Christmas Food

Simple ways to settle an upset stomach during the silly season

How to tame your tummy troubles at Christmas.

By Mark Brook
Whether it's an office Christmas party, family gathering or get-together with friends, the festive season is a time we come together to celebrate and enjoy each other's company – but it can be a tremendous strain on your digestive health.
"While it's difficult to know the exact cause of tummy troubles, the most likely reasons are stress, alcohol or a change in the foods you're eating," Blacktown Hospital gastroenterologist Dr Farzan Bahin says.
"The problem is that it's often expected of us to indulge at this time of year, so by refraining you may feel socially excluded."
Fortunately, you can get through this time relatively symptom-free if you have a plan of action and choose foods that are a little kinder to your stomach, Dr Bahin explains.

Bloating and wind

Eating high amounts of processed food and drinking too much alcohol often go hand in hand with Aussie summer holidays. But this can lead to unsightly bloating and uncomfortable wind.
"This occurs when there is an overproduction of gas in your bowel, triggered by certain stomach bugs or from eating hard-to-digest foods," Dr Bahin says.
"This includes a particular group of poorly absorbed fermentable carbohydrates known as FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols), which release gas in the colon."
How to fix it:
"There's a suggestion that reducing carbohydrates in general can help to prevent bloating and discomfort," Dr Bahin explains.
The best way to do this is by following a low-FODMAP diet, with the guidance of a dietitian. This involves gradually reducing your intake of foods that contain sugar, yeast or alcohol.
"Those who are lactose-intolerant often experience bloating discomfort, too," he adds.
"If that's the case, avoiding dairy or substituting cow's milk for almond or soy milk may help."

Cramping and diarrhoea

It's so easy to be tempted by sugary treats and Christmas goodies, but the effects of overindulgence may result in cramps and diarrhoea.
"That's actually a symptom of bloating," Dr Bahin says.
"When excess gas and fluid develop in the small bowel, the body tries to clear it by contracting the stomach quite vigorously, which results in cramping."
As for diarrhoea, Dr Bahin says this can be related to a number of causes that aren't necessarily food-related, such as infection and side effects of medications. "It could simply be a virus you've picked up," he adds.
How to fix it:
The majority of festive treats are high in sugar and fat – but don't let that stop you from enjoying your favourite foods!
"It's all about limiting your intake of foods that cause discomfort," Dr Bahin says.
This includes fatty or fried foods, coffee, alcohol and certain types of sugars and sweeteners.
"It's also worthwhile having antispasmodic (Buscopan) or antidiarrheal (Gastro-Stop) medication on hand to help ease discomfort," he adds.
"But if symptoms persist, see your doctor to get a definitive diagnosis."


Heartburn (acid reflux) is a surplus of stomach acid flowing into the oesophagus, producing a burning sensation and leaving a bitter taste in the mouth.
"It occurs because the sphincter that separates the oesophagus and stomach loosens, causing a backflow of gastric contents," Dr Bahin says.
"Fizzy drinks, coffee and spicy foods are known to relax the sphincter, but one of the biggest factors is overeating – a problem that often creeps up around the holidays. This increases the pressure inside the stomach, forcing the acid upward."
How to fix it:
Avoiding large meals, spicy or fatty foods, and limiting alcohol can ease symptoms. Likewise, not eating late at night and sitting still after each meal can aid the digestive process. Some over-the-counter antacids, such as Mylanta or Gaviscon, may also provide short-term relief.
"While it's normal for people with reflux to feel a burning sensation in their chest or throat, if you develop symptoms such as sweating, shortness of breath or feeling like a brick is sitting on your chest, call your doctor," Dr Bahin advises.


Being on holiday, surrounded by a glut of sweet and savoury delights can mean eating too much – and constipation.
Many holiday treats and foods that don't have plenty of grains, seeds or nuts tend to give people trouble with constipation.
"The biggest factor is the lack of fibre in most festive fare," Dr Bahin explains.
"When you don't have enough fibre in your diet, your body can't turn waste into well-formed stools and so have the momentum to pass it through the colon."
Other foods that can bind you up include cheese, ice-cream and red meat.
"However, some processed foods can have the reverse effect, due to the preservatives," he adds.
How to fix it:
The easiest way to prevent constipation is to up your fibre intake.
"It's about being aware of the relationship between food and your gastrointestinal symptoms," Dr Bahin says.
"Focus on eating better foods for your digestive health, such as lentils and legumes, brown rice, wholegrain breads and cereals, and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, rather than a carbohydrate-based diet."

Get help when you’ve had a gutful

If symptoms persist for more than a few days, consider calling your doctor.
"It's about being aware of any red flags or symptoms that might suggest something more serious is going on, such as pain that prevents you from doing any sort of activity, or when blood is present in vomit or bowel motions," Dr Bahin says.
WATCH BELOW: Probiotic-packed food for good gut health. Story continues after video.

Top tips to avoid food poisoning

The best way to avoid a case of food poisoning is to maintain high standards of personal hygiene when preparing, handling and storing food.
"It's always wise to wash your hands routinely with warm, soapy water so that food is always handled and eaten in the cleanest possible way," he says.
"Another vital key is adequate food hygiene, in the sense that food is eaten more or less straightaway and not reheated multiple times, as that would increase the chance of contamination," he says.
Also, it's important to keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods, and to make sure the ingredients are fresh and safe to use.

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