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At WellTheory, we know staying healthy at this time of year goes beyond food. We understand headaches and joint pain can leave you flattened just as the New Year arrives. Flares can easily sneak up on you as you race to wrap that last gift or prepare another special meal. How on Earth are you supposed to balance enjoying the holidays with staying well?
Our Care Team decided to combine our health and wellness expertise with what we know about managing autoimmune disease to create this autoimmune-friendly holiday lifestyle guide for you.
In this guide, you’ll find:
Consider this guide our “mini-coaching” gift to you! If you’re interested in receiving more personalized 1-1 autoimmune care, discover more about the membership here.
Wishing you a happy, healthy holiday season,
The WellTheory Care Team
“In the days leading up to Christmas every year, I work really hard to ensure that not only will I, as a celiac, have access to lots of yummy gluten-free food, but my family will also have some of their favorite holiday foods. All that cooking is in addition to typical gift wrapping and house tidying, so it’s no surprise that I’m usually a little tired on Christmas day. One thing I enjoy without guilt every Christmas is a long, cozy nap in the middle of the day. Snoozing while my husband plays Christmas music on records and the tree lights twinkle makes my holiday experience that much happier.”
“Avoid trigger words like ‘paleo’ and ‘diet’ (when at holiday gatherings) and you can just say ‘My health practitioner has recommended this nutritional protocol to help with some health issues so I’m abstaining from particular foods right now’”.
“Only do as much today as you have time to recover from tomorrow. Build in times of rest or times of recovery so that you can catch when you’re feeling exhausted or tired. Remember to rest, it’s never too late to hit the pause button.”
“Bring all of your own ingredients (to a holiday gathering) for some special AIP or paleo treat so you can make a huge batch and enroll your family in helping you make it — and they get to experience how wonderful it tastes!”
“Over the years, my husband and I have come up with adapted recipes for old family favorites that are free of my big trigger foods and full of more nutrient dense ingredients (but just as or more delicious than usual). This way I can enjoy the holidays without feeling like I am just saying “no” all the time. It also allows me to model to my kids that eating healthy is not about deprivation and lets me pass on recipes that are healthier than the ones passed down to me.”
“I am an introvert, which means that I need alone time in order to feel rested and recharged. One of my favorite parts of the holiday season is spending time with loved ones, and while I love gathering around the kitchen island making cookies with my mom and sister, or playing games with friends, I get drained pretty quickly. When I start to feel overwhelmed by the noise and interactions and feel my fuse getting short, that’s my cue to remove myself and spend some time alone for a little while. I used to feel guilty about doing this - spending time by myself during the holidays. However, I’ve come to realize that prioritizing my “recharge time” actually gives me more space and energy to show up as my best self and feel more present and engaged with my loved ones and enjoy the holiday season to the fullest!”
“Since my first autoimmune protocol, six years ago, I have had a very clear and short list of foods that are what I call “hard no foods.” These foods will make me flare, so I never consume them knowingly. I make sure to lean on my“feel good foods” and during the holidays I open up to more “worth it foods” which are the foods I don’t normally eat, but on occasion are okay. This is how I, balance my autoimmune trigger foods with food freedom.”
Lycopene is the phytochemical that gives fruits and vegetables their red color. Lycopene is a potent antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties that protect the body from oxidative stress. Lycopene has also been found to decrease “bad” low density lipoprotein (LDL) and increase “good” high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.
Lycopene may also protect the skin against ultraviolet (UV) damage from the sun. One small study found that participants who added 16milligrams of lycopene to their diet every day had less severe skin reactions to UV light over 10 weeks than a control group without the added lycopene. (Of course, consumption of lycopene-rich foods doesn’t replace sunscreen!)
Carotenoids are responsible for yellow, orange, and red color in many fruits and vegetables. Research suggests that one carotenoid in particular, beta-carotene, may protect against decline in lung function. A study done in 2017 also suggested that eating fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids such as beta-carotene, alpha-carotene ,and beta-cryptoxanth in had protective effects against lung cancer.
Like lycopene, dietary intake of beta-carotene has protective effects against diseases that are mediated by oxidative stress, such as diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune diseases. High levels of alpha carotene are associated with longevity — one large U.S. study found that high levels of alpha-carotene in the blood were linked with a reduced risk of death over a 14 year period. Aside from its antioxidant effects, the carotenoid beta-cryptoxanthin may prevent bone loss and may have anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are also part of the carotenoid family, along with beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin. Lutein and zeaxanthin are the only dietary carotenoids that reach the retina, the thin layer of tissue that lines the inside on the back of the eye. They are known to support eye health and have preventative effects against age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease that can lead to the loss of vision as we age. However, lutein and zeaxanthin also have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities. Zeaxanthin can also help to recycle glutathione, another important antioxidant in the body. (9, 15)
Dark green, leafy cruciferous vegetables are a good source of sulfur (isocyanate, sulforaphane, glucosinolate). Our body needs sulfur in order to synthesize certain essential proteins. These sulfur compounds break down into isothiocyanates and indoles in the gut, which are known to have antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory effects. (36, 52, 33)
Research suggests that sulforaphane may support heart health by reducing inflammation and lowering blood pressure. It may also have antidiabetic effects. One study found that sulforaphane reduced fasting blood sugar in patients with type 2 diabetes. (55, 41, 47)
Glucoraphanin, a glucosinolate that’s found in some cruciferous vegetables, has been found to protect the blood–brain barrier in mice with induced experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (used to study MS, which can’t be induced in the same way), suggesting it may reduce the risk of developing MS. (16, 40)
Anthocyanins are phytochemicals that give red, blue, and purple plants their vibrant coloring. Anthocyanins have antioxidant properties that may boost heart health and reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular-related and other chronic diseases. (26)
Anthocyanin-rich foods have been linked to reductions in inflammation and reduced blood sugar concentrations, suggesting they may also have antidiabetic effects. Anthocyanins have also been found to protect eye health. One study found that daily supplementation with pharmaceutical anthocyanins improved the visual function of individuals with normal tension glaucoma (where the optic nerve is damaged despite pressure in the eye being normal). (30, 43)
Other phytochemicals called stilbenoids are typically found in grapes and blueberries. Like anthocyanins, stilbenoids have been shown to have a variety of benefits such as protective effects on the heart and brain, as well as antidiabetic, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory properties. (4)
Allicin, a phytochemical produced when garlic is chopped or crushed, has been associated with a lower risk of coronary events in older adults. Research suggests allicin may help reduce LDL and total cholesterol levels when consumed for more than 2 months. (8, 39)
Garlic is well known for its antimicrobial effects and has historically been used to combat infectious diseases. It is also known to be effective against a variety of bacteria, such as Salmonella, Escherichia coli, and Staphylococcus aureus. (8)
Another phytonutrient that is found in many white, tan, and brown foods is quercetin. Quercetin has anti-inflammatory properties and may be effective against obesity, cancer, viruses, allergies, and high blood pressure. (5)
Serum C-reactive protein (CRP) levels are a biomarker of inflammation in the body. High CRP levels are associated with heart disease, obesity, and lupus. One study done in 2008 found that the intake of foods rich in flavonoids, such as quercetin, is associated with lower serum CRP concentrations. (12)
The thousands of phytochemicals produced by plants for their own protection may also help prevent and treat many of our own medical conditions and diseases. Phytonutrients give fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and other plant foods their variety of colors, so “eat the rainbow” to maximize the health benefits offered by these plentiful chemical compounds.