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Watch What You Eat for a Happy New Year!

Medically reviewed by Karyn Eilber, MDAsma Khapra, MD, Susan Kerrigan, MD, and Marianne Madsen on March 18. 2023

Following family, friends and fun, the fourth holiday “F” has to be food. We’re in the middle of the eating season after all. Many of us barely finish our Halloween candy before Turkey Day arrives. Then comes Hanukkah latkes, Christmas cookies, New Year’s Eve eggnog –– well, you get the idea. What kind of Scrooge would tell you to stop? Except, well your body has been pretty vocal lately, hasn’t it? 


That fizzy tummy, the need to pee, and your general unhappiness south of the equator didn’t happen all by itself. Truth is, there are plenty of holiday food and drink habits that are terrible for your gastrointestinal and urinary tracts. They aren’t so great for your overall health either. So here are some indulgences you should watch along with choices that will not only improve your seasonal spirits but should become holiday habits you’ll want to keep in January.


Foods and drink that bother your GI and urinary tract


First off, it’s not just the food. Many of us undergo a radical shift in our behavior during the holidays. We travel more, sleep less, and eat at irregular hours. So even if your diet  is salads and seltzer, you’re going to have issues. That’s because behavioral changes can affect digestion. The stress many of us face during shopping excursions or visits with the in-laws means our systems are flooded with cortisol. As Sameer Islam, M.D., the chief of the division of gastroenterology at Texas Tech University Health Science Center, explains, Cortisol “…decreases blood flow to the organs, which can cause diarrhea.” Your body’s flight-or-fight response also makes your stomach vulnerable to indigestion, acid reflux, and bloating.


Fried and fatty foods


Of course we often combine normal holiday stress with abnormal eating. It’s a good thing that latkes are usually a once-a-year food since they are not only loaded with onions but are fried in oil. Besides their lack of nutritional value, fried foods are hard to stomach. They take forever to digest and can often cause an upset stomach in the process. If you generally don’t eat fried foods, you’ll likely have an even harder time. 


Even if they aren’t fried, fatty foods can sit in your tummy like a bag of rocks. While you’re trying to mingle, your stomach is loading up on the necessary acid to actually digest that huge slice of pumpkin pie or monster-sized glass of nog.  The result can be a gas attack. Both fatty and fried foods can cause serious GI issues. For that matter, so can onions. 


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Foods to Avoid For Diarrhea

Foods to Avoid For Diarrhea

Sweets and the not so sweet


The second biggest holiday offender? It’s sugar. Many of us have sugar intolerances that we don’t even know about. Chances are if you experience bloating, gas, cramps, or fatigue after enjoying some sweets you might be one of them. Even if the sugar itself doesn’t cause your GI issues, the other problem is that a few cookies or treats on any empty belly will convince your body it’s full. Later, after your blood sugar crashes, you’ll be far more tempted to overindulge. Unfortunately, substituting artificial sweetener for sugar isn’t a great idea since the sorbitol found in “sugar-free” gum, candy, and cookies can also lead to tummy trouble.


Remember, everything you eat or drink travels down your alimentary canal otherwise known as the digestive tract. This long, continuous tube from your mouth to your anus includes the esophagus, along with the small and large intestine. Equally vulnerable is your urinary tract  –– your body’s natural drainage system. Consisting of a pair of kidneys and ureters along with a bladder and a urethra, the urinary tract is the transport system for urine. Since what you drink passes through it, it’s a good idea to be mindful of your beverage choices.


Coffee, tea, and booze


Not every offender is confined to the holidays. Coffee and alcohol are both diuretics. That means if you drink them you’re going to have to go –– a lot. Not only do people drink more during the holidays–especially on New Year’s Eve!–but they often have coffee with dessert. If you’re prone to UTI infections, limit bladder-irritating caffeine and booze. Spicy food is also a big no no if you’re worried about either your urinary tract or your GI. 


Oranges are packed with Vitamin C. Stuffing a stocking with a navel orange or a tangerine is a tradition for many families. However, if you are dealing with a UTI, acidic fruit like oranges, lemons, or limes is a bad idea. However, once the infection has passed they can be ideal for prevention. 


Dairy is a big part of most holiday spreads from eggnog to soft cheeses. If you’re having tummy trouble, you may be lactose intolerant. Because many adults don’t have a ton of dairy daily, it’s possible you’re only aware of this condition during the holidays. However, some research suggests that rather than abstaining from lactose-containing products it’s actually better to consume small quantities. Yet another reason to practice moderation!


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Constipation and Diet

Constipation and Diet

Some healthy holiday habits to keep throughout the New Year




First off, it’s not about forgoing festive foods. Special occasions (and surviving 2021) call for some indulgence. Instead of focusing on what you shouldn’t have, focus on adding. And the first addition? Water. It’s so important it deserves its very own sentence. Although you don’t want to chug a quart of H2O before driving cross-town, bringing water along for the ride is a good habit. Have some when you reach your destination and sip some before eating a cookie or downing a cup of cheer. Drink water throughout any celebration. You should also have some an hour or two before bedtime (although you’ll likely wake up early if you drink any liquid immediately before nodding off.)


Why water? Well first, water aids in digestion. It helps break down the food you swallow and helps prevent constipation. As previously mentioned, alcohol and coffee are diuretics. Water restores balance. Drinking water may not stave off tomorrow’s hangover, but it can displace some of that booze you might otherwise drink.


Fruits, veggies, and fiber


Veggies are vital. They aid in digestion and are also filling –– meaning you won’t be as tempted to overindulge. Don’t expect your hosts to have a vegetable platter waiting. Instead, pre-game with some broccoli or a light salad before leaving home. Some people find raw vegetables upset their stomachs, so they have cooked veggies instead. 


Blueberries are awesome both as a preventative and as a food you should have during a UTI. Mixing some in with probiotic yogurt will really help your stomach as well. Cranberry juice may help if you have a UTI, although if you have a UTI, forgo the Cape Codder.


Lentils, chickpeas, and fermented beans can cause tummy trouble if they aren’t a regular part of your diet. However, slowly introducing them into your meal plan can really make a difference. Although every other package at the grocery store seems to advertise high-protein, it’s actually fiber that’s the biggest thing lacking in most holiday meals and the average American diet. Although getting enough fiber in your diet can reduce your risk for everything from GI disorders and strokes to obesity, surveys show that just 5% of the U.S. population meets the recommended daily allowance. Getting enough fiber can mean everything from enjoying whole fruits and veggies, to whole grains like in cereals and bread or legumes. Plus, having an early meal that’s rich in fiber is excellent preparation for the challenges your tummy will soon face.


Written by John Bankston

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