Healthy Holidays

Healthy Holidays

Feasting is a central part of the holiday season. It can often be a challenge to maintain a healthy routine during this time of celebratory consumption. For patients with arthritis and other inflammatory diseases, making healthy choices at this time can be of even greater importance. A number of scientific studies have confirmed that diet can alter chronic pain levels associated with numerous forms of arthritis including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.

Inflammation is a significant factor when looking at pain induced by arthritis. Inflammation is not always negative and does play an essential role in a functioning immune system. In chronic conditions, or simply as part of the aging process, the immune system can be unbalanced, with unnecessary inflammation occurring. Science is increasingly showing that what we put into our bodies, including our food, can be a facilitator of excessive inflammation.

Contributors to Inflammation

So which elements of our diet are crucial when addressing its impact on inflammation? There are three main areas by which diet can contribute to either increased or decreased levels of inflammation – free radicals, oxidative stress and antioxidants. Free radicals are negatively charged molecules. Seeking to balance this negative charge, these molecules look to bind with positively charged molecules in the oxidation process. As with most things the problem is not with free radicals themselves (they are formed as part of a body’s normal metabolic processes), but rather if an imbalance occurs. Too many free radicals can be present due to behaviours such as smoking or by the consumption of certain foods. The body can neutralize or process a certain number of free radicals but if there is an excessive amount it will lead to oxidative stress. This can in lead to cellular and tissue damage, a biochemical cascade in induced resulting in inflammation. Damage by free radicals can be limited by antioxidants, these are substances which terminate the chain reactions induced by free radicals.

Foods thought to promote inflammation and oxidative stress include processed foods, red meat, refined grains (white bread and pasta), refined sugar (candy and soda), fried foods, certain oils as well as dry roasted products such as nuts. This list is by no means exhaustive but gives an idea of the foods to avoid, many of which are heavily promoted in our modern society especially at this time of year when eating sugar and fatty foods is almost expected.

A Healthy Feast

An anti-inflammatory diet looks to reduce or eliminate certain foods which are suspected of increasing oxidative stress whilst simultaneously increasing the consumption of foods rich in antioxidants.

There are a number of foods which appear to have anti-inflammatory properties. Foods that fall into this category are highly recommended and include cold water fish (tuna, salmon etc), fresh and frozen fruits (from apples and avocados to peaches and pineapple), certain oils (olive and flaxseed), raw nuts, leafy green vegetables (spinach and broccoli), a variety of vegetables, spices (ginger and turmeric), green tea, water and whole grains.

An anti-inflammatory diet is not a diet of depravation but rather one which allows for a large variety of foods from many different food groups. Often it is a case of replacing certain foods with choices more suited to an individual’s health needs, such as switching from white bread to seeded brown bread. At the holiday table, consider a healthy grilled salmon in lieu of a heavier meat dish. Create side dishes full of vegetables that have anti-inflammatory properties like yams and broccoli. Prepare food with olive oil and cut out the butter and hydrogenated oils. Replace bowls of candy and treats with beautiful and delicious arrangements of fresh fruit. Cookbooks and recipes are readily available with ideas to create winning meals from ingredients that can leave one feeling satisfied rather than swollen.

This holiday season, there is no need to skip the feast. Some simple modifications may be all it takes to enjoy the festivities, relish a healthy and hearty meal, and learn some new tricks than may help you feel healthier throughout the year ahead.

Happy feasting and healthy holidays to all.

 


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ANRF
Article Author
Arthritis National Research Foundation
arthritisresearch@curearthritis.org

The Arthritis National Research Foundation's mission is to provide initial research funding to brilliant, investigative scientists with new ideas to cure arthritis and related autoimmune diseases. Writing articles about the patients affected and the science being done to find a cure shows why we need to come together to #CureArthritis!

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