An Anti-Inflammatory Diet for Better Health
If you are overweight or obese, have a chronic disease and/or want to prevent one from occurring, you may benefit from an anti-inflammatory diet. We know being overweight or obese has been shown to cause increased inflammation in the body and disease, so starting with a healthy diet to reduce body weight can make a difference in your life.
Why should you choose a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet?
The immune system is truly amazing, protecting the body from foreign invaders like microbes, viruses, plant pollens and other chemicals. When the immune system spots an intruder, it triggers immune cells and an inflammatory response to attack these invaders and protect your health. However, if that inflammation persists chronically, even when not threatened, many major diseases can occur. The diseases associated with increased inflammation are many and include the following and more: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, depression, Alzheimer’s , rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, asthma, Crohn’s disease, colitis, IBS, lupus, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and even metabolic syndrome. If you already suffer from one of these, you may be able to improve your health by eating an anti-inflammatory diet→ one rich in antioxidants and other substances while being low in foods that can promote inflammation.
What are antioxidants and why should I care?
The body produces its own antioxidants, but we can also ingest antioxidants by making good food choices. Antioxidants remove free radicals from the body. These free radicals are natural by-products of some functions of the body, including metabolism, but many other external factors increase free radicals in the body such as stress, smoking, sun exposure, pollution, etc. Free radicals can cause cell damage; this increases the risk of inflammation and disease.
Antioxidant rich foods and foods containing polyphenols can help decrease unhealthy inflammation production. In addition, limiting inflammatory promoting foods can improve the way you feel on a day-to-day basis and help you avoid many debilitating, life-changing diseases.
This all comes down to the basics in a healthy diet.
Choose foods that naturally fuel the body with high amounts of nutrients and antioxidants and minimize other pro-inflammatory foods. Finding these foods means shopping predominantly from the produce, fresh food and meat aisles, and sparingly elsewhere.
Some foods that fight inflammation (a quick chart):
|Fruit||High Fiber Foods||Certain Fatty Fish like Salmon|
|Tomatoes & Peppers||Broccoli Family & Leafy Greens||Avocados & Avocado Oil|
|Turmeric||Extra Virgin Olive Oil||Dark Chocolate|
Foods that cause inflammation (another quick chart):
|Highly Processed Foods||Red Meat||Fried Foods|
|Trans Fats||Sugary Snacks||Sugar-sweetened Beverages|
|Refined Grains & Carbohydrate Foods||Excess Alcohol|
If you want to know what is in the foods above that either help fight or cause inflammation, or examples of these foods to include or avoid in your diet, continue reading below.
Foods to include in your diet that fight inflammation:
- Fruits: Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, oranges, and cherries are some of the great fruits rich in antioxidants.
- High Fiber Foods: think fruits, vegetables, oats, nuts, seeds, etc. These foods help improve gut health. Raw or minimally cooked are the best way to eat your vegetables and fruits.
- Certain Fatty Fish—Salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies are among some of the fish that contain high levels of Omega-3 Fatty Acids. These fatty acids help reduce inflammatory responses.
- Tomatoes and Peppers: These highly nutritious foods contain high amounts of Vitamin C and other antioxidants that have exceptional anti-inflammatory properties and may protect against cancer. As a side note, some may actually get increased inflammation with this category of food: the nightshade family-- tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, etc.
- Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussel Sprouts, Kale, Spinach, Collard Greens and other cruciferous and leafy green vegetables : These contain antioxidants that have very powerful anti-inflammatory effects providing protection from many diseases.
- Avocados and Avocado oil: many compounds within avocados protect against inflammation and may reduce your risk of cancer.
- Green Tea: Benefits of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. In addition, it may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, heart disease, cancer, obesity, and other conditions.
- Mushrooms: these very low calorie fungi contain high amounts of selenium, copper, and all of the B vitamins. In addition, antioxidants and phenols within them provide anti-inflammatory protection. However, eating them raw or only lightly cooked is recommended to maintain these compounds.
- Grapes: these contain compounds that reduce inflammation and may be beneficial for heart disease reduction. In addition, a specific compound in grapes was shown to increase a hormone called adiponectin. Low levels of this hormone are associated with weight gain and increased cancer risks.
- Turmeric: Due to a very powerful anti-inflammatory nutrient called curcumin, it reduces inflammation related to arthritis, diabetes, and other diseases. Taking supplemental curcumin (with piperine from black pepper (this helps increase absorption) can significantly decrease the inflammatory marker CRP in those with metabolic syndrome.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Rich in monounsaturated fats, this is linked to reduced risk of heart disease, brain cancer, and other serious health conditions. It may help reduce inflammation due to antioxidants present within it.
- Dark chocolate (70% or higher) and cocoa: Containing high levels of antioxidants to reduce inflammation, these may reduce disease and improve healthy aging. Flavanols are responsible for the anti-inflammatory effects.
- Nuts: like almonds and walnuts. These are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and reduced markers of inflammation.
- Coffee: Coffee contains polyphenols and other anti-inflammatory compounds that may protect against inflammation. Up to 4 cups a day has been shown beneficial.
Now, this is where it gets harder for some, because these next foods may have become a staple in your diet. But, remember the true role of food: fuel and nutrients for your body to function optimally. Let’s put this into perspective. You are a new mom with a 6 month old baby. Will you give your baby candy and potato chips to grow healthy and strong or will you feed them nutritious, healthy foods? I hope your answer is the latter. You deserve the same consideration. So, on to the list.
Foods that cause or promote inflammation to eliminate or strictly limit from your diet:
- Highly processed foods and red meats are associated with higher levels of inflammatory markers. Examples include fast food; convenience meals; chips and other fried snacks; crackers; smoked meats like bacon, hot dogs, and sausage; processed meats like deli meat; and red meats like burgers and steaks.
- Fried foods and other foods containing partially hydrogenated oils: these contain trans fats, a type of unsaturated fatty acid linked to increased levels of inflammation. There are too many to fully list, but I’m sure you can think of these foods on your own but here are a few: French fries, egg rolls, mozzarella sticks, donuts, shortening, margarine, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.
- Sugary snacks, sugar-sweetened beverages and refined grains/carbohydrate foods are all shown to promote inflammation. Some examples are white breads, breakfast cereal, pasta, white rice, crackers, flour tortillas, baked goods, candy, soda, energy/sports drinks, and sweet tea just to name a few.
- And let us not forget excess alcohol. What? Oh my! But yes, of course, alcohol is damaging and often contains high levels of sugar. Research suggests alcohol in and of itself causes inflammation in the intestines and impairs inflammation regulation. Alcohol can directly impair organ function (everyone thinks liver, which is one of them, but remember the brain--yes this one, too and others.) Inflammation worsens alcohol-related organ damage.
So now what?
Start your new healthy lifestyle to reduce risks of chronic disease. Make healthier food choices and choices that help decrease chronic inflammation that may lead to long-term disease. Are the foods on the no-no list forbidden? No, but these should only be a very small part of the diet and not a daily occurrence.
A normal body weight is just as important for your health. Why? Well, this is for many reasons, but we do know being overweight or obese has been shown to cause increased inflammation and disease in the body.
If you need help to attain your weight loss goals, please call for an appointment.
Shari J. Twigg, MD