Registered Nutritionist Dora Walsh gives her expert advice on how you can stay healthy on holiday.
When we go abroad our digestive systems have to contend with changes in our eating patterns. Even the strongest of stomachs can be sent churning by rich, exotic dishes.
The last thing we want is to be holed up in our hotel room with stomach cramps instead of being outside, feeling carefree and making memories.
Try my tips to help be kind to your tummy – and it should be kind back to you.
Strengthen your immunity
When we go abroad we’re exposed to new germs and bacteria in the food and water we eat and drink. This has the potential to lead to food poisoning, gastroenteritis (stomach flu), salmonella and even hepatitis A, which causes inflammation of the liver. This means we need to be able to fight off these invaders through our immune systems.
The best way to protect your body abroad is to be ready when you get there. On the lead up to your holiday, make a special effort to look after yourself and strengthen your immune system by eating a really healthy diet. And ensure you’re getting enough sleep, as this will aid in improving your immune system too.
Eat good bacteria
You may also want to prepare your gut before you go away by eating good bacteria found in probiotic yoghurts and some fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, which is a fermented cabbage.
Eating foods high in prebiotics is also a good idea. These are what the good probiotic bacteria feed on so they can perform their regulatory functions. So, try adding prebiotic foods such as artichoke, leeks, legumes, garlic, onions, bananas, berries, and chicory to your diet.
Think before you eat unfamiliar foods
When we’re on holiday, we often want to throw caution to the wind and eat foods we wouldn’t usually eat at home. It’s part of the experience – you want to explore a different culture and that means different food too. However, if your stomach isn’t used to it, there’s a possibility it may have a negative reaction, particularly if what you’re eating is spicy, rich or contains a lot of sugar. For this reason, it’s a good idea to be mindful of what you choose to try when you step off the plane and how your body might react.
Before you dive in, it’s a good idea to spend a couple of days letting your stomach adjust and get used to the new flavours. You can then gradually get a bit more adventurous and try out that street food you’ve been eyeing up.
Don’t get food envy at the buffet
We all know that overindulgence can cause stomach aches, but sometimes we just can’t help ourselves. It might not even be the type of food we’re eating, but having too many eating opportunities, or perhaps too many different food types in one go, such as when we just have to try a bit of everything at the buffet.
It’s easy to pile our plates high and go for seconds, but you might pay for it later. Having too much food at once makes it hard for your stomach to digest. The body does well when you eat simple foods in simple ways in a relaxed situation, so try to stick to one plate of food where the flavours match.
Be aware of bacteria
When you go abroad, beware of the tap water. It may be contaminated, or may have been treated differently to the water at home, which could have an impact on your gut. So drink bottled water and avoid ice in your drinks wherever possible. This can also impact food – try to ensure your salad is washed in clean water, not tap water. Squeezing fresh lemon juice on food may be a great way of killing off some bacteria. Often, you’ll find restaurants will garnish your dish with a slice of lemon, so make sure you use it to protect you from potential bugs.
Keep smoking and alcohol to a minimum
It’s important that you don’t drink to the point where you’re irritating your digestive system. Too much alcohol and smoking can cause irritation of your stomach lining because alcohol is a toxin while the chemicals in cigarette smoke can limit blood flow to the stomach.
Those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are particularly sensitive to too much alcohol. But even if you don’t have IBS, drinking to excess can actually mirror the symptoms of the condition, such as bloating, wind, constipation and diarrhoea.
Rules to follow if you do get an upset stomach
- Drink fluids – if you find yourself with vomiting and diarrhoea, drink a lot of fluid. Electrolyte drinks, which you can get in most supermarkets, and pharmacies can help you to rehydrate and to replace the electrolytes you lose when you have a lot of diarrhoea and vomiting.
- Let your stomach rest – Reduce your food intake for a few days, and eat simple foods. It can be a good idea to repopulate your gut bacteria which will have been disrupted, so try eating foods high in probiotics.
- Soothe your stomach – eat food such as Manuka honey and ginger. Ginger is great for trapped wind or bloating. It can help to release gases and ease stomach pains. Try grating a tablespoon of fresh ginger root into hot water. Cover it and steep for about half an hour before drinking it.
- Eat simple foods – once you start to feel better, try eating a bowl of oats soaked in water. Eating gently steamed veg, fruit and aloe vera can also be good steps to helping you along the road to recovery.
If your symptoms are not getting better after a couple of days visit a local pharmacist who will be able to advise you on any medication you can take and when to see a doctor. Book an appointment with a GP if: you are vomiting for more than two days; have diarrhoea for more than seven days; have bloody diarrhoea; or green or yellow vomit book an appointment with a GP.
Dora Walsh is a leading Registered Nutritionist Therapist (mBANT), and has helped many women to lose weight, keep it off and improve their health complaints. She hosts her own show on UK Health Radio and has appeared as the nutrition expert for many large media outlets, including Sky News, and is regularly quoted in the national press. Dora does not endorse any products or brands.
This blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding your own or your family’s health.