As we enter the holiday season, thoughts of gathering around the dinner table with friends and family can be unnerving for some, especially those with autoimmune diseases. The merriment often comes with an abundance of tempting, yet inflammatory, foods that can exacerbate symptoms and compromise overall well-being, such as refined carbohydrates, fried foods, soda, red meat, and margarine.
This is why many physicians recommend those with autoimmune and inflammatory conditions adapt to an anti-inflammatory diet, particularly during the holiday season.
Understanding Autoimmune Diseases and Inflammation:
When a person has an autoimmune disease, their immune system doesn’t work as it should. Instead of fighting off harmful invaders, the immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues. This is why many people with autoimmune diseases experience issues with inflammation. Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and inflammatory bowel disease are among the many autoimmune disorders that can significantly impact one’s quality of life.
Studies suggest a strong connection between what we eat and drink and how our autoimmune disease responds. Certain foods can either fuel inflammation, or keep it at bay. The anti-inflammatory diet follows a nutrient-dense, whole foods approach. This includes fruits, vegetables, fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats, all of which can lead to reduced inflammation.
“If there is one food I would recommend avoiding this holiday season to help keep inflammation in check, it would be highly processed foods: think processed meats, boxed or ‘instant’ convenience items and meals, or anything that lists a bunch of ingredients you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce,” said Palmetto Infusion Clinical Dietician Kristen Quisenberry, RD/N, LD, CNSC. “Instead, try to take some time this holiday season preparing special family recipes from scratch or cooking with your loved ones using fresh, whole and healthful ingredients.”
We understand that during the holiday season, you can feel less in-control of what you eat and drink. You may not normally eat sweets or drink alcohol, but Aunt Judy’s pecan pie looks extremely tempting and Cousin Fred wants you to try out this new IPA. While a person in good health can usually tolerate these items in moderation, the same may not go for you, especially if you’re in an active flare.
So how do you adopt an anti-inflammatory diet, and why should you?
An anti-inflammatory diet is designed to limit inflammation by providing the body with the necessary nutrients to regulate the immune response. This can help manage symptoms and reduce the frequency and severity of flare-ups.
For those with autoimmune conditions affecting the joints, such as rheumatoid arthritis, an anti-inflammatory diet can promote joint health and alleviate pain. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like fatty fish and flaxseeds, have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects on joints.
Many autoimmune diseases involve the gastrointestinal system. An anti-inflammatory diet, which includes fiber-rich foods and probiotics, can support a healthy gut microbiome, and reduce inflammation in the digestive tract.
Balanced Blood Sugar:
The holiday season is notorious for its abundance of sugary treats and refined carbohydrates. These can lead to spikes in blood sugar, exacerbating inflammation. An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on stable blood sugar levels, promoting overall health and well-being.
Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for people with autoimmune diseases. An anti-inflammatory diet, coupled with mindful eating, can help manage weight and reduce strain on the body.
Here are some practical tips to keep you in control of your health this holiday season:
Anticipate holiday gatherings and plan your meals accordingly. Consider contributing a dish that aligns with your dietary needs, ensuring there’s a healthier option available.
Focus on Whole Foods:
Embrace the bounty of seasonal fruits and vegetables. These nutrient-dense foods not only contribute to overall health but also add vibrant colors and flavors to your holiday meals.
“During the craziness of the holidays, I always recommend focusing on plant variety,” said Quisenberry. “Try to include as many different fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds as possible which will maximize the types of fiber and nutrients that you are consuming. Every different plant that you eat nourishes the body and the gut in different and important ways and uniquely helps tamp down the inflammation in your body. Fill up on these and include the other bounties of the season as special treats to savor and enjoy with care.”
Allow yourself to enjoy holiday treats in moderation. Be mindful of portion sizes and savor each bite, focusing on the joy of the occasion rather than overindulging.
Adequate hydration is essential for overall health and can help flush toxins from the body. Opt for water or herbal teas and limit sugary beverages.
Consult with a Professional:
Before making significant changes to your diet, consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian specializing in autoimmune diseases. They can provide personalized guidance based on your specific health needs.
By making mindful food choices, incorporating nutrient-dense foods, and planning, it’s possible to strike a balance between festive indulgence and maintaining overall well-being.
If you liked this blog, check out Tips for Handling Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) During Colder Months.