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Holiday Meal Tips for People With Dietary Restrictions

Food—it's one of the most highly-anticipated parts of the holiday season.

From savory side dishes and tureens of turkey, to pumpkin and peppermint-packed desserts, nothing screams celebration more than a fully-laden dinner table.

Unfortunately, some of the season's most delectable delights can cause problems for people with chronic health concerns affected by diet, such as diabetes, arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Katherine Downes, a dietician for the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, the nation's largest not-for-profit home and community-based health care agency, says that people with dietary restrictions shouldn't have to sacrifice taste for safety—especially during the holidays.

She offers her advice for keeping feasts flavorful when dealing with diet-sensitive health issues:

  • Arthritis: There are countless cuisines rumored to be beneficial for people suffering from arthritis pain, but Downes suggests focusing on foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (for reducing inflammation), as well as vitamin D and calcium, which—when taken together—may enhance cartilage function. To cover all three bases in one meal, she suggests noshing on baked salmon marinated in a cranberry glaze sauce and adding a side dish of broccoli sprinkled with low-fat cheese.
  • Diabetes: Gluttonous feasts are synonymous with the holiday season but, if you have diabetes, overindulgence is a no-no, says Downes. To prevent dangerous, energy-draining fluctuations in blood sugar, eat regular snack throughout the day. Make sure you maintain the recommended diabetes diet by sticking to healthy carbohydrates: vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes. For a sweet dish that won't spike your sugar levels, try cinnamon-spiced quinoa with baked butternut squash and almonds.
  • High Blood Pressure: Keeping high blood pressure at bay is all about keeping your sodium intake to a minimum—a daunting task during holiday meals filled with salty soups and brined birds. Your goal should be to keep your daily sodium intake at or below 2,300 milligrams, according to Downes. Slashing salt from your diet doesn't mean you have to resign yourself to a tasteless turkey. You can still flavor your festive fowl with herbs, spices and salt-free seasonings. Blood pressure-reducing foods you can indulge in include: sweet potatoes, squash, kale, carrots and green beans.
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): There is one guest that is never welcome at a holiday gathering: gas. For the good of everyone at the table, IBS sufferers should double-check side dishes and stray away from traditional gas-producers, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and beans. For keeping diarrhea and constipation in check, Downes advises sticking to small portions of sugary, caffeinated or alcoholic food and beverages, while opting instead for whole grains, fruits, vegetables and other sources of fiber.
  • Acid reflux: If you suffer from acid reflux, moderation is the key to having a merry meal. This principal applies to both food and alcoholic drinks—overindulging in either can lead to holiday heartburn. Keeping nausea at bay also means shying away from some perennial favorites such as peppermint lattes and chocolate bark. Along with citrus, mint and chocolate are notorious instigators of acid reflux. Resist the urge to lie down after a big meal. Instead, gather up you loved ones and go for a walk to help your food digest.
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