how creamy and ‘dairy-like’ coconut cream can be in desserts. For the 2018 holidays, try making dairy-free cheesecake or ice cream with coconut cream – and see if your family and friends can even tell what’s missing!
→ Applesauce or Olive Oil instead of Butter. Butter is a key ingredient to keep the moisture in foods when baking them, but butter isn’t the only way to achieve this. Substitute applesauce for butter in sweeter recipes, like muffins and cakes – or use olive oil as a substitute for butter in savory dishes like stuffing or sauteed vegetables.
→ Nuts, Tofu, or Nutritional Yeast instead of Cheese. Non-dairy cheese has come a long way – and there are so many store-bought or homemade options to make the tastiest mac n’ cheese taste totally cheesy. Blend cashews and/or almonds to create a great soft and meltable cheese alternative – or crumble tofu with a little lemon juice to recreate a ricotta texture.
Cut the Carbs
Mashed potatoes, lasagnas, fresh bread, stuffing… the list of delicious (and starch-heavy) holiday foods is pretty much endless. If you eat lots of starchy foods, your diet can become very unbalanced, resulting in uncomfortable bloating, ongoing digestive issues, and changes in blood sugar and insulin levels. Don’t worry – you can still enjoy those dishes you love with just a few tweaks to the recipe. This holiday season, make it a goal to create a healthy dish that will be welcomed at your next holiday dinner!
Starchy foods are measured on the glycemic index, which shows how quickly your body can digest and absorb the nutrients in each food.
Swapping out high glycemic index ingredients for those with a low glycemic index is a great way to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and minimize uncomfortable digestive issues.9
For example, cauliflower has a much lower glycemic index than white potatoes, and this veggie makes a great side dish when mashed. Opt for quinoa (a medium-glycemic food) instead of high-glycemic white rice when making a holiday grain salad. You can also use quinoa for a modern twist on traditional stuffing recipes.10
Moderation is Key
In order to survive the annual dose of holiday food with success, remember that everything is best in moderation. Whether it’s a double-sized sugary beverage or a second helping of buttery mashed potatoes, take a moment to think about what you decide to eat – or what you decide to skip – to help your body stay healthy and strong during the 2018 holiday season.
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