If you have psoriatic arthritis (PsA), like me, or another autoimmune disease, you may be wondering how to maintain your festive spirit this holiday season while avoiding a flare.
I know that, even as a dietitian, navigating around holiday foods can feel especially difficult. What dish has gluten in it? Was that made with shortening? If I have a glass of wine with dinner, should I skip the sugary dessert?
It can be hard to fully enjoy festive meals when you’re worried about how the food you eat may impact your symptoms or if they’ll cause a flare.
Many of the special dishes and desserts that are served around this time of year can contain a lot of saturated and trans fats, added sugar, and refined grains that are linked to inflammation.
The great news: It only takes small adjustments to make your holiday go-tos more PsA-friendly. Here are simple tips I keep in mind while cooking and eating during the holiday season.
These root vegetables are an excellent source of fiber, antioxidants, and other nutrients, like beta carotene. Skip the brown sugar and marshmallows, and instead, try sweet potatoes mashed or roasted in chunks.
You can also add some smoky flavors, like cumin, sage, chipotle, smoked paprika, or try Japanese shichimi togarashi.
Sprinkle whipped or mashed sweet potatoes with toasted chopped walnuts for a little crunch that also brings a boost of omega-3 fatty acids.
Not just rabbit food, carrots are great sources of powerful antioxidants called carotenoids. Purple carrots also have anthocyanins, a deeply pigmented antioxidant that’s anti-inflammatory.
Try roasting these with olive oil, sage, rosemary, and thyme for a delicious side dish.
Brussels sprouts are a great source of fiber, vitamin K, and antioxidants. Try splitting or quartering your sprouts, and then air-fry or roast them.
I like to toss them with balsamic dressing, dried cranberries, crumbled goat cheese, and walnuts for a warm salad. You can also toss them with a citrus sweet soy glaze for a fun side dish.
Forego the bread stuffing this year, and opt for a wild rice stuffing recipe.
Wild rice is also higher in fiber. Research suggests fiber may help lower inflammation in people living with inflammatory arthritis.
These tart berries are high in fiber, vitamin C, and powerful antioxidants. This year, skip the canned cranberry sauce and make your own.
It’s very simple to do, takes only a few minutes, and you can control how much sugar or sweetener you add.
This cruciferous vegetable is loaded with fiber and vitamin C. They’re also rich in antioxidants that are important in lowering inflammation.
Although more research is needed, the specific antioxidants found in cauliflower, glucosinolates and isothiocyanates, may be protective against certain cancers, including lung, colon, prostate, and breast cancer.
For a meatless main entrée, try roasted cauliflower steaks. You can also air-fry cauliflower florets tossed in oil and Parmesan as a side dish, or steam your cauliflower and then mash it for an alternative to mashed potatoes.
So much has been said of this healthy super green — and with good reason. Kale is packed with nutrients, like vitamins A, C, and K, minerals, and powerful antioxidants.
This green leafy vegetable is hearty, sturdy, and gets better overnight, so it’s perfect for prepping. Toss a kale salad the night before by massaging the leaves with oil and leaving it in the fridge. Then, finish off your salad the next day with some vinaigrette and add-ins, like nuts or fruit.
Kale is also a great addition to soups and stews.
The humble apple is more than just a lunchbox stable, it’s a nutrition powerhouse. Studies in mice from 2016 and 2018 found that the tannins in apples may help inhibit interleukin-17, an inflammatory marker that some PsA and rheumatoid arthritis medications also target to combat disease activity.
Instead of baking pies or crisp, try this: Remove the cores from your apples, fill them with your favorite granola, and top them with cinnamon and maple syrup. Then, bake them in the oven.
This can be a delicious dessert or a healthy breakfast dish, plus, your house will smell amazing.
Too much alcohol has been linked to an increase in inflammation throughout the body. While more research is needed on the impact of alcohol on PsA disease activity specifically, a 2015 study observed that frequent alcohol consumption increased the risk of developing PsA for women.
Furthermore, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor, because certain medications you may take for PsA might not mix with alcohol.
Either way, there’s been a boom in low alcohol or alcohol-free beers, wines, and cocktails in recent years. While certain drinks, like the Portuguese Vinho Verde or light beers, are naturally lower in alcohol content, there are also a lot of alternatives that are completely alcohol-free.
Here’s to more PsA-friendly ways to clink glasses… cheers!
Beyond finding anti-inflammatory alternatives to common holiday dishes, prioritizing your well-being during this busy time of year can be a challenge.
These are three pieces of advice to keep in mind to help you feel your best this holiday season.
It may be tempting to skip a meal if you know you’ll have something decadent planned for later in the day, but don’t do it.
Your body needs — and deserves — healthy, nourishing fuel throughout the day. Instead of skipping a meal, opt for meals and snacks that are full of nutrients and low in added sugars and saturated or trans fats.
Soups and smoothies are an easy way to cram a lot of nutrients into a light meal. In fact, I find I heavily rely on soups and smoothies during the winter.
In both cases, because the entire fruit or vegetable is blended or cooked, and consumed with milk, water, or cooking broth, all the nutrients and fiber are still intact.
Plus, soups are great options for meal prepping, so you always have some healthy options on hand. Smoothies are easy to whip up in the morning, which is great during this busy time of year.
The holiday season can get busy, but it’s important that you still find ways to move your body. When it comes to arthritis, “motion is lotion,” and movement is important to keep your joints feeling healthy, not stiff.
Additionally, regular exercise is a great way to boost your mood at this time of year when there’s typically less sunlight. Maybe it’s a low-impact workout in the morning before the hustle and bustle, a quick walk during your lunch break, or some relaxing yoga at the end of a busy day.
I personally enjoy listening to an audiobook that takes place during the holidays while I do my morning workouts, and I love a warm yoga session in front of the fireplace.
The holidays can bring a lot of happiness, but they can also bring stress.
On one hand, there are often activities to consider, like parties, shopping, travel, end-of-year work obligations, that, while fun and exciting, may also feel overwhelming. It can be hard to find time in your schedule to take time for yourself.
On the other hand, the holidays can also come with some emotional changes.
While we often expect the holidays to feel celebratory and festive, it’s also not uncommon to feel heightened levels of grief, sadness, or anxiety during this time of year.
The holidays can be a reminder of loss or estrangement, and the bustle of the season can make coping with these feelings difficult.
I try to remember to take a few moments every day to de-stress in a healthy way.
Maybe your go-to de-stressing strategy is following a guided meditation, spending a quiet moment by the fire with a cup of herbal tea, or sitting somewhere peaceful while listening to relaxing music. Or maybe it’s watching a goofy comedy film that has nothing to do with the holiday season at all.
There’s no reason you can’t enjoy the holiday season while still keeping your PsA symptoms in check. With so many healthy and delicious foods that actually reduce inflammation, there are plenty of dishes to try.
If you’re looking for additional healthy recipes for the holidays, try these ideas.
Article originally appeared on November 30, 2021 on Bezzy’s sister site, Healthline. Last fact checked on November 30, 2021.
About the author
Laura Krebs-Holm, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian who believes that good nutrition can make a huge difference in your health. She earned her Masters of Science in Human Nutrition and completed her dietetic internship at Texas State University in San Marcos. Ever since, she has been helping people feel their best through the power of food. Her own diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis has shaped her view of using food as medicine. For nutrition tips and anti-inflammatory recipe ideas, you can follow her on Instagram.