The holidays are traditionally a time for fun, family and celebrations. For many of us, that means indulging in food and drink that may be richer than we’re accustomed to consuming. We can, however, all benefit from a little fun. But the tangled relationships among food and drink and feelings of comfort and security can sometimes obscure what’s truly beneficial. To put it simply: overindulgence can result in increased inflammation, digestive issues and other health problems. And that’s definitely not good.
Don’t let the holidays derail your wellness journey. You deserve better. Here are some tips to help you stay focused on what really matters: looking, feeling and being your best.
Choose Anti-Inflammatory — Not Pro-Inflammatory — Foods
Certain foods help reduce inflammation, while others may have the opposite effect. Generally speaking, whole foods — including whole grains, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh herbs, nuts, fish and extra virgin olive oil — contain nutrients that fight low-level inflammation in the body. Many of the major diseases afflicting Americans today are linked to ongoing inflammation. Examples include cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis and even cancer.
Fresh fruits and vegetables, especially colorful ones, provide natural antioxidant compounds that help the body fight oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a driving force behind much of the inflammation that plagues modern America. Whole plant foods help the body achieve and maintain balance by providing plenty of natural antioxidants and other beneficial nutrients.
Certain foods are especially good at fighting inflammation. For example, consider adding fresh ginger to your cuisine. Ginger contains potent natural anti-inflammatory compounds that combat nausea and quell inflammation. For a natural health and flavor boost, add fresh grated or dried ginger root to dishes ranging from sweet to savory.
Another simple change involves switching to extra virgin olive oil. Research suggests that olive oil contains constituents that make it a crucial component of the inflammation-fighting, health-promoting Mediterranean diet. Use olive oil as your primary fat source.
Boost Your Intake of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Wild Alaskan salmon is an excellent food for the holidays. Wild salmon provides dual benefits: it’s rich in the potent natural antioxidant compound astaxanthin, and it provides essential omega-3 fatty acids. Astaxanthin is a pigment compound that puts the pink in pink flamingos and the red in sockeye salmon. Like most natural pigments, it’s a potent antioxidant with multiple potential benefits in the body.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients. By definition, your body must have these important compounds to function properly. You cannot manufacture them, so they must come from the diet. Although they are also essential, omega-6s are pro-inflammatory. Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory. Experts estimate we should consume these nutrients in roughly equal balance. Yet most Americans consume far too many omega-6s and too few omega-3s. Little wonder, then, that so many people struggle with inflammation-related illnesses.
Research shows that higher intakes of omega-3 fatty acids are linked to lower rates of depression, slower rates of age-associated cognitive decline, stronger immune system function and better cardiovascular health, among other benefits.
Avoid Inflammation-Promoting Foods
Choosing wellness-enhancing foods and eating in moderation are key. But for vibrant health it’s also important to avoid inflammation-promoting foods. Typical culprits include foods high in refined carbohydrates (sorry, but that includes most sugary holiday treats), “comfort” foods such as white mashed potatoes, white pasta and white flour, and anything that includes trans-fatty acids.
Sugar is typically linked to expressions of love in America. But sugar is a metaphorical wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s precisely what your body doesn’t need. Do yourself a favor and cut back. At the very least, say “no thanks” to sugary soft drinks. They’re linked to a host of health problems, including greater risks of obesity, high blood pressure, kidney disease and diabetes. If that’s not bad enough, recent research suggests sugared sodas accelerate aging at the cellular level.
Trans fats are essentially toxic. They’ve been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, for example. Although food manufacturers have taken steps to voluntarily remove these synthetic fats from their products, trans fats still occur in certain packaged foods, including baked goods and products such as shelf-stable cake frostings. Avoid trans fats at all costs.
Winter weather is no excuse to stop moving. If anything, it’s more important than ever to remain physically active during the busy, overindulgent holiday season. Remember that exercise may take some time and energy, but it will leave you feeling more energetic — not less. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of routine daily exercise.
Being sedentary — meaning you spend a lot of time sitting — is emerging as an independent risk factor for a host of adverse health outcomes. Daily exercise is one way to combat the toxic effects of too much sitting. Try to find ways to incorporate more activity into your daily routine. Try parking farther from the front door. Consider taking the stairs rather than the elevator. Take brief standing/walking breaks if you work a desk job.
Even small changes can add up. House cleaning, for instance, can provide a respite from too much inactivity. Or get up and take a walk around the block. Research shows that anything you do to get up and move can help.
Rocco Loverro is the Public Relations Manager at Nava Health & Vitality Center. Rocco and his team focus on introducing their clients to a new side of total body wellness.