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You Are Here: IC Network : Fresh Tastes : December 1998
Dec. 98: Holiday foods & Parties
Since my diagnosis of IC almost nine years ago, I have to admit I don't look forward to the holidays in the same way I used to. In fact, I sometimes wince at the thought. I know that the hectic pace of this month will make my diet and medication schedule more difficult to manage. I'll need more sleep and need to do more advance planning for my activities. And I wince knowing
that I'll probably need to lay in some extra supplies of my "emergency" medications to handle a stress-induced bladder flare.
I'll have to say "no thanks" more often when my body's needs for rest or food conflict with the social expectations of others. Yes, once again I'll endure some incredulous stares and disapproving looks from the uninformed. But each year I flat out refuse to stay home and help the IC do its dirty work of
isolating me. The IC has deprived me of enough. No way am I going to duck out
on the holiday celebrations I've always enjoyed out of fear of a symptom
For those of us with IC, holiday parties and family gatherings can be a big
stressor as well as an opportunity for fun. And a big part of that stress will
be struggling with food-related dilemmas. At every occasion this time of year
temptation looms in the form of chocolate treats, alcoholic beverages, or
unfamiliar foods that have who-knows-what in them. Do I relish a taste now
and possibly suffer later? Or deprive myself now but be able to function
Here are some ideas for managing at least some of the diet-related
anxieties associated with holiday parties and gatherings:
If you have holiday coping strategies that work for you, especially
food-related ones, please e-mail me at Artist2001@aol.com. I'd love to hear
about them... and perhaps include them in this column next year! May your
holiday season be filled with comfort, joy and peace!
- The dinner party - Consider communicating your dietary situation to the
host or hostess well in advance. Chances are if they care enough to invite you
in the first place, they'll be happy to make some reasonable accommodations to
help you enjoy yourself. Give them the opportunity to be sympathetic and
helpful. No need to go into medical details. Just ask what they're serving
and tell them your doctor has you on a diet that avoids hot spices and certain
(I find it helpful to draw an analogy between my situation and that of people
with diabetes, stomach ulcers, lactose intolerance or food allergies-- food-
related problems that people are more familiar with).
I try to think of these situations as an opportunity to educate others
about IC as well. You never know, the hostess may know someone else who
suffers from the same symptoms you do but hasn't been lucky enough to get it
diagnosed. Sharing your experience may help another person, and isn't that
what the season is supposed to be about?
- Parties where alcohol is served - First of all, remember that alcohol
doesn't mix with many painkillers, antidepressants and antihistamines, so
check with your doctor or pharmacist if you plan on drinking. If drug-alcohol
interactions are not a problem for you, here are some other facts to keep in
- Histamine adversely affects mast cells, and mast cells in the bladder
tissue are thought to be involved in IC symptoms. Beer and wine contain
histamine. Red wine has much more than white wine. Alcohol makes the
situation worse by impairing the body's ability to break down and get rid of
- Beer and wines also contain a substance called tyramine which, like
histamine, is a monoamine. No one's sure exactly why, but many high-monoamine
foods exacerbate IC symptoms. Among other things it does, tyramine closes down
the arteries, decreasing blood supply to tissues and increasing blood
pressure. (I wonder if perhaps less circulation may mean less opportunity to
"wash out" any inflammatory substances in the tissue).
Beer and red wine are especially high in tyramine. All aged cheeses like
bleu, roquefort, edam, brie and cheddar are high in tyramine, as are smoked
meats and fish. Beware the double whammy of consuming these foods together
with wine or beer.
- Wines are also acidic. Champagne and sparkling wines are the most acid
of all wines and they also have a higher alcohol content.
- Most wines have at least some naturally occurring sulfites, but wineries
may add more. Sulfites are known to cause allergic reactions in many people,
whether or not they have IC. Some IC patients' bladders cannot tolerate
In general, red wines tend to have more than white wines. (Onions, dried
coconut and dried fruits may also have sulfites. Beware of the cumulative
effect of drinking and eating foods containing these).
- Very cheap wines may also have the preservative, potassium sorbate.
Sorbates are used to preserve candied fruits too. Some IC patients say they
are sensitive to sorbates.
- Drinks with whiskey, gin, or vodka may have less tyramine per ounce than
many wines, but more alcohol. The tradeoff may or may not work to your
advantage, depending on your body's pattern of sensitivity. Beware of acid
from fruit or carbonation in mixed drinks. (A pinch of salt can "flatten"
carbonation-- a helpful trick for some people).
Of all the problems with alcoholic beverages, acidity is probably the
easiest to deal with. Try taking an acid-neutralizer like Tums before
drinking. Eating foods containing egg whites or baking soda with your drinks
may help curb the effect also. While many IC patients can't consume any
alcohol at all (except when used in cooked foods), a few find they can drink
limited amounts of certain things. Everyone's different. You could start by
experimenting with these wines that some ICer's have successfully tried:
Muscatel, Semillon, Tokay, sweet white dessert wines, or non-alcoholic beer
(which still contains monoamines, by the way).
- The office party -
If you don't want your co-workers to know you have a medical
problem, you may have to explain or draw attention from your food
avoidance. Here are some explanations other IC patients have given:
- I have food allergies.
- I ate before I came.
- I'm trying an oddball diet and I won't know whether it will make me
lose weight if I "cheat".
- My spouse (or girlfriend/boyfriend) and I agreed I'd be the designated
driver for tonight.
- I'm taking an allergy/cold medication that doesn't mix with alcohol.
Red and White Candy Canes! What could be more in tune with the
holiday spirit than peppermint? This recipe (adapted from Martha Stewart's
Living) is scrumptious fun for kids and adults.
QUICK PEPPERMINT ICE CREAM
makes 1 pint
1 pint Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream
2/3 cup of crushed peppermint candies or candy canes
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
Crush peppermint candies by placing between clean kitchen towels (or
paper towels) and hitting with a meat hammer, or other heavy object. (About 7
or 8 6-inch candy canes will make 2/3 cup crushed). Sprinkle the extract over
the crushed candy. With a large spoon, quickly stir the crushed candy into
the ice cream. Ice cream will begin to soften and turn pink, so work quickly.
need to have it completely blended. Return to freezer for an hour or two to
re-set and let flavors blend. Serve in fancy bowls, placing an oatmeal or
decorated sugar cookie in the ice cream.
The key to IC-safeness with this is to use ice cream you know your
bladder tolerates, and peppermint candies and extract that contain no
artificial sweeteners or stabilizers.
Pie variation: Have a chilled, baked 8-inch pie crust ready. Fill with
peppermint ice cream (you'll need a quart). Return to freezer to harden for 3
or 4 hours. You can top it with decorated cookies, carob chips, or cake
decors. Or just before serving, place a dollop of whipped cream on each slice.
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