With Christmas fast approaching I thought now would be a good time to look at how you can enjoy the festive season without worrying about constipation. Below I have looked at the foods to enjoy, those to avoid, and a mini survival guide to helping you cope should you become 'stuck' right before the turkey is carved!
Christmas usually means two things when it comes to food and drink - over-indulgence and rich foods. Neither is very beneficial if you are suffering with or regularly suffer from constipation. I have therefore listed below the typical Christmas foods and drink into good and bad lists, with reasons as to why they are or are not good for you, and then a few tips at the end which will hopefully allow you to enjoy yourself without feeling like you're on a restricted diet.
THE GOOD FOODS
High in tryptophan (an essential amino acid that converts into our happy hormone, serotonin), turkey is an excellent source of protein that will help to keep you fuller for longer. It is a lean meat and a food that is good for your digestion as it contains the vitamin B3 (also known as niacin) that helps with the mobilization of food. Turkey also helps with detoxification, which is essential if you have constipation as it will help clear any toxins that can build up when you become ‘blocked’.
These can be a bit like Marmite for some people - you either love them or hate them – Brussels sprouts are packed full of digestive-regulating fibre as well as 20 essential vitamins and minerals including potassium, which helps with fluid balance and is important for staying hydrated. Pile your plate high!
Carrots are another great source of fibre, with just one carrot providing 7% of your recommended daily allowance! And just like Brussels sprouts, they are also a brilliant source of potassium that will help to keep those intestines hydrated. Whether its as crudités or served with the main meal you can go for broke with carrots.
Closely related to the carrot, it'll come as no surprise that parsnips carry the same health benefits as it's orange cousin, in the form of fibre and potassium (as well as other vitamins and minerals). I personally think they taste great too, especially roasted with a little honey!
Home-made nut roast is excellent for constipation sufferers as it's made with lots of nuts and seeds which are a great source of fibre, protein and good fats, all of which help to keep your digestive system in tip-top condition. Nuts also contain magnesium, which helps to reduce any inflammation you may have within the gut. If you are buying a pre-made nut roast then look for a good quality one that hasn't been packed with lots of white bread, sugar or dairy as this will only aggravate your digestive system and may cause constipation.
Surprisingly, Christmas pudding is actually good for you as it is packed full of dried fruit that is high in fibre and vitamins, including magnesium. Most of them contain a mix of allspice too within which one of the spices is cinnamon. Cinnamon is an anti-inflammatory which will help ease any gut inflammation, as well as being a good regulator of blood sugar which will help keep you fuller for longer and therefore less likely to reach for the chocolate!
It is actually the cream, custard or brandy butter (which is definitely a no go ... dairy + alcohol!) that gets poured on top of the Christmas pudding that is the problem as dairy is inflammatory and can often cause excess mucus in constipation. Definitely avoid dairy too if you are sensitive to it as it can also cause bloating and wind which won't be fun for you or the rest of the dining table! You can discover more about food intolerances in ‘Can food intolerance cause constipation?’.
THE BAD FOODS
Sadly, these are not great if you suffer from constipation. Potatoes are mainly starch and it is their skins that contain the all-important fibre, but with roasties the skin is taken off so when roasted they absorb the fat that they are cooked in (whether that's goose fat, butter or olive oil that you use).
Even homemade stuffing isn't brilliant for constipation. It contains sausage meat, breadcrumbs, flour and butter all of which are inflammatory to the sensitive digestive system. Steer clear of shop-brands like Paxo too as these are purely flour, onion and vegetable oil. It is effectively a processed food so will be lacking in anything of real benefit nutritionally other than calories.
Mince pies are absolutely on the bad list of foods I'm afraid. They might taste great but they are high in sugar, fat and calories that is never great for the digestive system and constipation, or your waistline. In fact, scientists from the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia claim that to burn off the calories in one mince pie you would need to walk over 3 miles!
Pigs in blankets
As tasty as little sausages wrapped in bacon are, they are high in saturated fat and don't offer anything to a constipation sufferer other than fatty stools, inflammation and wind!!
I have put chocolate in the bad list as I am talking about the tins of Quality Street, boxes of Celebrations and giant slabs of Cadbury Dairy Milk that tend to do the rounds at this time of year. They are all milk chocolate which again is dairy, and they are full of sugar and not much else, making them highly inflammatory for the digestive system. The only exception to the rule is dark chocolate such as Lindt but it must contain at least 70% cocoa (their 85% one is even better) as it contains less sugar, is richer so you don't eat as much of it, and it provides a good dose of antioxidants.
Whilst the odd glass is ok, alcohol can be dehydrating and inflammatory when drunk in excess. Neither of which is a good thing for constipation sufferers. If you are going to indulge this Christmas then do try and keep it in moderation, and drink at least 250ml of water with every glass of alcohol to help dilute the effects and keep your digestive system hydrated, which in turn will keep your stools moving.
Top five tips for a constipation-free Christmas
- Stay hydrated - make sure you drink plenty of water throughout this busy period, and especially if you are drinking alcohol. Water helps to keep the intestines and subsequently your stools moist and fluid. Definitely a glass first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
- Ensure you are getting plenty of fibre through your vegetables, and avoid sugar and dairy as much as possible.
- Take a probiotic - start taking one now and continue through Christmas and into the New Year. I recommend OptiBac Probiotics Bifidobacteria & Fibre (For Maintaining Regularity) at this time of year to help keep your digestive system in shape. I leave mine on my bedside table and take two sachets last thing at night, allowing the probiotic to work while I'm asleep.
- Go for a walk - try and keep moving despite the cold and sluggish-ness you may feel from consuming extra calories. Exercise is a great way to get your bowels working, you can read more about exercise and constipation here.
- Start the day with a good high-fibre breakfast to get the stomach working and to 'warm up' the digestive system so that the body is ready for the day's food. It doesn't have to be a lot - a piece of toasted rye bread, some stewed prunes, a small bowel of porridge or perhaps a homemade juice. Take a look at 'Juices for constipation' for some simple ideas.
Keep your immune system working
The gut and the immune sytem are closely tied, so don't forget to support your immune system this Winter as well for a healthier body all round. Unbeelievable Health do a great little supplement called 'Bee Prepared' with bee propolis, olive leaf extract, and tons more immune boosting goodies at a reasonable price, so check that out if you're looking for a supplement. You can read more about the link between immunity and constipation here.
You may also be interested to read my post 5 quick and natural remedies for constipation if you're looking for a natural but quick fix!