Whether it’s cookies and eggnog at a holiday party or beers and burgers at the local bar, our favorite indulgences leave our souls fulfilled—and, at times, our stomachs aching.
Still, the idea of an uncomfortable tummy typically doesn’t stop us from enjoying the treats we love. To keep that inevitable post-meal fetal-position at bay, we asked a few food experts for their best tips for soothing your system and getting back on track.
Keep their advice in mind the next time your body punishes you for making another round at the dessert table.
One of the most commonly-sought remedies for an upset belly, ginger has been around for centuries, dating back to its use as a medicine in ancient China. Ginger gets its distinct taste and smell, along with its antioxidant and soothing properties, from compounds called gingerols, says holistic nutritionist Lahana Vigliano, founder of Thrival Nutrition.
To reap its benefits, Vigliano likes drinking ginger tea, shredding fresh ginger into hot water, or taking ginger capsules. You can also find ginger candies and lozenges to pop post-meal. If you’re wondering whether ginger ale fits the bill, too, sadly your answer is ‘no.’ Delicious as it may be, ginger ale doesn’t contain much (if any ginger) and won’t do much to ease your discomfort, she says.
If you can, incorporate ginger into your meal by sipping on a mug of ginger tea, nibbling a few bites of the spicy stuff, or ordering a gingery dish.
Peppermint can help stimulate your body’s bile production and gets your digestive juices and enzymes grooving, says Vigliano. It also contains oils such as menthol that help to calm your digestive system.
To keep your tummy as cool as possible, drink peppermint tea before or during your meal, recommends culinary nutritionist Jackie Newgent, R.D.N. Just be wary if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which might be further irritated by peppermint.
Not only are prunes high in fiber, which helps keep your digestive system functioning at its best, but they also contain sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that stimulates your system.
Newgent recommends regularly incorporating prunes into your diet to support stellar digestion, but you can certainly pop some prunes after that extra slice of cake—it just might take a few hours for them to really get things moving. If you want to prevent overeating in the first place, snack on a few prunes before you head out to that dinner or party, she suggests.
Our intestines are chock-full of healthy, living bacteria called probiotics, which help us digest food, fight off harmful bugs, and produce vitamins. To bolster these good bacteria as much as possible, Newgent recommends noshing on foods that contain probiotics, such as Greek yogurt and kimchi, regularly.
You can also add a probiotic supplement to your routine to keep your gut healthy and armed with an extra layer of defense against belly-busting eating occasions. Look for a supplement that contains multiple strains of bacteria (like acidophilus and lactobacillus). Loading up on probiotics before a big meal can end up making your tummy feel worse, so make your probiotic supplement a daily thing instead of something you down just when your stomach is already a mess.
5. Digestive Enzymes
Digestive enzymes are one of Vigliano’s go-to solutions for an upset stomach. Our bodies produce these enzymes to break down different foods and absorb different nutrients as they pass through our systems—but age, food intolerances, genetics, and medications can all affect our enzyme production. That’s when digestive enzyme supplements can be real lifesavers.
You can find supplements for specific types of foods—like lactase, which breaks down the lactose in dairy—or in blends to support overall digestion. Vigliano recommends taking a general digestive enzyme if you feel overly stuffed after a big meal, but you can also get a jump on good digestion by taking one before your meal.
6. Activated Charcoal
Not only does activated charcoal make for a killer face mask, but it can also help your body rid itself of toxins. Activated charcoal has a negative electric charge, so it attracts potentially harmful molecules, which have positive charges, says Vigliano.
Try popping an activated charcoal supplement or mixing activated charcoal powder into an easy-to-eat food like applesauce or yogurt before or after a meal. Since charcoal can slurp up medications and make them less effective, just don’t take it too close to any other meds or supplements, Vigliano says.
7. Apple Cider Vinegar
Raw, unfiltered ACV contains vitamins and minerals, acts as an antioxidant, and supports the growth of healthy gut bacteria. Plus, research shows that apple cider vinegar can also help lessen a super carby meal’s impact on your blood sugar—and keep any potential blood sugar roller-coasters from leaving you feeling like a sloth.
To make the most of ACV’s pungent power, drink a spoonful or two diluted in a glass of water before big meals and food fests, suggests Newgent.