Are you eating too much over the holidays or is holiday stress causing you a stomach ache? We’ve got some natural remedies to help soothe your tummy this holiday season.
Can holiday foods help?
You may have heard of ginger and peppermint helping to soothe an upset stomach, but don’t overdo it on gingerbread cookies or candy canes.
Kristin Kirkpatrick, a dietitian and TODAY contributor, doesn’t usually recommend mixing ginger and peppermint with other food. Ginger cookies, which have ginger, sugar, flour, butter and other ingredients, may actually aggravate the condition, for example.
NBC News Health and Nutrition Editor Madelyn Fernstrom echoed this advice. “Don’t be fooled by most holiday treats that sound like they can help an upset stomach,” she said. “Ginger and peppermint hard candies can sometimes help, but avoid looking for relief when these ingredients are a part of cookies or candy.”
Christy Brissette, a registered dietitian nutritionist, added another note of caution: “The peppermint in your beloved candy canes may help soothe a mildly upset stomach by helping to soothe muscles in your digestive tract... but they also stimulates the valve at the top of your stomach to relax, so it's more likely to stay open,” she said. “Combine that with a stomach that's too full and that means a higher likelihood that stomach acid will bubble up and cause heartburn or reflux.”
Natural remedies for an upset stomach
Ginger cookies won't help but real ginger, especially ginger tea, can be effective for a tummy ache.
“Ginger is usually one of the best natural remedies for an upset stomach and can be consumed through teas or lozenges,” Kirkpatrick said. It contains a compound called gingerol that can help soothe an upset stomach and may prevent nausea. Steep a bag of ginger tea or make your own by peeling and grating fresh ginger into a mug of hot water with lemon and honey.
Kirkpatrick also recommended:
- lemon juice
- chamomile or licorice tea
Another option is seltzer, which can often help release extra gas in the form of burping.
“It’s not for everyone, but often worth a try,” Fernstrom said. She also recommended adding fresh mint leaves to a cup of hot water to settle an upset stomach.
Body positions have an impact, too. Avoid lying down, which can cause reflux to occur, Kirkpatrick advised. If you’re sitting down, Brisette recommended placing a hot water bottle on your stomach or taking a warm bath. The heat helps your muscles relax, which can help with stomach cramps and discomfort. It also redirects your blood flow towards your skin, which can help take the focus away from stomach upset.
How to prevent stomach cramps while eating
Remember to chew! It should be obvious, but Chicago-based registered dietitian Dawn Jackson-Blatner said she still has to remind many of her clients to do just that.
“Most bloating happens from eating too fast,” she said. IF you eat slower, it "can help you eat less and enjoy food more!” Think about putting your down your fork throughout your meal, Brisette advised. Then, ask yourself if you’re actually still hungry before eating more.
Strategies to prevent an upset stomach
Kirkpatrick advises her patients to consume probiotics in the form of fermented foods, like tempeh or miso soup, or a plain yogurt if the discomfort is consistent.
“Having fiber, water and probiotics regularly will help support a healthy digestive system over the holiday season and beyond,” Blatner said, suggesting oats as a great source of fiber that can also help support a healthy digestive track.
She recommended putting together a natural digestion kit for your purse or to keep at home. This can include:
- a peppermint tea bag: the peppermint and the warm water work to ease digestive upset and lessen the tight feeling of overeating.
- fennel seeds: one of its active ingredients is anethole, which can help soothe heartburn and reflux discomfort. It’s also a natural breath freshener!
- candied ginger: If you have a queasy stomach, it can help relax the digestive track and improve nausea.
To make your own antacid drink, Brissette recommended mixing one tablespoon of lemon or lime juice, one teaspoon baking soda and one cup of water. “This concoction can help with fat digestion and help reduce acidity in your stomach,” she said.
Finally, don’t rule out over-the-counter antacids. “If you’re not getting relief from your at-home efforts. They can be a helpful part of your tummy trouble treatment,” Fernstrom said.