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Battling inflammation through diet might offer relief, prevention
Fad diets come and go, and keeping up with the latest craze can be downright maddening. An anti-inflammatory diet is not a restrictive diet; rather, it’s a simple formula for eating to maintain optimum overall health. The side effects might include relief from, or the prevention of, a variety of diseases and conditions from arthritis and Alzheimer’s to cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.
Inflammation can be caused by the type of foods we eat in addition to natural aging, genetics and environmental pollutants. Foods that can inflame the body include saturated fats, trans-fatty acids and simple and refined carbohydrates. Some of the most common villains include red meats, dairy, margarine, processed foods and sugar.
“Inflammation is regulated by a group of hormones known as prostaglandins, which trigger a series of responses in the body,” says Dr. Richard Collins, a cardiologist at South Denver Cardiology Associates. “The liver, as part of the inflammatory response, produces C-reactive protein (CRP). Your doctor can measure the amount of CRP circulating in your bloodstream as a measure of how much inflammation your body may be suffering from.”
Doctors can treat inflammation with anti-inflammatory drugs and substances such as Aspirin, statins and corticosteroids. While these can help, anyone setting out to reduce or prevent inflammatory conditions should consider incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into their diet.
The long list of “inflammation soothers” Collins recommends includes foods high in healthy mono-unsaturated and omega-3 fats (such as extra-virgin olive oil, canola oil, fatty fish, nuts and seeds, particularly omega-3 rich walnuts and flaxseed), along with antioxidant-rich, colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes. A good guideline: Eat mostly natural, whole foods, including colorful produce, herbs, spices and healthy fats.
Deborrah Gabriel, lead dietitian at The Medical Center of Aurora, recommends that people take small steps toward an anti-inflammatory approach to eating. “Have a meatless day once per week and try recipes with alternate protein sources like fish, tofu or beans,” she says. “It’s a good lifestyle for anyone to adopt, and it can benefit everyone when used as a preventive measure.” More tips include:
Salicylic acid is derived from willow tree bark and has been used historically to treat pain and inflammation. Its synthetic form is aspirin. Basil, rosemary, sage, black pepper, chili peppers, cinnamon, nutmeg, berries, grapes, broccoli and spinach are good natural sources of anti-inflammatory salicylic acid.
Red wine contains polyphenols and flavonoids with antioxidant properties and has been shown to reduce inflammation when consumed in moderation. “Red wine has long been associated with a lowered risk of heart attack and stroke ̶ or the so called ‘French paradox,’” Collins says. He recommends no more than one glass a day for women or two glasses per day for men.
Red meat is high in pro-inflammatory arachidonic acid, while soybeans, tofu and other whole soy products are excellent alternative sources of protein that fight inflammation in the body.
A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who ate more whole grains lowered their levels of CRP. Good sources include brown, basmati and wild rice, quinoa and steel-cut oats.
Carrying around excess weight puts stress on the body and can result in an inflammatory state. “Fat tissue secretes inflammatory molecules that can cause low-level inflammation throughout the body,” Collins says. “Weight management may be the most important dietary strategy of all when it comes to mediating inflammation.” The whole-foods foundation of an anti-inflammatory diet naturally supports healthy weight maintenance.
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