What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a natural part of our bodies’ defense systems in order to heal and defend us from harm. Inflammation is classified as either acute or chronic, depending on the severity and how long it lasts. Acute inflammation typically is resolved in a couple weeks; however, chronic inflammation can persist for much longer and affect the body in many ways. Symptoms of chronic inflammation may include fatigue, body aches, depression/anxiety, gastrointestinal distress such as constipation or diarrhea, and weight gain.
Chronic inflammation can lead to the progression of certain illnesses including diabetes and heart disease. People that are obese or under high levels of stress have increased risk of chronic inflammation. There are also a variety of lifestyle factors that can increase inflammation. The following behaviors have been shown to promote inflammation:
- Consuming high amounts of added sugars and high fructose corn syrup
- Consuming high amounts of refined carbohydrates such as white bread or potato chips
- Eating foods that contain trans fats
- Excess alcohol intake
- Consuming high amounts of processed meat
- Having a sedentary lifestyle
It is also important to note that there are certain autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease that cause some individuals’ immune systems to attack healthy cells, resulting in inflammation.
What Should I Eat to Reduce Inflammation?
Some foods have anti-inflammatory properties, meaning they help to reduce inflammation. The following foods are recommended for reducing inflammation:
- Cold water fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, mackerel)
- Flax seeds
- Leafy green vegetables
- Yellow, orange, and red vegetables (such as bell peppers or carrots)
- Citrus fruits
- Black and green tea
- Olives and olive oil
- Whole grains such as oatmeal or whole wheat bread
- Certain spices: ginger, rosemary, turmeric, oregano, cayenne, clove, nutmeg
- Red wine (up to 5oz/day for women and 10oz/day for men)
Other foods have pro-inflammatory properties, meaning they promote inflammation. If we want to reduce inflammation, we need to limit or avoid foods that are pro-inflammatory. The following are foods that have been shown to increase inflammation:
- Fatty red meat
- High fat dairy products
- Partially hydrogenated oils
- Corn, cottonseed, grapeseed peanut, safflower, soy, and sunflower seed oils
- Processed foods with a long shelf life
- Refined grains
- Sugar-sweetened beverages
10 Simple Tips for Reducing Inflammation with Food:
- Cook with EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) as much as possible. Keep in mind that EVOO should only be used at low to medium heats, so use another oil such as peanut, sesame, or soybean oil when cooking at higher temperatures.
- Eat a few meatless meals every week! Use lentils and beans as protein sources instead of meat.
- Munch on dark chocolate and raspberries for a sweet treat after dinner.
- For a crunchy snack at work, grab a handful of walnuts instead of chips.
- Eat the Rainbow! Aim to consume a variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables.
- Ask for grilled salmon on your salad instead of chicken.
- Opt for seltzer or fruit-infused water instead of soda.
- Add flax seeds to your morning smoothie.
- Read your labels! Make sure to look at both Nutrition Facts Labels and Ingredient Lists. Ask your registered dietitian to review label reading for inflammatory ingredients.
- Spice up your dishes using anti-inflammatory ingredients such as turmeric, ginger, or oregano.
Keep in mind that diet is not the only lifestyle factor that can impact inflammation. Regular physical activity, adequate sleep, and good stress management can all help you to achieve an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. Ask your Avance Care registered dietitian if an anti-inflammatory diet is right for you. He or she can help you to create a plan for long-term success.
Bonnie is a registered dietitian at the Avance Care Durham location. In her free time, she enjoys exploring her home of Raleigh, NC and playing with her new puppy, Nola, or kitty, Wolfgang. She enjoys most sports and can often be found cheering on her NC State Wolfpack, Carolina Panthers, and Carolina Hurricanes.