Turkey, gravy and pumpkin pie—oh my! With so many delicious dishes to choose from on Thanksgiving, it’s easy to be grateful for the good things we’re given in life.
However, if you’ve been a victim of the infamous post-Thanksgiving dinner food coma, then you know that gratitude probably went out the window along with all self-control.
Rest assured; we’ve been there, and we’ve found solutions to ease the discomfort. If you’re looking to enjoy your fall feast, you’ll love our Thanksgiving survival guide for gut health.
Pre-Dinner Prep for Improved Digestion
You can take the necessary steps to improve digestion before dinner has even begun. Whether you’re getting ready to leave for a relative or friend’s home for the holiday or hosting at yours, these simple digestive health solutions may help keep stomach complaints at bay.
Eat Before You Eat
Yep, you read that right. One of the easiest ways to control your comfort is to stick to your regular eating schedule rather than holding out until the big meal. This is especially helpful if you’re worried about overeating foods that may not agree with your stomach.
If you’re the one hosting, be sure to slow down and make time to eat while you’re cooking away. If you can tolerate dairy, yogurt is a quick fix that supports digestion with its probiotics. You can also reach for bone broth which may promote integrity of the intestinal wall.1
Bring Healthy Foods to the Table
We all have those traditional dishes everyone looks forward to. Whether it’s cheesy potatoes, loads of gravy or mostly whipped cream with a hint of pumpkin pie—someone in the group probably has the fan favorites covered. You can do yourself and your loved ones a favor by bringing a pop of color to the standard brown plate.
This can be as simple as a spinach salad or steamed vegetables. If you prefer the sweeter things in life try homemade cranberry sauce. Not only are cranberries a superfood high in antioxidants, they can also promote good bacteria in your digestive system and lower bile acids in the gut.2 The holidays are a perfect opportunity to bring your healthy eating habits to the table to share.
No Thanks to Booze
Whether it’s to raise a glass for the good times or simply to get through select relatives, liquor tends to be a common ingredient in American celebrations. If you’re looking to promote digestive comfort, alcohol may not be the best avenue.
Large amounts of alcohol can reduce functionality of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the integrity of the intestinal lining.3 While small amounts of alcohol may not quite have these effects, it’s best to opt-out of this social lubricant in order to maintain healthy digestive function.
Kickstart Your Digestive System
The apex of your pre-dinner prep is giving your digestive system a little extra support. If you’re worried about trying new foods or straying from your usual diet, adding nutrients may bring you some peace of mind.
Give your digestive process a head start by taking a digestive enzyme right before you start eating. These enzymatic helpers may help break down foods more efficiently and support both digestion and absorption.4
With these powers combined, you’re ready to gobble up some good eats.
The Dish on Digestive Health During Dinner
Aside from the basic recommendations like balancing your plate with the healthy options you made, there are some dinner hacks you can use to enjoy your meal without the impending food hangover from overindulging.
Sorry, we’re still not talking about liquor here. Water is a simple secret weapon to help promote digestion while you’re eating. Plus, it’s usually readily available at any household.
Drinking water during meals is thought to support digestion by breaking down food for easier bodily absorption and to promote regularity.5 It also helps you stay hydrated, which supports overall health and wellness, and is easy to digest. Water is one of your safest bets to stay comfortable during and after your meal.
Don’t Eat with Your Eyes
If you’ve ever been told “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach,” this one’s important. Many of us can relate to overloading our plates only to force ourselves to finish everything due to this weird sense of obligation or guilt for quite literally biting off more than we can chew.
Your best solution is to remember portion control. If you’re the host, opt for smaller plates for the perception of a full plate with smaller portions. If you can only use large plates, try dedicating half your plate to vegetables, a quarter to protein and another quarter for carbs to maintain healthy eating habits and digestion.
Slow Your Roll, Literally
With your festive fall feast sitting right in front of you, it might be difficult to not scarf everything down at once. The digestive benefits you can get from eating slowly and mindfully are well worth the wait.
You may not notice, but your stomach is in constant communication with your brain. By sending digestive hormones from your GI tract and stretch receptor signals from your stomach, your brain can identify feeling “full.”6 Scientists theorize that eating too quickly may cause us to not receive these signals, which would cause us to eat more than we need.
Mindful eating is a method used to not only enjoy the food and company, but to also help keep you from overeating by making you aware of your body’s signals when you’re full. Try reflecting on how you want to feel after your meal. Once you feel like you’re eating because of a flavor rather than your body’s need, give yourself a break for a couple of minutes and see how you feel. Call it quits when another bite doesn’t seem beneficial.
If you did all of these steps perfectly, you should be in pretty good shape. However, if you’re feeling a little groggy or bloated, you can still take some steps to shake off the lurking food coma.
Take a Turkey Trot Around the Neighborhood
Walking is a fantastic form of low-impact exercise that can promote an extensive list of health benefits from heart and immune health to digestive support. While it may not sound fun when it feels like your waistline is ever expanding—trust us, you’ll probably feel better after.
A brisk jaunt around the block is not only beneficial for promoting better digestion by speeding up food movement to the intestines, it can help give your brain a rest from all the hustle and bustle.7 On the other hand, you can also ask family or friends to join you and continue the conversations you weren’t done having. Having your loved ones tag along can also help the time fly by faster if you’re really not looking forward to this walk.
Call in the Cleanup Crew
If the weather outside is frightful, or you just want to help out, volunteer to help clean up after the meal to get some steps in and increase bloodflow. This will help keep you off the couch where the 15-minute nap turns into missing the entire game or waking up just in time for everyone to head home.
Even if you’re not feeling heavier by the second, showing appreciation for the dinner and hospitality by picking up is just a decent thing to do. It takes work off the hosts and helps everyone get back to enjoying each other’s company.
Tea Up for Success
If your stomach is still acting up, try some detox drinks such as herb- and spice-infused teas. Peppermint tea is a cozy remedy that may help settle your stomach, plus it adds some hygge to the holiday. Teabags are simple to bring on-the-go, so this is perfect when you’re in a pinch. You can also bring a few with just in case you’re not the only one regretting going in for second helpings.
If you’re not a fan of this refreshing herb, ginger is another well-known digestion remedy. Perfect for a post-dinner detox, this soothing spice is also nice to help with discomfort. If tea isn’t your thing, you can always try other forms of ginger like capsules that are just as portable.
The most important detail in this entire survival guide is to be kind to yourself. Thanksgiving is about appreciation, gratitude and indulgence. If you strayed from this list or your regular diet in general, we’d be lying if we said we haven’t done the same. It happens, and it’s okay. If the food coma got the best of you it will pass, but if you made it through bloat-free we hope this guide served as your faithful companion along the way.
Happy Thanksgiving from your friends at Swanson.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
1. Rapin JR, Wiernsperger N. Possible links between intestinal permeability and food processing: A potential therapeutic niche for glutamine. Clinics (Sao Paulo). 2010;65(6):635-643. doi:10.1590/S1807-59322010000600012
2. Zelman, K. (2019, May 31). Health Benefits of Cranberries. https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/health-benefits-cranberries
3. Bishehsari, F., Magno, E., Swanson, G., Desai, V., Voigt, R. M., Forsyth, C. B., & Keshavarzian, A. (2017). Alcohol and Gut-Derived Inflammation. Alcohol research : current reviews, 38(2), 163–171.
4. Salden BN, Monserrat V, Troost FJ, et al. Randomised clinical study: Aspergillus niger‐derived enzyme digests gluten in the stomach of healthy volunteers. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 2015;42(3):273-285.
5. Michael F. Picco, M. (2020, April 18). Water after meals: Does it disturb digestion? https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/digestion/faq-20058348
6. MacDonald, A. (2020, March 06). Why eating slowly may help you feel full faster. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/why-eating-slowly-may-help-you-feel-full-faster-20101019605
7. Franke A, Harder H, Orth AK, Zitzmann S, Singer MV. Postprandial walking but not consumption of alcoholic digestifs or espresso accelerates gastric emptying in healthy volunteers. J Gastrointestin Liver Dis. 2008;17(1):27-31.