Top 9 inflammatory holiday foods to avoid

Opportunities for family and friend gatherings will be multiplied as the holiday season approaches along with an array of meals and drinks that aren’t necessarily served with nutritional quality or balanced quantities in mind.

Although this time can be super enjoyable and important for reconnecting with loved ones, it can be difficult to navigate, if you have made the decision to change your lifestyle and improve the way you eat, without a set back.

Here’s my top 9 list of foods or drinks to absolutely try to avoid and replace with healthier options to reduce inflammatory triggers around the holidays:

  • Eggnog- Store bought eggnog is made with heavy cream, alcohol and refined sugar ingredients – all linked to chronic inflammation. 1 cup of that stuff will provide a whopping 280-400 calories per cup. You can easily substitute with store-bought organic soy nog or rice nog or try making homemade eggnog by cutting the sugar used in half and adding spices like cinnamon, nutmeg or pure vanilla extract which all enhance sweetness naturally. Always use pasteurized eggs if making eggnog at home to reduce risk of salmonella infection and avoid eggnog completely if you are pregnant to mitigate risk of food poisoning from eating raw foods. A chai tea latte is another wonderfully warm spicy and satisfying substitute for eggnog.
  • Rolls and Buns- Refined grains and flour-based products are processed by the body like refined sugar in that they cause inflammatory insulin (the storage hormone) surges in the blood. Sprouted grain bread or buns are a better option because they are made with grains and seeds that have been sprouted, ground then baked, a process that helps retain more protein, vitamins and minerals than refined flour breads. Sprouting also neutralizes phytic acid, a substance present in grains that inhibits absorption of certain nutrients. For those sensitive to grains, Oopsie or cloud bread is a simple alternative to dinner rolls made with eggs, cream or mascarpone cheese, psyllium fibre and baking powder. You can also try making butternut, sweet potato or cauliflower flatbreads or serve green leaves from collard greens or Romaine/Boston lettuce as wraps instead.
  • Alcohol- Excessive alcohol puts an extra toll on your liver to cleanse and detoxify but enjoying alcoholic drinks is a big part of most celebrations. Limit yourself to 1-3 drinks spread out over a period with many water or sparkling water hydration breaks is best.
  • Gravy- Commercially processed gravy can be full of mysterious ingredients like MSG, food additives and preservatives that are difficult to pronounce but also difficult for your body to digest and absorb without a negative inflammatory response. They can also be high in sodium and processed fats. Try making your own by using skimmed broth from your roasted turkey or a healthy store made jarred broth. If you are in a time crunch, pick a good quality organic gravy by reading food labels and avoiding processed commercial ingredients.
  • Cranberry Sauce- Canned cranberry sauce is loaded with a highly refined sweetener called high fructose corn syrup, the worst sweetener ever because it boosts our appetite by turning off our brains’ ability to feel full. It’s so easy to make your own with a bag of frozen or fresh cranberries cooked down with a little maple syrup or coconut sugar.
  • Mashed Potatoes- Mashed potatoes are typically made with milk and butter and both of these are high on the inflammatory foods list for holiday meals, but this delicious and comforting side dish can be made with less inflammatory ingredients by mixing potatoes with cauliflower before pureeing and using vegetable or chicken broth with ghee for a silky-smooth finish.
  • Bread stuffing- Stuffing made with white bread and butter and served with gravy is one of the most pro-inflammation holiday side dishes. This pleasurable holiday favourite can be made with whole sprouted grain bread, olive oil and cooked lentils which makes it a great vegan meal and can even be made with gluten free bread for those having to cater to some food allergies or intolerances.
  • Pies made with commercial pie crusts- Most commercial pie crusts are made with shortening or lard both high in hydrogenated and highly inflammatory fats and refined bleached flour along with some colouring, preservatives and stabilizers. If you want a healthier twist on pie crust, make your own with grass-fed butter or coconut oil and unbleached flour or gluten free flour such as almond flour for those sensitive to gluten. You can also look for a product that is made with few healthier ingredients.
  • Christmas cookies- Cookies are treats for most people so its important to be mindful of quantities consumed around the holidays as many make their way into offices and homes as gifts from clients, colleagues, friends or family. Typical ones are rich in pro-inflammatory ingredients like shortening, lard, refined flours and refined sugars along with artificial colours and flavours. Gluten free biscotti, coconut macaroons, gingerbread cookies and chocolate peppermint truffles can all be lighter options and can be made with healthier ingredients. Or an exotic fruit platter is just as well received as cookies if you are in charge of bringing dessert to a holiday party.

Holiday meals are special and happen only once a year but the multitude of celebrations we may have during this season and throughout the year along with the high risk of potential sources of inflammation can take their toll on our bodies if we are not careful. Remember to nourish your body with balanced meals that include vegetables and lean proteins to enjoy some treats in moderation. You are less likely to overindulge at a dinner party if you are well hydrated and have had a balanced breakfast and lunch.