Inflammation and Diet: Inflammatory and Anti-Inflammatory Foods by Brooke Douglas, R.D
Inflammation is the normal and natural response to body injury; however, unnecessary and chronic inflammation can wreak extreme havoc on the body and promote illness. Many times chronic inflammation goes unnoticed for years but eventually may lead to serious illness including heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, sleep and mood disorders, arthritis and Alzheimer’s. Due to the increase in chronic disease, the anti-inflammatory diet has gained popularity and media attention. In general, the anti-inflammatory diet is similar to the Mediterranean style of eating and is designed to reduce risk of age-related disease and improve overall health.
Dietary Factors Contributing to Inflammation One of the largest players in the fight against chronic inflammation is excess body weight. The inflammatory state is a vicious cycle starting with infection or illness that produces inflammation, then insulin resistance followed by weight gain and more inflammation. When an individual starts to gain weight, it can become difficult to get the body out of this constant inflammatory pathway. Typically drastic nutrition and exercise changes are needed. The modern diet contributes to inflammation through a variety of body mechanisms that are not completely understood. Eating too many fried foods, processed foods, omega-6 fats, saturated fat, refined sugar and trans fats have all been linked to increased pro-inflammatory chemicals and hormones that cause cell damage.
Foods to Eat The anti-inflammatory diet promotes well-balanced eating, but for true success it must be a lifestyle change and not a temporary fix. Due to the anti-inflammatory effects, omega-3 fatty acids such as fresh oily fish, walnuts, ground flaxseed and fortified eggs are the staples. The primary source of fat is extra virgin olive oil. Only lean meats (turkey/chicken breast meat and seafood) and vegetable proteins (soybeans, tofu, and soy milk) are allowed. Because of their high levels of antioxidants, a colorful variety of fresh fruits and vegetables are strongly encouraged along with a variety of nuts, 100% whole wheat grains, beans and legumes. Herbs and spices such as garlic, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, red pepper, cayenne, basil, oregano, paprika and chili peppers play a key role in flavoring foods. As far as beverages, 2-4 servings of green, white and/or oolong tea are recommended and red wine is allowed in moderate amounts (1 glass daily).
Foods to Avoid The first step in following the anti-inflammatory diet is to eliminate refined, white sugar found in most breads, white potatoes, crackers, chips and other snack foods and sugary beverages. All fast food should be avoided. Foods which are high in ‘pro-inflammatory’ fats include some margarines, all fatty meats, all processed meats, all fried foods, regular cheese, vegetable shortening and products containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. In order to further avoid the damaging ‘pro-inflammatory’ fats, the anti-inflammatory diet plan suggests avoiding all dairy products, unless they are the skim/fat-free/non-fat variety. Be sure to obtain calcium from other sources or supplements, if dairy products are avoided. Excess sugar and derivatives are not recommended. But artificial sweeteners are allowed.
Does it Work? Many aspects of the diet have been associated with better health. Research has shown cultures who eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fatty fish and healthy oils have lower rates of chronic disease. Keep in mind that the overall pattern of eating, maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active are the three most important factors in reducing inflammation. The inclusion or elimination of certain foods and nutrients are important but improvement will be blunted if you do not look at the big picture!
On a more serious note: Inflammation is considered the ‘silent’ killer. The problem occurs when chronic inflammation occurs inside our body and we can’t see it or feel it. This chronic inflammation does not allow for natural repair and healing caused by the damaging ‘pro-inflammatory’ (saturated and trans) fats. Being overweight or obese increases inflammation. Inflammation is a cause of many diseases, such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Diverticulosis, Crohn’s disease, some kidney diseases, chronic skin problems, and many forms of cardiovascular disease.
The most popular lab test used to confirm inflammation is the C-reactive protein test (CRP), although, the CRP test can’t diagnose where in the body, or why the inflammation is occurring.
The first step is to maintain a normal body weight and get enough sleep. Skimping on sleep can increase the level of stress hormones and CRP in our blood. Frequent exercise and smoking cessation also help, as does practicing stress reduction techniques, such as prayer or mediation.
As part of a healthy diet, eat the following each week (not necessarily daily) to assist in lowering chronic inflammation:
- Several servings of: Green leafy vegetables, Flaxseed, Canola oil
- Therapeutic dose of Omega-3 fatty acids: >3,000 mg of EPA and DHA combined.
- Foods high in selenium and zinc may help as well.
- Selenium is found in: grains, onions, meat and milk.
- Zinc is found in: oysters, shellfish, herring, liver legumes, milk (non-fat), wheat bran.
- Vitamins C, E, and A in foods are also are useful antioxidants in the fight against inflammation.
- Vitamin C is found in: yellow peppers, citrus fruits and juices, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, cantaloupe, tomatoes
- Vitamin E is found in plant products, such as vegetables, fruits, grains, and oils.
- Vitamin A is found in dark green leafy and yellow-orange fruits and vegetables. Especially rich sources include: carrots, greens, spinach, orange juice, sweet potatoes and cantaloupe.
- 2-3 servings of fatty fish, such as: Tuna, Salmon, Mackerel, Trout, Sardines
- Fiber: fruit, vegetables, nuts (especially almonds/pecans), dried beans. High fiber helps normalize the inflammatory response that occurs following a rapid increase/decrease in blood sugar levels.
- Antioxidants: eat 9 – 12 servings of fruit/veggies daily. Eat dark chocolate (in moderation), fresh herbs, and green tea.
If you would like to schedule a nutrition consult, contact Brooke at http://www.nutritionauthority.com or call 253-227-8284. Let a ‘Registered Dietitian’ help you clear up any nutrition confusion you may have. Brooke can personalize a ‘nutrition lifestyle plan’ to meet your specific needs. Most insurance is accepted.