Digestion and the Holidays
Tis’ the season to be jolly… and overindulge in a lot of delicious foods and drinks! I am sure we can all agree that as much as we love the holidays, we’re all ready to go on the next new diet come the new year to shed off the extra 10 pounds we gained, not to mention combat the general fatigue and lack of motivation.
Amongst the Wonderful Joys of Holiday’s, Also Comes:
- Larger Meals
- Too Many Alcoholic Beverages
- More Baked Goods
- Eating Out More Than Usual
- Post-meal Coffee and Espresso
Wait, but This All Sounds Great?
Who doesn’t love getting together and bonding over yummy food, alcohol, and delicious home cooking? However, it almost always comes at a price.
Before we get into the what’s and why’s, let’s start with how digestion works so you have a better understanding of the process.
- 1. Digestion starts in the mouth with chewing. Saliva is released in response to the mechanism of chewing, and this starts the process of digestion. Our saliva contains an enzyme called ‘Amylase” which is responsible for the breakdown of starches.
- 2. The food then travels into the stomach which triggers the release of HCL “Hydrochloric Acid”. HCL converts pepsinogen to pepsin (enzyme), and this is where protein digestion takes place.
- 3. After the food leaves the stomach, the food then travels into the small intestine, where the trigger of bile from the gallbladder is released and pancreatic enzymes are secreted from the pancreas, to start breaking down the food into even smaller chains and molecules. In the small intestine minerals, proteins (amino acids), water-soluble vitamins, and monosaccharides are absorbed directly into the bloodstream.
- 4. Next is the colon or “large intestine”, where the good bacteria make vitamin K and some B’s. If enough water and fiber have been consumed then the undigested food particles, metabolic waste, and a large amount of good and bad bacteria are removed from the body.
Now let’s compare this to what happens when digestion is not working as it should.
If not enough HCL (Hydrochloric acid) is released from the stomach, then digestive enzymes are not released from the pancreas and this will lead to things like:
- Fermentation or Poorly Broken Down and Digested Food = Gas, Bloating, Acid Reflux
- Putrefaction of the Poorly Digested Protein = Feeds Bad Bacteria
- Bacteria, Viruses, and Parasites Are Not Sterilized by HCL = Getting a Free Ride to the Intestines Where Dysbiosis Begins (an Imbalance Between the Good and Bad Bacteria, Favoring the Bad)
- Poor Absorption of Vitamins and Minerals
Now you are probably asking…
What causes digestion to function not so optimally?1. Caffeine
4. Excess Food Consumption
5. Use of Antibiotics and Other Pharmaceuticals
6. Poor Dietary Choices
8. Ant-acid Use (Prescription and Over the Counter)
Just to Name a Few …
When These Factors Are at Play:
- HCL Decreases Resulting in Poor Protein Digestion
- Bile is Not Released From the Gallbladder Resulting in Poor Fat Digestion
- The Pancreas Does Not Secrete Enzymes Resulting in Food Not Being Broken Down
Ultimately leading to poor absorption and chances of pathogens entering the body and both resulting in a cascade of health issues to deal with.
As you can see, there are many processes involved in digestion, and that supporting digestive processes on all levels, especially when it comes to eating things that are not normally a part of our regular diet and eating in quantities more than usual is crucial.
Why does eating around the Holidays can bring on discomfort?
- Eating a Lot More Food Than Normal
- Eating Ingredients, You May Not Be Unaware of
- Consumption of Alcohol
- Higher Carbohydrate/sugar Content
- Higher Fat Content
Lifestyle recommendations you can incorporate to help support your digestion through the holidays:1. Chew your food well (this is the first step in proper digestion)
2. Don’t eat past 80% full (it takes 20 minutes for you to reach your full capacity, so if you eat to 100%, in 20 minutes you are going to be quite uncomfortable)
3. Don’t drink with your meals (this dilutes HCL (stomach acid and will lead to improper digestion and symptoms like gas, bloating, and reflux)
4. Choose your portions and items wisely (fill your plate with vegetables mostly, with a side of protein and starch)
5. Pace yourself (this means with your drinks as well, enjoy the food, and put your utensils down between each bite)
6. Give your digestion extract support through supplementation (more on this later)
7. Take a leisure walk after meals (this will help to stimulate digestion)
8. Drink warm lemon water every morning (a general practice for good health, and is very helpful for liver detoxification and stimulating digestion for the day)
9. Make a health-conscious dish (something you know you can fall back on if there are only unhealthy options only)
10. Order smart (if eating out, don’t go for the heavy, greasy meals, opt for a lean piece of protein like fish or chicken, with a side of veg and rice)
Supplementation that can help support digestion:
The pancreas produces enzymes that are required for the digestion and absorption of the foods we consume. Some of those enzymes secreted include:
- Lipases – for Lipid(Fat) Digestion
- Amylases – Breaks Down Starch Molecules Into Smaller Sugars
- Proteases – Break Down Protein Molecules Into Single Amino Acids
- Disaccharidases – Digest Simple Sugars
- Cellulase – Digests Soluble Fibers
Betaine HCL is a source of hydrochloric acid (stomach acid), which promotes optimal gastric acidity to support protein digestion and absorption of minerals and other nutrients.
Acts in the same way bile would, to help your body break down fats and fatty acids within the digestive tract. Bile is produced by the liver, and then stored in the gallbladder, and is released when prompted during meals.
Digestive bitters are herbs that support digestive function by stimulating bitter receptors on the tongue, stomach, gallbladder, and pancreas. Their primary effect is to promote digestive juices such as stomach acid, bile, and enzymes to break down food and assist in the absorption of nutrients.
Beneficial bacteria that help us digest, absorb, make vitamins, keep bad bacteria and yeast at bay, keep our immune system strong, and help control things like blood sugar fluctuations, sugar cravings, and control mood disorders like anxiety and depression.
I hope you are feeling more excited about the holidays approaching, knowing you are equipped with the right tools and practices to feel your best during the season of delicious meals and joyous times!
Follow Kaitlin H. CNP. @ms. holistic_ on IG for alternative and holistic health education.
Murray, Michael T., et al. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. Time Warner International, 2006.