If you want to look and feel your best as you age, start with your diet, and learn the foods to eat (and avoid) for inflammation! The choices you make at mealtime not only affect your energy, weight, and mood but also contribute to certain painful ailments and medical conditions caused by inflammation. Inflammation is part of our body’s immune response. We need it to fight infection and heal injuries, but when it becomes chronic, research suggests it can damage our arteries, tissues, joints, and organs. This can lead to many of the health issues that plague women over 50, such as heart disease, Type II diabetes, certain cancers, obesity, dementia, Alzheimer’s, depression, autoimmune conditions, arthritis, and age-related eye diseases. Keep reading to learn the best (and worst) foods for inflammation.
Dietary choices affect the level of inflammation in our bodies. According to Scott Zashin, MD, clinical professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, “Some foods cause overactivity in the immune system, which can lead to joint pain, fatigue, and damage to the blood vessels,” while other foods calm immune activity and protect us from such ailments. Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, goes even further suggesting that consuming a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods may help reduce your risk of illness. On the other hand, over-consuming pro-inflammatory foods can accelerate the inflammatory disease process.
To remain disease and pain-free, implement the following dietary changes. Doing so will reduce your level of inflammation and likely improve your concentration, stabilize your mood, increase your energy, and shrink your waistline!
Refined grains and added sugar. Both can spike your blood sugar, which promotes inflammation. Remove white rice, white potatoes, and white/wheat bread, refined crackers, pasta, pastries, pretzels, and chips made with white, wheat, or other non-“whole” grain flours (Gluten-Free varieties too), and foods high in sugar.
Trans Fat: These artery-clogging lipids cause inflammation in our arteries. To identify these dangerous fats, look for the words “vegetable shortening” or “partially-hydrogenated oil” in the ingredients list of packaged items. They’re often present in stick margarine, commercially baked goods, and fried foods at restaurants.
Saturated Fat: While saturated fat may not be the villain it once was, much research indicates it can increase inflammation and your risk for heart disease. Therefore, limit your consumption of fatty cuts of red meat (beef, pork, and lamb), bacon, sausage, and other processed meats, full-fat dairy including butter, yogurt, cheese, whole milk, and ice cream, and even coconut and palm oils. These tropical oils are high in a particular type of saturated fat that may provide some health benefits but the research on them is too preliminary to recommend excessive consumption.
High fibrous foods include legumes, dark green vegetables, whole intact grains, nuts, seeds, and some fruits such as pears, apples, and strawberries. To better understand fiber’s role in weight loss and overall health, read my previous column.
These polyunsaturated fats found in fish like salmon, rainbow trout, tuna, herring, and sardines suppress inflammation in our bodies. Consume these fish healthfully prepared — baked, broiled, or grilled — at least 2-3 times a week. Don’t like fish? Try a fish oil supplement instead.
Research shows dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, broccoli, and collards, as well as tomatoes*. *Tomatoes, along with eggplant, potatoes, and peppers, may trigger inflammation in some individuals with arthritis. If so, avoid them.
Almonds and walnuts, in particular, but all nuts contain a healthy dose of vitamin E and other antioxidants that fight inflammation and repair damage done by an overactive immune system. Enjoy a handful 3-4 times a week to reap their benefit.
This Mediterranean diet staple contains oleocanthal, a compound shown to have a similar effect in the body as NSAID painkillers and is rarely found in foods for inflammation.
Berries, including strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, are an especially rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory chemicals. Strawberries, apples, tart cherries, blueberries, and oranges contain the highest level of anti-inflammatory compounds. Eat them on their own, or use them to top salads, oatmeal, and frozen yogurt.
Turmeric, parsley, oregano, cinnamon, rosemary, and ginger contain the highest amounts of compounds that may neutralize pro-inflammatory free radicals in our body.
Start incorporating one of these today by making a Turmeric Latte!
* To make a turmeric paste, combine two parts turmeric powder with one part boiling water. Mix. Store in the refrigerator for up to five days.
1. Warm milk in a saucepan.
2. Stir in turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon.
3. Add coconut oil; heat until melted.
4. Use a wire whisk or immersion blender to whip until frothy.
5. Add honey to taste.
6. Pour into a mug and sprinkle with black pepper.
Takeaway: Aim for a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole intact grains, nuts, seeds, healthy vegetable oils, and fish, principles of the much-touted anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet.
In addition to making these dietary changes, avoid tobacco, stay active, and maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight is a risk factor for inflammation since fat cells are metabolically active and produce inflammatory proteins.
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For help with your diet, contact Jean Varney at [email protected]. All consultations are conducted over the phone.
This article is for informational purposes only, is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, and is not a substitute for medical advice.