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Dr Naila Arebi, is a Consultant Gastroenterologist and Endoscopist with a focus on inflammatory bowel disease, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and intestinal investigations including endoscopy and physiology testing. Her current research is focused on inflammatory bowel disease, where she is the chief investigator on a number of research studies aimed at enhancing our understanding of inflammatory bowel disease, testing new treatments and improving the delivery care for patients through national and international collaborations. Dr Arebi shares her expertise and experience regarding what to eat and what not to eat, at Christmas.

About Dr Naila Arebi

Dr Naila Arebi is a consultant gastroenterologist and endoscopist specialising in investigation of common gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, heartburn and weight loss. She has a particular expertise in inflammatory bowel diseases Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. She leads the IBD service at St Mark's National Bowel Hospital.
View Dr Naila Arebi’s full profile

Do you notice changes to your patients’ behaviour at Christmas

People are aware of what’s coming and anticipate eating too much, and drinking too much. Some choose to hold on and splash out on Christmas Day and then there are those who moderate. It’s more a matter of attitude.

Do you think generally people are moderating more over Christmas?

Yes, I think people are more health-conscious and more knowledgeable these days. Also, as you get older your gut bacteria changes and therefore, the way your body handles food also changes, which in some cases means you might not be able to handle certain foods.

Are there certain foods that become more problematic as you grow older?

It’s harder to tolerate fatty foods, high calorific foods, and the quantity of alcohol intake. Some people find certain types of fruit and vegetable cause problems, particularly the ones that ferment a lot. There are of course people who have IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) which means there is a gut sensitivity, also people with inflammatory bowel disease which is a different entity, as it creates an actual active inflammation of and damage to the gut.

Can anyone develop IBS at any point?

There are a few affiliated genes but the association isn’t that clear. It happens often after an infection in your gut, such as gastroenteritis, which you might get when travelling and this can leave people with IBS. But in 90% of cases of IBS there is no obvious trigger for it.

Can overeating and drinking at Christmas be harmful?

The acute effect is that it will make you sick, the chronic effect of over eating and over drinking, is that it can leave you feeling bloated and over-full, and that’s why people may then want to go on to a detox. It’s not going to do long term damage, but you don’t want to over-do it at Christmas because if you do, you won’t be able to enjoy it for over its entirety.  

What advice do you give to your patients about eating and drinking at Christmas?

For patients with IBS they generally have a sensitive gut where fibres make symptoms worse and there are two types of fibre; soluble fibre and insoluble fibre. The soluble fibre comes from vegetables like peas and Brussel sprouts for example, the insoluble ones come from grains and nuts, so just be mindful not to overdo it in those areas – everything in moderation.

Another way around it is to prolong the meals – don’t eat a large volume in a short period of time.

Turkey is very lean meat and is a healthy option, although the gravy around the turkey can be fat laden, so minimize the gravy. Enjoy your vegetables and roast potatoes – potatoes cooked in goose fat aren’t so healthy, but taste delicious! So again, everything in moderation.

Drinking can be a trigger if you have reflux, as it relaxes the muscle between the gullet and the stomach and so alcohol can make this worse. Wines can have histamines whereas spirits are a purer form of alcohol.

Sweeter drinks and foods can cause wind because there is more sugar for the bacteria to ferment. So if you’re going to have chocolate, try to have dark chocolate which has less sugar and real health benefits. 

What will you be doing for Christmas?

I will be in Malta and having a traditional Maltese Christmas dish, which is minced meat in a rich sauce cooked over two days and covered in puff pastry and it’s delicious! The main is traditionally turkey, but we might go for lamb this year, with red wine and for desert something lighter, like a lemon tart. We finish it off with a glass of sweet Italian wine and dark chocolate.

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