Fight Inflammation with Food
Many major diseases that plague us—including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer’s—have been linked to chronic inflammation.
Here are some foods that often lead to inflammation:
It may be hard to resist desserts, pastries, chocolate bars, sodas, even fruit juices. However, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition warns that processed sugars trigger the release of inflammatory messengers called cytokines. Sugar goes by many names so look out for any word ending in “ose,” e.g. fructose or sucrose on ingredient labels.
Harvard School of Public Health researchers helped sound the alarm about trans fat in the early 1990s. Known to trigger systemic inflammation, trans fat can be found in fast foods and other fried products, processed snack foods, frozen breakfast products, cookies, donuts, crackers and most stick margarines. Avoid foods with partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredient labels.
Omega 6 Fatty Acids
A healthy diet contains a ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Most Americans eat too much Omega-6 and not enough Omega-3. Omega-3 reduces inflammation, and omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation. These fatty acids are found in oils such corn, safflower, sunflower, grapeseed, soy, peanut, and vegetable; mayonnaise; and many salad dressings.
White flour products (breads, rolls, crackers) white rice, white potatoes (instant mashed potatoes, or french fries) and many cereals are refined carbohydrates. According to Scientific American, processed carbohydrates may trump fats as the main driver of escalating rates of obesity and other chronic conditions. These high-glycemic index foods stimulate inflammation.
Even without a diagnosis of celiac disease, a number of people report feeling better after eliminating gluten from their diet. Science is still largely inconclusive on what’s been called “gluten intolerance,” but many health professionals think sensitivity that leads to bloating or digestion changes could be an inflammatory response to gluten.
The big takeaway here? If breads, pasta, and other wheat-based foods are causing you to feel not-so-hot, but your doctor swears you don’t have celiac disease, he or she may be right—but avoiding gluten could still make you feel better.
Trying to go sugar-free? Aspartame is a non-nutritive, intense artificial sweetener found in more than 4,000 products worldwide. It is a neurotoxin, which means it affects the brain. If you are sensitive to this chemical, your immune system will react to the “foreign substance” by attacking the chemical, which in return, will trigger an inflammatory response.
Good news! You can fight inflammation with foods like tomatoes, olive oil, nuts like almonds and walnuts, fatty fish* like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines and fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges. Other must haves:
- Dark, leafy greens: Spinach, kale, and romaine, etc. are all terrific inflammation fighters because they’re rich in antioxidants and other natural anti-inflammatory agents.
- Turmeric: This pungent spice often found in curry has been shown to have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Plus, it’s delicious!
- Flaxseed: Flax contains omega-3 fats, which are anti-inflammatory. Try sprinkling a little freshly ground flax on your salad.
- Broccoli, cabbage, and other cruciferous veggies: These foods are high in anti-oxidants, and they have a natural detoxifying effect. Therefore, you can eat them and cleanse your body of any harmful chemicals that are contributing to inflammation.
- Chia seeds: Chia is high in inflammation fighting omega-3 fatty acids.
- Avocados: These luscious fruits are high in carotenoids, which fight inflammation.
If you’re looking for an eating plan that closely follows the creeds of anti-inflammatory eating, consider the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, healthy oils, fish, and of course some red wine. A healthy diet is beneficial not only for reducing the risk of chronic diseases, but also for improving mood and overall quality of life.
Tip: Eat locally. By following the seasons, you’ll broaden the range of nutrients you take in over the year. Check out: http://www.localharvest.org/csa
*Fish loaded with Omega-3s (THINK SALMON!): Aim to eat a 4-oz. serving of fish (about the size of a checkbook) a couple times a week.