It’s about that time! ‘Tis the season of FOOD & DRINK, along with traveling, excessive family time & many stressors. Even though this time of year is supposed to be an enjoyable time, there are some negative attributes. Studies have found that both Depression and Anxiety increase during the holiday season. We also begin to pack on the winter weight, combined with feeling overwhelmed by money, time and social obligations.
‘Tis also the season of inflammation. If you’re anywhere near the New York Times, a health magazine or blog, you’ve probably heard of inflammation. What is inflammation? It’s the body’s natural defense against foreign invaders, such as bacteria, virus & chemicals. Nutrition plays a huge role in both increasing & decreasing inflammation. Intake of sugar, soda, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, caffeine, trans-fats, MSG, Aspartame, Gluten & Casein can all lead to developing inflammation. Many of the typical holiday parties & celebrations contain some, if not all of these ingredients. Emotional worry & stress can increase the hormone Cortisol, which can also directly increase inflammation.
Acute inflammation is actually beneficial to our body as we need to protect ourselves from threats, such as fighting a cold or healing an ankle injury. The problem is that over time with increased exposure to invaders, our body can develop chronic inflammation. The body begins to constantly send out an inflammatory response with white blood cells. Eventually, these white blood cells don’t have anywhere to go, so they begin to attack our cells, tissues and organs. This can lead to developing Diabetes, Hypertension, Depression, Crohn’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Dementia, Parkinson’s disease and certain Cancers.
Luckily, there are ways to reduce & heal our inflammation. Below are few tips to control your inflamation during the holidays
Turmeric has recently gained popularity, but it’s been around for a long time. The bright gold spice has been used in India for thousands of years as a medicinal herb. We are finally all catching on. The anti-inflammatory power of Turmeric is partly from Curcumin, the active compound that directly lowers inflammation. It also acts as an anti-oxidant. I usually add Turmeric to eggs, sautéed vegetables, oatmeal & zucchini noodles, but you don’t have to stop there. Turmeric lattes are popping up in most coffee shops. You can also season chicken, fish, lean red meat & tofu. When you cook with the spice, be sure to add black pepper, as it increases the bioavailability and absorption of the gold.
Turmeric isn’t the only spice that acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. Start incorporating other spices into your cooking, such as ginger, garlic, cinnamon, cayenne, clove and black pepper. I wouldn’t recommend mixing them all together, but you know what I mean!
It is no secret that olive oil is beneficial for our health. Science has really been backing it up. A study done in 2005 found that newly pressed extra virgin olive oil shares similar properties as Ibuprofen, a drug commonly used to decrease inflammation. Ibuprofen inhibits COX-1 and COX-2, two enzymes that are part of the inflammation pathway. This study found that oleocanthal, a phenolic compound in olive oil can directly inhibit these enzymes as well. Drizzle olive oil on vegetables, green salad, grilled fish and fresh whole grain bread.
I always keep a container of unsalted raw nuts in my bag. They are an easy, quick, low carbohydrate, filling snack. Beyond the convenience and weight management benefits, they also reduce chronic inflammation. A study done in 2016 found that the combination of nuts’ omega 3 fatty acids, magnesium, fiber and anti-oxidants reduce IL-6 and C Reactive Protein (CRP), two markers used to measure inflammation. It is recommended to have a serving of nuts three times per week to achieve the benefits. Watch out for overdoing it, as they can pack on the pounds, but in moderation, nuts are nothing but great.
Consistent exercise can decrease the incidence of developing chronic inflammation. Working out reduces CRP. The lower the CRP levels, the less inflammation you have in your body. Aim for 30 minutes daily of some type of activity, whether this is taking an exercise class or taking the long way home from work. Other stress-relieving activities such yoga, stretching, meditation or even just getting a massage will also lower inflammation.
The moral of the story is not to avoid the main culprits like wine & sugar. The moral of the story is to enjoy yourself, but to also be aware that excessive triggers can lead to a very crummy feeling. Try to balance the parties by using the listed herbs, foods and stress relieving activities to make sure you don’t go off the deep end!
Author: Allison Scheinfeld, MS, RD, CDN is a Registered Dietitian at New York Presbyterian Methodist Hospital. She also has a private practice specializing in Women’s Health/PCOS. Find out more information at www.allisonscheinfeld.com