Anti-inflammatory Eating: The Key to Lasting Health
Chronic inflammation is the root cause of many health challenges including inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune disorders, heart disease, various forms of arthritis, many cancers and even, according to Dr. Andrew Weil, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Knowing that foods play a major role in either increasing or decreasing inflammation in the body and understanding which foods contribute either way is the key to lasting health and vitality. When you strive to include anti-inflammatory foods in your diet and avoid those that fuel an over-inflammatory response, you experience less aches and pains and avoid or even reverse chronic or life threatening illnesses.
So which foods fuel inflammation and which ones calm inflammation in the body? Well before we look at specific foods, let’s look at a complete list of inflammatory sources. According to a report in “Obesity Review” titled “Etiology & Pathophysiology, 2011 by Egger and Dixon (as pointed out by Dr. Michael Greger at NutritionFacts.org), inflammation can be fueled by a variety of sources including:
- Exposure to toxins
- Air pollution and second hand smoke
- Not enough or too much extreme exercise
- Alcohol consumption
- Processed foods high in pro-inflammatory fats, sugar and salt
- Animal foods high in saturated fat
- Not enough fiber from plant foods
But what is interesting in this report and several others is that “saturated fat from animal foods appears to increase inflammatory response”. Michael Greger supported this finding by stating “we’ve known for 14 years that a single meal of meat, dairy and eggs triggers an inflammatory reaction inside the body within hours of consumption”. So, a diet high in processed foods and animal foods not only increases inflammation in the body but it is well known that these foods contribute to higher rates of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, chicken and eggs are the highest source of arachidonic acid which fuels inflammation immediately followed by beef, processed meats and fish!
A whole foods plant based diet is not only rich in anti-inflammatory compounds but by definition it is free from processed foods and animal saturated fats; it also is rich with anti-inflammatory compounds that help to keep everything in check and in balance. This has been proven time and time again in various reports. In the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2011, 93:1073-9, they found that vegetarians have a significantly lower inflammatory status as opposed to non-vegetarians.
Specifically, there are certain plant foods that are known for being highly anti-inflammatory such as:
- Green Leafy Vegetables
- Green tea
All colorful fruits and vegetables because they are naturally high in antioxidants which are natural anti-inflammatories (flax, walnuts and chia seeds.)
And especially, foods high in Omega 3 fats are highly anti-inflammatory.
Our bodies need a healthy balance of omega 3 to omega 6 but our modern diet of overly processed foods and fast foods provide a dangerously high source of inflammatory fats such as hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils as well as overly processed polyunsaturated vegetable oils such as corn, sunflower, safflower, soy and cottonseed oils. So, including sources of omega 3 fats is important. Great sources include walnuts, flax, chia seeds; hemp seeds (actually have a balance of omega 3, 6, &9). Many tout the benefits of omega 3 fats from oily fish such as salmon, sardines, cod and herring, but remember from the earlier study, animal saturated fats increase inflammation and even though these are sources of omega 3 fats they are also a source of saturated fats. As a matter of fact, Dr. Michael Greger recently pointed out a study done in Australia where they tested the anti-inflammatory effects of nuts and fish. The nuts reduced risk of dying from inflammatory illnesses by 49% while fish consumption showed no benefit. I can’t help to question the validity of increasing fish intake when they are also a high source of environmental toxins which is also a source of inflammation.
If you have an inflammatory illness or are trying to prevent one, please consider this your “food as medicine” list and be sure to take several of these a day. Always having a diet rich in a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables with lots of greens is smart for great health and energy. By deliberately including ginger, garlic, turmeric, nuts and seeds in your diet, your body’s inflammatory response will be nicely balanced and your health will improve dramatically. Takeit from me as someone with an autoimmune disease. I use these foods to keep my immune system calmed and cooled and my body in perfect health.
“Etiology & Pathophysiology”, Obesity Reviews 2011 by Egger and Dixon
Ethnicity and Disease, Vol 21 2011
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2011, 93; 1073-9www.NutritionFacts.org, Michael Greger, M.D.