Chronic Illness-Friendly Thanksgiving Recipes

Thanksgiving is meant for gathering around the table to enjoy time with and connect to friends and family. Chronic illness symptoms like fatigue, achy joints and muscles, and pain are not invited to the table. While a warm, heavy, and possibly sugary dish can bring people together in a special way, it can also cause inflammation. Evidence shows that there is a link between inflammation and chronic conditions like cancer, autoimmune disease, lung and heart disease, gut disorders, asthma, and diabetes.  

Inflammation happens when the body continues to release inflammatory cells even long after an injury heals or you’ve recovered from an illness. Studies suggest that diet plays a primary role in  inflammation in the body. When you choose foods with anti-inflammatory properties, you can reduce your risk of illness and help reduce symptoms you may already be experiencing.

Whether you have diabetes, IBS, heart disease, or another chronic condition, adhering to your normal diet is an important part of keeping the focus on the purpose of Thanksgiving and not your symptoms. 

Chronic Illness-Friendly Thanksgiving Recipes

If you or a loved one has a chronic illness (or maybe just wants to eat a little healthier around the holidays), you can still enjoy thanksgiving dinner without making symptoms worse. Here is a list of chronic illness-friendly recipes to bring to the table this year.  While most of the recipes are gluten-free, diary-free and have a vegan option, you should always review the ingredient list to make sure there aren’t any ingredients that may make cause irritation. 

Let’s Talk Turkey (or Tofurky)

Turkey is the main event for most Thanksgiving dinners. While turkey is a very easily digestible animal protein, some preparations can include lots of acids, citruses, and fats. These seasonings can make for a tasty turkey, but can also cause indigestion, stomach pain, diarrhea, or constipation. The best way to make a turkey that everyone can enjoy sans pain is simply roasted turkey.

If you find that animal proteins make your inflammation worse (which it may for some!) or you just feel better following a plant-based diet, this homemade tofurky recipe is for you. If the thought of making an entire tofurky is a little overwhelming, try this tofurky roast which requires a store-bought version instead. 

Don’t panic if turkey or tofurky isn’t your thing; there are tons of plant-based main dishes that satisfy just the same!

And let’s not forget about the gravy. Ingredients in traditional gravy usually include chicken or turkey broth, flour, butter, and turkey giblets, which are all high in sodium and can cause inflammation. Try swapping this out for an anti-inflammatory alternative, bone broth gravy. Bone broth is a healing liquid that contains nutrients and minerals from bones and connective tissues of animals. It’s high in calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, as well as collagen, which help protect the joints, bone density and gut microbiome.

Scrumptious Sides

Photo: The Minimalist Baker

What is Thanksgiving without stuffing? The only problem is that it’s usually made with gluten and loaded with inflammatory fats, like oil. If you love stuffing, try this vegan, gluten-free option from Gluten-Free Palate. This simple recipe is loaded with flavor from fall favorites like thyme, sage, and rosemary. Not to mention, there’s a dairy-free option too.

Like stuffing, potatoes are another Thanksgiving staple. Sweet potatoes are the most nutrient dense kind of potato that carry anti-inflammatory properties. They are high in vitamins C and E and also contain alpha and beta carotene, both of which have been proven to reduce inflammation and give you healthy skin. Sweet potatoes are also naturally gluten-free. When cooking your sweet potatoes, make sure to follow a recipe that’s low in oil and adds in other anti-inflammatory spices, like these roasted sweet potatoes with turmeric or pecan sweet potato casserole

Just like any other day, make sure to eat your vegetables! This time of year is known for fresh vegetables like butternut squash, brussel sprouts, and green beans. Try one of these delicious, vegan, gluten-free vegetable recipes:

Breaking Bread

It’s probably safe to say (just about) everyone enjoys a roll or two with their Thanksgiving meal. While store bought rolls are often delicious, they usually contain gluten and other additives that can make symptoms of illness worse, like MSG, preservatives, and dyes. Baking your own bread gives you the peace of mind that there aren’t any ingredients that can trigger a flare-up or make symptoms worse. The best part is that bread can be made a few days ahead of time and stay fresh and tasty.

When looking for a roll recipe, make sure to check that the ingredients accommodate any sensitivities you or your guests may have. These vegan spelt rolls are a perfect option if you need something that’s dairy-free, gluten-free and low in oil.

Downlow on Desserts

Photo: The Vegan 8

It’s well known that there are some dangers of consuming too much sugar. Not only can too much sugar cause your waistline to expand, research shows there’s a link between sugar and chronic  illness. A study published in the JAMA showed that people who ate high amounts of added sugar had the highest blood triglyceride levels and lowest HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Both are risk factors for diabetes and heart disease. In addition, too much added sugar can cause inflammation, oxidative stress and obesity, all of which are risk factors for cancer. 

Thankfully, there are many low sugar options to satisfy your sweet tooth that won’t put you at risk for chronic illness or make your symptoms worse:

Staying Healthy Around the Table

When it comes to being around the Thanksgiving table, remember it’s more than just food. While it can be helpful to have some diet-friendly dishes, try to reduce your stress about what you’re eating by planning some fun activities away from the kitchen. Organize a trivia tournament, charades, or an outdoor game of corn hole. 

The most important part about Thanksgiving is gratitude. Amidst the Thanksgiving feast, try to take some time to reflect on the things you are thankful for. If you find you are struggling with gratitude or simply feeling lonely during this season, know you are not alone. There are thousands of patients just like you who are going through the holiday season, too. Join the conversation today to connect with others and learn about how they manage Thanksgiving with their chronic illness. 

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