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20-12-2023
Navigating the Feast: Gut-Friendly Tips for the Festive Season

Article first published on G&L Surgical

In Singapore, the holiday season is synonymous with vibrant celebrations and an array of multicultural feasts. From Deepavali to Christmas and Chinese New Year, each festival brings its unique array of rich, flavourful dishes. While these culinary delights are a key part of our celebrations, they can also lead to digestive discomfort if not enjoyed mindfully. 

This article offers practical advice on indulging in Singapore’s festive feasts while keeping your gut health in check.

The Feast Dilemma

Our holiday tables are often laden with diverse cuisines, each potentially impacting gut health. During Christmas, traditional Western dishes like roast turkey and ham, rich in fats, take centre stage alongside creamy gravies and decadent desserts like log cakes and fruitcakes. While integral to the festive spirit, these items are high in sugars and fats, posing a risk of digestive discomfort if overindulged.

Similarly, Chinese New Year, which comes right after, is characterised by an abundance of traditional foods, each symbolising prosperity and good fortune. The dining table features items like Yu Sheng, a raw fish salad, and Pen Cai, a pot brimming with various ingredients. While these dishes can be part of a balanced diet, the real challenge often lies with the festive snacks. Bak Kwa, sweet barbecued meat, and a variety of high-fat and sugary cookies, such as pineapple tarts, are customary but can lead to overconsumption due to their small, snackable nature.

Gut-Friendly Tips

gut friendly food, healthy gut, G&L Surgical, Dr Ganesh Ramalingam

With that said, if you simply love food and want to enjoy the festive celebrations, how can you do so mindfully? Here are some practical, gut-friendly tips from us:

1. Opt for Healthier Alternatives:

Instead of indulging in overly rich or heavy dishes, choose lighter yet festive options. For instance, you might opt for roasted vegetables or grilled seafood instead of heavy cream-based dishes during Christmas. During Chinese New Year, choose steamed dishes like fish or lighter stir-fried vegetables instead of deep-fried items. These alternatives provide a festive feel without the excessive fats and oils.

2. Incorporate Fibre

A balanced meal with a good amount of fibre is key to maintaining gut health. Include fibre-rich foods in your festive meals. For example, add a serving of whole grains like brown rice or quinoa to your Christmas dinner. During Chinese New Year, incorporate fibre-rich vegetables in your meals, such as in a stir-fried Bok Choy or a refreshing Cucumber Salad. These dishes not only add a crunch to your meal but also aid in digestion.

3. Stay Hydrated

Singapore’s humid weather calls for constant hydration, which becomes even more crucial during the festive season. Regular water intake is essential for aiding digestion and can help balance the effects of richer foods and alcohol commonly consumed during celebrations. Consider infusing your water with slices of lemon or cucumber for a refreshing twist, making it more appealing to drink throughout the day.

4. Practise Portion Control

One of the simplest yet most effective ways to enjoy festive foods without overburdening your digestive system is to practise portion control. Use smaller plates to naturally reduce portion sizes, and resist the urge to go for second helpings immediately. Give your body time to digest and assess if you’re truly still hungry before serving more.

5. Limit Sugary and Processed Foods

While festive seasons are often synonymous with sweet treats and processed snacks, these can harm your digestive system. Try to limit the intake of such foods. Opt for natural sweeteners like honey or dates in your desserts, and choose homemade snacks over store-bought, heavily processed ones.

6. Incorporate Gentle Digestive Aids

Certain foods and drinks can naturally aid digestion. For instance, ginger tea can be a soothing beverage post-meal, helping to settle the stomach. Fresh fruits like papaya or pineapple contain enzymes that aid in breaking down proteins and easing digestion.

7. Stay Active

Keeping up with a light exercise routine during the festive season can greatly benefit your digestive health. A simple walk after meals, yoga, or light stretching can help stimulate digestion and reduce feelings of bloating or heaviness.

8. Listen to Your Body

Pay attention to how your body reacts to different foods. If certain dishes cause discomfort, try to avoid or limit them in future meals. Understanding your body’s signals is key to maintaining good gut health.

9. Moderate Alcohol Intake

Festive celebrations often involve the consumption of alcoholic beverages, which can be tough on your digestive system. To maintain gut health, it’s important to moderate your alcohol intake. Opt for lower-alcohol options or mocktails when possible. 

The Role of Probiotics

On top of moderating your intake of food and drinks, additional steps can be taken by introducing probiotic-rich foods or supplements into your daily diet. Probiotics are essential for maintaining a balanced gut microbiome (especially after all your indulgences), aiding in digestion and nutrient absorption.

During Christmas, consider adding dishes like yoghurt-based dips or kefir drinks. For Chinese New Year, you might include fermented vegetables like kimchi in your spread. These foods help maintain a healthy gut flora, aiding digestion and nutrient absorption.

If food options are tough, probiotic supplements could be your alternative. These supplements are readily available over the counter, or if you are looking at a prescribed set of probiotics suited for your gut, consider doing a gut microbiome test. Your doctor can suggest the right strains of gut bacteria that you need.

Hydration for Digestive Wellness

While it’s easy to focus on food, don’t overlook the importance of staying hydrated. Water plays a crucial role in digestion, helping to break down food and absorb nutrients effectively. It also aids in preventing constipation, a common issue during the holiday season due to dietary changes. 

Additionally, alternating alcoholic drinks with water can help to stay hydrated and reduce the overall amount of alcohol consumed. This approach not only helps maintain gut health but also aids in avoiding the next-day discomfort often associated with excessive drinking. 

Conclusion

The holiday season in Singapore is a delightful culinary journey. By embracing mindful eating, making gut-friendly choices, and practising moderation, you can fully enjoy the festivities without compromising your digestive health. 

Remember, it’s about finding a balance that allows you to savour the joy and flavours of the season while keeping your gut happy and healthy. Here’s to a festive season filled with delicious food and good health!