Northern Wilds Magazine

Digesting the Holidays


bigstock-girl-in-santa-_fmtThe holidays are a special time of year. We spend time with family and friends, the air is full of festive spirit and wonderful food is abundant. But, flip the coin on all the holiday spirit and we see that all this time with family and friends can feel a little busy and we become overindulgent when it comes to all the wonderful food. Very aware of the food that may cause digestive discomfort throughout the rest of the year, we throw caution to the wind when it comes to the holiday season. An extra cookie here, some over-eating there, and by New Year’s Eve we are weighed down by all the excess food. It’s no surprise that most New Year’s resolutions are about weight loss. We all head into the holidays with good intentions. We tell ourselves we will practice portion control on Thanksgiving and we will limit our cookie intake leading up to Christmas, but the temptation … So what do we do now that we have overindulged?

Digestive enzymes are proteins, produced by our cells, which work via chemical reactions to break down our food. There are enzymes to break down carbohydrates, enzymes for proteins and others specific to the breakdown of fats. When you eat, these enzymes are called to action so all the vitamins and minerals, fats and proteins, carbohydrates and fiber, can all go where they need to so your body can function. Several factors affect the amount of digestive enzymes available to break down your food. Age is a huge factor. Our digestive enzymes decrease as we get older, but a food intolerance, a compromised immune system, or simple overeating, can all disrupt enzyme levels. Supplementation with a digestive enzyme gives you extra support in the breakdown of your food during those times of overindulgence, especially for those who suffer from a food intolerance such as to gluten or dairy.

First accounts of digestive bitter usage are from the 16th century when it was used as an all-purpose cure for most ailments, especially stomach maladies and sea sickness. In 19th century America, it was discovered by bartenders as a way of softening the flavor of harsh liquors, thus the cocktail was born. Composed of bitter herbs, roots and peels, digestive bitters are still commonly found in contemporary cocktails, but their original benefits in aiding digestive discomfort are making a comeback. Think of really dark chocolate, black coffee or an orange peel; they all produce that bitter taste. This bitter flavor is important and helpful to digestion because it calls your digestive enzymes to action. The difference between a digestive enzyme and digestive bitters is that the enzyme supplement does the work for you and the digestive bitters trigger your own natural enzyme response. Similar to eating a salad before a meal, a salad composed of leafy greens (such as kale) and other raw vegetables trigger your digestive enzymes into action (and actually contain some of their own for some additional support). So you can have a nice kale salad at your next holiday party or have a nice aperitif of digestive bitters in some sparkling water or ginger ale. Before, during, or after your meal, digestive bitters put your system to work. If you want the support and want to strengthen, bitters are your solution.

Our intestines are filled with bacteria, some of it good and some of it bad. To be healthy, the good bacteria needs to be in larger quantities and keep the bad in check. When bad bacteria begins to gain in numbers, we see a whole host of problems in the body. Current research is unveiling the role intestinal bacteria imbalance can also have on our immune systems and our mental state. So how do we keep strong numbers of good bacteria and inhibit the bad? This is where Christmas cookies come in to play. Sugar feeds the bad bacteria. Too much sugar and bad bacteria are having a party in your gut. Probiotics help digestion by increasing good bacteria and by competing for space with the bad bacteria. This is also true of bacteria that can lead to illness, so probiotics have the added benefit of improving immune function.

Staying healthy is important to all of us, yet we overindulge over the holidays. However, we don’t have to fall apart. If we practice supporting our digestive system in these small ways, a great holiday can be had by all.

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