On Your Health

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Benefits of an Anti-inflammatory Diet

Inflammation has been a bit of a health buzzword over the last few years. It’s been linked to diseases and conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, allergies and psoriasis (a buildup of skin cells which form scales and dry, itchy patches).

There are two types of inflammation. Acute inflammation is your body’s reaction to an injury, like a cut or bump on the head. The area around the injury swells, may feel warm and you may notice redness. This is because your body has deployed white blood cells to the affected area – the swelling is a physical protective barrier to safeguard the area while it heals. A similar deployment of protective white blood cells occurs when a virus (like the flu, a cold or COVID-19) enters the body. Acute inflammation is a helpful response, because it protects your body and then, when things have returned to normal, it dissipates, often within a few days. 

Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is not a helpful response. With chronic inflammation, your body keeps making white blood cells. The body thinks it’s being attacked, constantly, so it makes more and more white blood cells which, in the absence of an actual injury or virus to fight, may start attacking your healthy organs and tissues. This can go on indefinitely, and research tells us that chronic inflammation is associated with bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s, cancer, heart disease, arthritis and diabetes. It can be hard to tell whether you have chronic inflammation because you can’t always see it or feel it, unlike acute inflammation. It takes a blood test to know for sure.

Diet and exercise are terrific tools for managing chronic inflammation. While you may not be able to prevent chronic inflammation through diet and exercise alone, you can certainly choose foods that inhibit your body’s inflammatory response. You can also make inflammation worse by eating certain foods.

Anti-inflammatory foods you can find at most grocery stores include:

Walnuts are richer in omega-3 fatty acids than any other nut. One in particular, alpha-linolenic acid, is celebrated for its anti-inflammatory properties. That’s not all: walnuts also help improve metabolism and heart function and aid in lowering bad cholesterol.

Oatmeal. There are two dozen plant compounds with antioxidant properties within the humble oat. One antioxidant group in particular, avenanthramides, reduce inflammation and aid in staving off coronary heart disease. Oats are one if the only foods containing avenanthramides.

Berries are tiny, yummy little superfoods. They contain antioxidant compounds, called anthocyanins, which have anti-inflammatory powers. Blueberries are especially good. 

Sprouted grains are a terrific anti-inflammatory food. Sprouting the grains gives them a larger volume of readily available antioxidants like polyphenols which inhibit the inflammatory process.

Ginger. Add fresh grated ginger to your oats, use it in salad dressings or brew up some ginger tea. Actually, do all three, because ginger is packed with antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. It’s so effective, it can ease severe inflammation associated with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.

Turmeric. Curcumin is a potent antioxidant and turmeric brings the curcumin. It’s a natural anti-inflammatory. You can add turmeric to a delicious variety of foods like scrambled eggs, roasted vegetables, rice, greens smoothies, tuna salad, hummus or soups.

Garlic, aside from being delicious and warding off vampires, also contains an anti-inflammatory compound called diallyl disulfide. Garlic is a versatile seasoning, and some folks swear by applying garlic oil topically to sore or inflamed muscles and joints.  

Olives. You’ve probably heard that certain foods (like olives) contain ‘good fat.’ What’s good about it? It’s mostly made of oleic acid, a monosaturated fatty acid, which helps to decrease inflammation. Bonus: oleic acid also helps lower the risk of heart disease.

Tofu. Foods made from soy like tofu and tempeh are rich in plant compounds called isoflavones, known for their anti-inflammatory abilities. According to a study from Oklahoma State University, soy protein products like tofu and tempeh have also been found to lessen joint pain.

Whole grains. These are chock full of fiber (great for your microbiome) and a nice dose of zinc, selenium and other minerals which support your immune system.

Onions. It’s all about the flavonoids. Onions contain one called quercetin, which is effective at reducing inflammation related to metabolic syndrome.  

Olive oil. When you buy olive oil, opt for minimally processed extra virgin olive oil – it’s got more disease fighting antioxidants (which may help protect against cancers) and lots of polyphenols, which help reduce inflammation.

Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, collards and chard contain antioxidants, polyphenols and phytonutrients, all of which are important for managing inflammation. Their high levels of beta carotene, vitamin C and folate can also help reduce inflammation. 

Sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin and orange squash like butternut. These foods contain lots of beta-carotene, which fights inflammation. 

Mushrooms, especially shiitakes, are loaded with inti-inflammatory components. From the National Institutes of Health: polysaccharides, phenolic and indolic compounds, mycosteroids, fatty acids, carotenoids, vitamins and biometals. Metabolites from mushrooms of the Basidiomycota taxon possess antioxidant, anticancer and, most significantly, anti-inflammatory properties.  

Salmon, sardines, trout, tuna. The best type of fish for reducing inflammation is oily fish. They’re a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory superpowers. Set a goal of eating three servings of fatty fish each week.

Here are some dos and don’ts:

Don’t eat highly processed foods. Things that come pre-packaged are probably worth steering clear of, like processed meats, microwaveable meals, sweetened cereals, hotdogs, white bread, white pasta. These foods are low in nutrients and contain lots of salt, saturated fat and added sugars. 

Do reduce your overall fat intake. Too much fat in the diet can contribute to weight gain, which means extra body fat. Excess body fat leads to insulin resistance which results in, you guessed it, inflammation.

Do cut way back on your sugar intake. Eating too much sugar can lead to low-grade, chronic inflammation. It also makes our gut more permeable, which allows inflammatory particles to enter our bloodstream more readily.

Don’t drink too much alcohol. It causes intestinal inflammation and contains sugars, which also trigger inflammation.

Do get plenty of good sleep. Lack of sleep is associated with markers for inflammation, AKA increases in inflammatory molecules. Another way insufficient sleep may contribute to inflammation this: during sleep, blood vessels relax and blood pressure drops. When we don’t sleep enough, blood pressure doesn’t decline the way it should. This may cause cells in the walls of your blood vessels to activate inflammation.  


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