Inflammation is an essential part of the body’s healing system. Without it, injuries would fester and simple infections could be deadly.
Too much of a good thing, though, can be dangerous. Chronic low-grade inflammation is intimately involved in all stages of atherosclerosis, the process that leads to cholesterol-clogged arteries. This means that inflammation sets the stage for heart attacks, most strokes, peripheral artery disease and even vascular dementia, a common cause of memory loss, according to the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide. Chronic inflammation almost always lurks beneath the surface of diabetes and excess weight. Additionally, inflammation can be at the root of other diseases, like arthritis, gout, diverticulitis, Crohn’s disease, bronchitis, shingles and even psoriasis.
What is inflammation? It is the body’s defense against bacteria, viruses, and other foreign invaders. Inside the body, inflammation helps remove debris and repair damaged tissue. What can you do to minimize excess inflammation? In addition to nutritional efforts, you can avoid cigarette smoke (including secondhand smoke), minimize your exposure to environmental pollutants, exercise, watch your weight (where have we heard this advice before?) and take care of your teeth. But what you eat may fan the internal inflammatory fires. Here are some suggestions for simple dietary choices you can make:
1) Stick with monounsaturated oils, like olive oil, which has potential anti-inflammatory properties. Increase your consumption of fish, especially those high in omega-3 fats, like salmon (wild is better than farmed, but any is better than none), mackerel, sardines and albacore tuna.
2) Stay away from refined foods. Yet another reason (to add to the many that we all know) is that the spike of blood sugar that accompanies a meal or snack of highly refined carbohydrates increases levels of inflammatory messengers called cytokines. Eating whole grains smooth out the after-meal rise in blood sugar and insulin, and dampens cytokine production.
3) Go crazy for nuts. Walnuts, almonds, peanuts and even other nuts and seeds add favorable fatty acids and are a tasty way to ease inflammation.
4) Chocolate lovers rejoice! In laboratory studies, cocoa and dark chocolate slow the production of signaling molecules involved in inflammation. Of course, you need to be mindful of the sugar and fat content of your chocolate choices…stick with extra dark chocolate, as it has less of both.
5) One more reason to enjoy a small drink of wine daily…it seems to lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a powerful signal of inflammation. Too much alcohol has the opposite effect on CRP, though. A single glass serving is considered 4 ounces of wine.
6) Eat plenty of dark leafy greens and bright red and orange fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C and other antioxidants, such as beta-carotene help dampen inflammation. So do cruciferous vegetables (the sulfur helps the body to make its own high-powered antioxidants.
7) A study in the April 2006 Journal of Nutrition showed that eating cherries daily can significantly reduce inflammation. They contain anthocyanins, which may be beneficial for a range of inflammatory-related conditions, including rheumathoid arthritis
8) Spice it up with turmeric. Turmeric contains a powerful, natural anti-flammatory compound, curcumin, and is recommended by Dr. Andrew Weil (a leading national expert on herbs) for inflammatory disorders, including arthritis, tendonitis, and auto immune conditions.
9) Modern scientific research has revealed that ginger possesses numerous therapeutic properties including antioxidant effects, an ability to inhibit the formation of inflammatory compounds, and direct anti-inflammatory effects.
10) Drink green tea. Green tea is made from unfermented leaves and reportedly contains the highest concentration of powerful antioxidants called polyphenols. Antioxidants such as polyphenols in green tea can neutralize free radicals and may reduce or even help prevent some of the damage they cause. Research indicates that green tea may benefit arthritis by reducing inflammation and slowing cartilage breakdown.
Dedicated to a healthier body and mind, nutrition and wellness coach, educator and culinary expert, Jackie Keller, is the Founding Director of NutriFit, LLC, author of Body After Baby, A Simple, Healthy Plan to Lose Your Baby Weight Fast (Avery/Penguin Group; May 2007), and Cooking, Eating & Living Well, a cookbook and guide to nutrition-related lifestyle change.