by Monica Reinagel, M.S.,L.D./N.
What is Chronic Inflammation?
Meredith asked me to do an episode on foods to fight chronic inflammation. Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “I don’t have arthritis so, unless I sprain my ankle, why would I need foods that fight inflammation?”
Actually, chronic, low-level inflammation affects more people than you might think. Although you may not feel it, this type of inflammation can increase your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and just about everything else that tends to go wrong with your body as you get older. So, don’t touch that dial: almost everyone can benefit from eating foods that fight inflammation.
So, why is it that inflammation is such a common problem these days? Well, there are several things that contribute to chronic inflammation. Being overweight, being sedentary, smoking, being stressed, not getting enough sleep…any of this sounding familiar? All of these things can contribute to low-level inflammation which speeds up the aging process and increases your risk of many diseases.
But what you eat is also a huge factor, and can either make chronic inflammation worse or help fight it. The relationship between diet and inflammation is fairly complex. I mean, you could write a whole book about it. Come to think of it, I did write a whole book on it. It’s called The Inflammation Free Diet Plan and if you really want to delve into this topic, I suggest you look it up at your library or bookstore.
But, this show is about Quick and Dirty Tips, so in the next few minutes, I’m going to give you the executive summary on anti-inflammatory diets.
Foods That Make Inflammation Worse
Let me start by pointing out some dietary habits that can make inflammation worse. Foods that contain trans fats, such as fried foods and those made with hydrogenated vegetable oils, are a big problem, as are foods high in sugar. I’m talking about French fries, doughnuts, cookies, cakes, potato chips and all those other things you already know you shouldn’t be eating too often. Now you can add “reducing or avoiding chronic inflammation” to your list of reasons to limit your intake.
Saturated fats also tend to promote inflammation. One way to trim your saturated fat intake is to choose lean cuts of meat and lower-fat dairy products whenever possible.
Finally, as I mentioned earlier, being overweight is a big factor because fat cells produce extra inflammatory chemicals in your body. So, you also want to avoid eating too many calories, even from “healthy” foods.
Foods That Fight Inflammation
Now, for the fun part: foods to eat more of!
Foods high in antioxidants are powerful inflammation fighters. Fruits and vegetables are the best source of dietary antioxidants. As a rule of thumb, the more brilliantly colored the produce, the higher the antioxidant content. Berries, melons, citrus fruits, peppers, carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes, and all the leafy greens are great choices. Go for as much variety as you can to maximize your antioxidant repertoire.
Eating more fruits and vegetables will also up your fiber intake, which works out perfectly because people who eat more fiber also tend to have less inflammation in their bodies. Beans, legumes, bran, and whole grains are other good fiber sources. That reminds me of an email I got this week from Jackson. He says there’s an old saying in the Philippines, where he lives, that eating legumes makes arthritis worse and wonders whether there’s any truth to this. Jackson, I’ve never seen anything to support this. If anything, arthritis seems to be less common in people who eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
I talked earlier about cutting back on fried foods and saturated fats. Instead, eat foods that contain healthy monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, both of which reduce inflammation in your body. You’ll find these healthy fats in olives, olive oil, avocados, almonds, walnuts, and oily fish, especially salmon, herring, mackerel, and anchovies.
To answer a question that Andrew recently sent me, taking fish oil in capsule form is an excellent way to get more omega-3 fats into your diet if you don’t care for fish.
Heat Things Up with Anti-Inflammatory Spices
And finally, there are a few spices that are really helpful in beating inflammation. In fact, their action in the body is very similar to anti-inflammatory drugs, except that they are much easier on the stomach.
Inflammation-fighting spices include garlic, ginger, hot chilis, and turmeric, which is the main ingredient in curry powder. You can even take these spices in capsule form, but I think it’s a lot more fun to find recipes that use them. Indian curries, Asian stir fries, and Latin-American dishes with chili peppers are all delicious ways to beat inflammation.
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In The Inflammation Free Diet Plan, I included a lot of anti-inflammatory recipes. I’ll also post some links to some additional recipes and more information on diet and inflammation in the show notes.
This is Monica Reinagel, the Nutrition Diva, reminding you that these tips are not intended as medical advice. Please work with your health professional to determine what’s right for you.
If you have a suggestion for a future show topic or would like to find out about having me speak at your conference or event, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave me a voice mail at 206-203-1438. Please include the topic of your question in the subject line of your email.
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Have a great day and eat something good for me!
More information on inflammation and your health
Anti-inflammatory recipes from The Inflammation Free Diet Plan
IF Tracker (iPhone app)