Thanksgiving is one of those holidays when we give ourselves guilt-free permission to indulge. Come on —how many opportunities do we have to eat two kinds of potatoes, mac and cheese, and three desserts at the same dinner? Still, it pays to be aware that the typical Turkey Day feast isn't exactly health food. If you're trying to avoid paying for your indulgence with pain, weight gain, and other health issues, you'd be wise to limit your servings of Thanksgiving foods that increase inflammation.
Inflammation is the body's natural response to injury or foreign invaders such as allergens, explained WebMD. White blood cells rush to the affected area to fight off infection, causing the redness and swelling we see around a hangnail or paper cut. Normally, the inflammatory response stops when the injury or invader is gone. However, sometimes the immune system goes into overdrive and inflames healthy tissues, causing autoimmune disorders such as arthritis. Chronic inflammation has also been linked to diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, and cancer, according to Harvard Medical School. As if that weren't enough, inflammation interferes with your insulin resistance and metabolism, nutritionist Alex Caspero, RD, told Women's Health.
Researchers have found that certain foods are linked to chronic inflammation, explained Eat This Not That, and that reducing your consumption of these foods can lower your risk for inflammation-related illness. The bad news: Many of these foods play starring roles on your Thanksgiving table. While we'd never suggest ditching your traditional feast for a dinner of salad and berries, it might be helpful to know which holiday foods are linked to chronic inflammation, and think about enjoying them in moderation.
The centerpiece of our Thanksgiving table may not be as wholesome as its reputation. Most commercially raised poultry, such as turkey, is fed on corn and other grains that contain high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, according to Eat This Not That. Unlike healthy omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon and olive oil, omega-6 is an inflammatory agent, warned The Conscious Life. On the other hand, free-range poultry is more likely to have been fed on its natural diet, which includes grass and insects. Spending more for a non-feedlot-raised bird is not only more ethical, but possibly healthier as well.
This savory, spicy side dish makes a perfect accompaniment to a juicy slice of turkey. But depending on what recipe you use, it may be wise to say no to seconds. Refined carbohydrates such as white bread are one of the biggest inflammation culprits, according to The Arthritis Foundation.
Bacon-Wrapped Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts are like little nutrition nuggets, affirmed Healthline: They contain fiber, vitamins, and the antioxidants that can turn off the body's inflammatory response. But when you smother them in bacon to make them a tasty Thanksgiving appetizer, you're not doing yourself any favors. Processed meats like bacon and hot dogs trigger inflammation, cautioned Prevention.
Macaroni and Cheese
The creamy comfort food is a staple of many Thanksgiving tables, but when it comes to inflammation, it packs a double whammy. Not only does it contain macaroni made with processed white flour, it also has (surprise!) cheese. While the jury is still out on whether dairy products contribute to inflammation, explained the Arthritis Foundation, cheese made with whole milk is still full of inflammation-triggering saturated fat.
Cranberries are even more American than apple pie, and a Thanksgiving without them would be like missing the Macy's parade. But homemade or canned, cranberry sauce calls for sugar to counteract the berry's tartness, and excess sugar is linked to inflammation, according to WebMD.
A glass of wine with Thanksgiving dinner, or a beer while watching the football game, is a cherished tradition in many households. Overindulging, however, can lead to more than just a Black Friday hangover. Physicians at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center published a report in the journal Alcohol Research Current Reviews confirming that "chronic alcohol intake leads to intestinal inflammation," which can lead to gastrointestinal cancer, liver disease, and inflammatory bowel syndrome, among other ailments.
Pumpkin by itself is a vitamin- and fiber-filled veggie. Mix it with a refined white-flour crust, sugar, and condensed milk, and you've pretty much counteracted any nutritional value it has, reported Bustle. To lower the risk of inflammation, check out healthy pumpkin pie recipes like this one from Amy's Healthy Baking, which calls for a whole-wheat crust, maple syrup and stevia instead of sugar, Greek yogurt in place of sweetened condensed milk, and egg whites instead of whole eggs.
If you can't imagine Thanksgiving without all the trimmings, don't freak out; one day's splurging won't wreck your health for life. But eating in moderation is always a good idea, and once the holiday is over, it's smart to stick to an eating plan that's rich in anti-inflammatory foods such as leafy greens, fish, berries, and oats.