Seven Tips to Beat Back Inflammation During the Holidays: Anti-Inflammatory Diet Strategies You can use NOW

Food pyramid

Well, the holidays are just around the corner once again, and many get worried about the damage this might do to their diets and their waistline. If this is you, I’m right there with you. Candy, cookies, cakes … the list of treats is endless. I’m certainly not immune to the temptations! The struggle is real!

While not “bad” in and of themselves, the real harm is the inflammatory effects all these refined carbs and sugary foods inflict on us.

You may have heard of “inflammation.” In fact, this word gets thrown around a lot in terms of how harmful it is for us. But what does it even mean?

You may remember having a cut, sprain, or a sore throat. The area feels painful and hot, and looks red and swollen. These are telltale signs of inflammation. Inflammation is a natural and essential process that your body uses to defend itself from infections and heal injured cells and tissues.

Inflammation is sometimes compared to a fire. It produces specific biochemicals that can destroy invaders like bacteria and viruses, increase blood flow to areas that need it, and clean up debris. It can be a good thing. But, it’s always possible to have too much of a good thing.

Before we talk about the power that certain dietary and lifestyle habits can have on inflammation, let’s sort out the two different types of inflammation.

Types of inflammation (acute vs. chronic)

There are two kinds of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is short-lived. It’s like a flaming fire that produces the painful, red, hot, swollen symptoms described above. When inflammation is acute it’s usually at high levels in a small localized area in response to an infection or some kind of damage to the body. It’s necessary for proper healing and injury repair.

When your cells detect an infection or damage, they send out warning signals to your immune system, like an SOS for help. Your immune system responds by sending over many types of white blood cells to help fight off invading pathogens and clean up damage so you can heal.

Symptoms of acute inflammation may need short-term treatment such as pain relievers or cold compresses. More serious symptoms like fever, severe pain, or shortness of breath may need medical attention. In general, acute inflammation clears up after the damage is healed, often within days or even hours. This “good” kind of inflammation does an essential job and then quiets itself down.

Chronic inflammation is different. It’s more of the slow-burning and smoldering type of fire. This type of inflammation can exist throughout your whole body at lower levels. This means that the symptoms aren’t localized to one particular area for a specific task. Instead, they can appear gradually, and can last much longer—months or even years. This is the “bad” kind of inflammation.


Chronic inflammation is often invisible without immediate or serious symptoms, but over the long-term it’s been linked to many diseases such as:

  • Acne, eczema, and psoriasis
  • Allergies and asthma
  • Autoimmune diseases (arthritis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus)
  • Cancer
  • Chronic pain
  • Gastrointestinal disorders (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis)
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Lung diseases (emphysema)
  • Mental illnesses (anxiety, depression)
  • Metabolic diseases (type 2 diabetes)
  • Neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s)


How does chronic inflammation begin?

It may start acutely—from an infection or injury—and then instead of shutting off, it becomes persistent. Chronic low-grade inflammation can also occur with exposure to chemicals (e.g., tobacco) or radiation, consuming an unhealthy diet or too much alcohol, not being very physically active, feeling stressed or socially isolated, and having excess weight.

So how do we fight against chronic inflammation? Well, there are steps YOU can take!

Studies show that reducing inflammation can reduce the risk of many chronic conditions, including heart disease and cancer. There are medications used to help lower inflammation to treat some of these diseases such as corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and biologics. However, there are also several lifestyle changesincluding a healthy diet—that can be very helpful to prevent and scale down inflammation to reduce its many damaging effects on the body.

“For chronic low-grade inflammation not caused by a defined illness, lifestyle changes are the mainstay of both prevention and treatment,” says Harvard Health. The good news is that anti-inflammatory foods help you stay healthy and reduce your risk of many diseases. In fact, it’s estimated that 60 percent of chronic diseases could be prevented with a healthy diet.

While yes, the holidays are upon us, there’s no reason not to fight back and give our body as many tools to fight inflammation as possible.

Here are 7 tips to beat back inflammation during the holidays:

  1. While avoiding all sugar and refined grains might be unrealistic, try to follow an anti-inflammatory diet MOST of the time:
  • Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grains (brown rice, oats, bran), nuts (almonds), seeds, fish, poultry, legumes (beans, lentils), and healthy oils (olive oil)
  • Pay particular attention to foods high in antioxidant polyphenols, including colorful plants such as berries, cherries, plums, red grapes, avocados, onions, carrots, beets, turmeric, green tea, and dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale
  • Omega-3 fats can help to reduce pain and clear up inflammation and are found in salmon, trout, mackerel, soy, walnuts, and flax
  • High fiber foods (whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes) encourage friendly gut microbes to help reduce inflammation
  • Avoid charring foods when cooking at high temperatures (be careful with grilling, roasting, etc)
  • Limit inflammatory foods such as red and processed meats (lunch meats, hot dogs, hamburgers), fried foods (fries), unhealthy fats (shortening, lard), sugary foods and drinks (sodas, candy, sports drinks), refined carbohydrates (white bread, cookies, pie), and ultra-processed foods (microwaveable dinners, dehydrated soups)
  • PRO Tip: Make a meal plan and work these foods into your week to guarantee you are getting these potent anti-inflammatories foods on the regular


  1. Be physically active
  • Regular exercise reduces inflammation over the long-term, so try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (brisk walking) per week; about 20-30 minutes per day
  • To this, add two or more strength training sessions (using weights or resistance bands) each week
  • PRO Tip: During the holidays, schedule exercise literally into your calendar to make sure it happens!


  1. Get enough restful sleep
  • Disrupted sleep has recently been linked to increased inflammation and atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque in the vessels that’s linked with heart disease), so aim for 7-9 hours of restful sleep every night to help the body heal and repair
  • Tips for better sleep: try to maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule every day, get exposure to natural daylight earlier in the day, avoid caffeine later in the day, cut out screens an hour before bedtime, and create a relaxing nighttime routine
  • See a sleep specialist if you need help achieving good rest
  • PRO Tip: Do a relaxing activity every evening (not on a screen!) during the holidays to help set the tone for good rest: read a book, take a bath, light a candle, make a cup of tea, cuddle with your pet, light a fire…


  1. Quit smoking and limit alcohol
  • Quitting smoking can help reduce inflammation and several other health concerns by reducing exposure to toxins that are directly linked to inflammation
  • Limit your alcohol intake to no more than one or two drinks per day
  • PRO Tip: try to cut out alcohol most days of the week during the holidays and save your drink for special occasions, or better yet switch to a flavored water or other low calorie beverages


  1. Manage your stress
  • Engage in relaxing stress-reducing activities such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or tai chi
  • PRO Tip: Or just plan some “me” time during the hectic holidays and take a breather, like a solo shopping trip, an afternoon at the spa, or even a quick getaway to see friends or family


  1. Be social
  • New research suggests that feeling socially isolated is linked with higher levels of inflammation, so reach out to family and friends (or make new ones!)
  • PRO Tip: If family and even friends can be stressful around the holidays, consider volunteering for an event to be around others and potentially make some new connections


  1. See your doctor or dentist
  • Get your cholesterol and blood lipids tested because high amounts of “bad” LDL cholesterol is linked to inflammation
  • You can request a blood test to measure levels of CRP (C-reactive protein) which is a marker of inflammation (this test is also used to check your risk of developing heart disease)
  • If your gums bleed when you brush or floss, this may be a sign of gum inflammation (gingivitis), so ramp up your oral hygiene and see your dentist
  • PRO Tip: If your deductible resets in the New Year, try to get in with your doctor NOW so you know where you are at with your health and what to focus on in the coming months


Final thoughts

Chronic, long-term, low-level inflammation is linked with many health issues, and these can definitely ramp up during the holidays when our diets and lifestyle tend to be a bit overindulgent.

The first approach to preventing and improving this is through food and lifestyle changes. Start by focusing on adding colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fish to your diet. Be very careful (and picky) about treats during the holidays. Then layer in lifestyle upgrades like physical activity, restful sleep, and stress management.

Does this sound daunting? Reach out! Book an appointment and let’s make a plan to get you on an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle plan. If you simply need recipe ideas, send me an email and I’d be happy to send you some anti-inflammatory meal plans.

It’s never too late to start making small, achievable changes that will have a long-lasting and far-reaching impact on your health, even during the holidays!



Want to learn how you can beat inflammation with simple and delicious foods? Need a plan and delicious recipes to get more antioxidants into your diet? Are you looking for ways to incorporate more anti-inflammatory foods into your day? Book an appointment with me to talk through the right foods to help.

Not ready quite yet? I know, the holidays can be daunting. Making changes late in the year is probably the hardest, so don’t feel discouraged if all this sounds overwhelming. Instead, book an appointment now for first of the year so you can hit the ground running. Schedule below and I’ll see you in the New Year!



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Harvard Magazine. (2019 May-June). Could inflammation be the cause of myriad chronic conditions? Retrieved from
Harvard Health. (2020, April). Understanding acute and chronic inflammation. Retrieved from
Harvard Health. (2020, May). Quick-start guide to an anti-inflammation diet. Retrieved from
Harvard Health. (2020, June). All about inflammation. Retrieved from
Mayo Clinic. (2017, November 21). C-reactive protein test. Retrieved from
Mayo Clinic. (2018, May 25). Home remedies: How a healthy diet can help manage pain. Retrieved from
Mayo Clinic. (2019, August 13). How to use food to help your body fight inflammation. Retrieved from
Medscape. (n.d.). Inflammation, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer. Retrieved from
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (2020, April 4). Inflammation. Retrieved from
Neuroscience News. (2020, March 5). Social isolation could cause physical inflammation. Retrieved from
University of California Berkeley News. (2020, June 4). Fitful nightly sleep linked to chronic inflammation, hardened arteries. Retrieved from
University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. (2018). The anti-inflammatory lifestyle. Retrieved from

Danielle VenHuizen, MS RDN