Is your Diet Anti-Inflammatory? Are there really “Anti-Inflammatory” foods? Where can I get these foods?
Inflammation is part of a healthy immune system response, but a low level of constant and excess inflammatory response has been linked to a wide range of serious illnesses, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, asthma, Alzheimer’s, depression, mood disorders and cancer. The inflammatory process creates free radicals, which then act as an irritant that creates cell injury and in turn, cause inflammation.
Chronic inflammation may be due to lack of exercise, stress, genetics and other lifestyle factors such as smoking, promote inflammation in the body, but a poor diet is usually the biggest factor. One way to measure chronic inflammation is by a blood test called C-reactive Protein or CRP. CRP is produced by the liver during periods of inflammation. People with increased levels of CRP have been shown to be more susceptible to many diseases due to this chronic inflammation. There are many ways to decrease inflammation in the body, one of the easiest to control is …… your diet!
1. Watch your protein intake! Too much protein in your diet can cause dehydration, kidney and heart disease; and cause unnecessary stress on your body. The Fleming Heart and Health Institute in Omaha found that people on a high protein diet for a year developed blood vessel inflammation and coronary artery disease. See my section on Protein for more information.
2. Consume foods high in Vitamin C and E. These vitamins contain high amounts of anti-oxidants which suppress inflammation. Foods high in Vitamin C include: oranges, strawberries, broccoli, green/red/yellow bell peppers, kiwis and tomatoes. Foods high in Vitamin E include: canola, sunflower and safflower oil, nuts and seeds, egg yolks and wheat germ.
3. Get your Omega-3 fatty acids! Omega-3’s suppress inflammation that can be unleashed in the body by overconsumption of the “bad” omega-6 fats found in corn, safflower and soybean oils. Include fish such as wild salmon, tuna, herring and mackerel 2-3 times a week and eat walnuts, flaxseed oil, flaxseed meal and eggs or peanut butter fortified with omega-3’s.
4. Drink alcohol in moderation. Alcohol reduces inflammation, which may be one reason moderate drinkers have less heart disease. In a new study at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, non-drinkers showed one-third more inflammation than low to moderate drinkers. Dr. Weil recommends red wine due to the antioxidant content.
5. Prevent weight gain or lose weight. As individuals gain more weight, fat cells enlarge and increase production of C-reactive proteins that promote inflammation. As pounds disappear, inflammation subsides. A University of Vermont study found that obese women who lost an average of 39 pounds dropped their inflammation levels by 32%.
6. Reduce your blood sugar. Consistently high blood sugars encourage inflammation; this can be caused by diabetes, medications or a poor diet. Foods such as high fructose corn syrup, sugars and highly processed cereals, breads and baked goods promote increased blood sugars. Try eating whole grains, fresh produce, less fast food and foods that have a lower glycemic index.
7. Decrease consumption of animal proteins (except fish) and avoid cooking meats at high temperatures. BBQing, broiling and frying meats create damaged proteins called AGE’s (advanced glycosylation end products) that trigger inflammation. To reduce AGE’s, pre-cook meat by microwaving first, then grilling or broiling for a shorter time or try methods such as poaching. Meat, poultry and eggs are all high in arachidonic acid, a compound that contributes to inflammation. Try using soy, beans, nuts or low-fat dairy products as protein sources. When choosing to eat animal proteins, choose fish and non-fat dairy products to lower arachidonic acid consumption.
8. Eat a wide variety of fresh foods and try using organic foods to avoid exposure to multiple inflammatory agents such as fertilizers, preservatives, etc. Increasing your fiber intake to 25-30 grams per day is also beneficial and will help keep your appetite satisfied longer.
9. Flavor foods with antioxidant spices such as fresh ginger, turmeric, curry powder, garlic and cinnamon
10. This last tip is my favorite, I follow it nearly every day! Consume small amounts of dark chocolate with a minimum of 70% cocoa. An easy way to do this, is to find dark chocolate chips used for baking and portion out a small serving. Make sure the label indicates at least 70% cocoa or you will not reap the benefits.