With the new year upon us, many people are looking to exclude unhealthful foods. But this year, why not try a healthy twist – and focus on more foods you CAN include?
One area where you can make small inroads into health and wellness is through the inclusion of more anti-inflammatory foods.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a part of the body’s natural immune response to heal itself from an injury. However chronic inflammation in the body, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can cause pain, fatigue and damage to blood vessels. According to the American Heart Association, people with heart disease often have markers for inflammation.
What Foods are Pro-Inflammatory?
Many foods found in the typical American diet, such as foods high in sugar, saturated and trans fat can promote inflammation in the body. High fat animal foods and packaged and processed foods with lots of added sugars may convey an inflammatory effect.
So how do we protect ourselves against chronic inflammation? By eating a diet rich in antioxidants and healthy fats, we can provide anti-inflammatory properties and protect our bodies from the harmful effects of inflammation.
Top Seven Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Incorporating foods known to have anti-inflammatory properties into your regular diet plan can be both easy and delicious! Here are seven foods to try today:
- Fatty fish: Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines, are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body. Aim to eat baked or broiled fish twice a week to get the maximum anti-inflammatory benefits. Don’t eat fish? Consider taking a daily fish oil supplement for the same benefits.
- Whole grains: Consuming mostly whole grains, such as whole-wheat flour, bulgur, oatmeal, whole cornmeal, and brown rice is a great way to reduce inflammation because it is packed with fiber. Try eating a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast and switching to whole wheat bread versus refined white bread. Be sure to check that whole grain is the first ingredient in the product.
- Dark leafy greens: Studies have shown that consuming foods rich in Vitamin E, which is found in dark leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, broccoli, and collard greens protect the body from pro-inflammatory molecules. Add dark leafy greens to soups and stews or make a green smoothie for easy ways to sneak greens into your diet.
- Nuts: heart healthy nuts, such as almonds and walnuts are packed with antioxidants shown to protect against heart disease and inflammation. Take a handful of nuts to work or school as a heart healthy mid afternoon snack.
- Red tomatoes: lycopene, an antioxidant compound that gives tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables their
bright red color, has been shown to reduce inflammation in the lungs and throughout the body. Also, cooked tomatoes contain even higher amounts of lycopene than raw. Pour cooked tomato sauce over pasta for a quick dinner packed with antioxidants!
- Olive oil: widely known as a staple in the Mediterranean diet, extra-virgin olive oil, has been associated with a decreased risk of heart disease and anti-inflammatory properties. Mix with vinegar to make a quick vinaigrette or use for sauteéing vegetables on low heat.
- Berries: raspberries, blueberries and strawberries among other berries have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. Add fresh berries to yogurt or cereal for a quick breakfast or buy frozen and use to make a berry smoothie.
The bottom line:
There is limited research on specific foods and their anti-inflammatory effects, so be aware of “super foods” marketed as one-food wonders. Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and heart healthy fats is the best way to protect the body against the effects of chronic inflammation and promote overall health. Lifestyle factors including regular exercise and adequate sleep will also protect against chronic inflammation along with a healthy diet.
Special thanks to Dietetic Intern Jenny Legrand for her contributions to this post.