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Five steps to fight inflammation with a healthy diet

July 17, 2017

Lori Mager, M.B.A., RDN, LDN, CDE, Clinical Nutrition Manager at Northwest Community Hospital

Looking to prevent age-related diseases and better your overall health? Implementing an anti-inflammatory diet can help.

Inflammation is a protective process that allows your body to heal and defend itself against infection, illness or injury. Short-term inflammation is normal, occurring when your skin is healing from a cut, for example. However, if inflammation becomes chronic or long-term, the immune system attacks normal cells, causing harm rather than aiding the healing process.

Chronic inflammation is common in diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disorder, cancer and autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. An inactive lifestyle and consumption of certain foods also can trigger inflammation.

Avoid these foods

  • Refined carbohydrates (e.g., white bread, white pasta) and foods containing high amounts of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (e.g., soda, sweetened drinks)
  • High-fat or processed red meat (e.g., sausage, bacon, deli meat)
  • Full-fat dairy products (e.g., whole milk, butter, cheese)
  • Foods containing trans fats and partially hydrogenated oil, such as some bakery goods (e.g., cakes, pies, biscuits, cookies), as well as some fried foods, coffee creamers and crackers
  • Foods containing omega-6 fatty acids, such as corn, sunflower, safflower, soy and other vegetable oils

Reduce inflammation by eating these foods

  • A variety of fruits and vegetables should make up half your plate at meals. Put an emphasis on berries, grapes and cherries, tomatoes, leafy greens and other vegetables (e.g., kale, chard, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, bell peppers, chili peppers)
  • High-fat fruits, including avocados and olives
  • Healthy fats, found in olive and canola oils, as well as fatty fish and other high omega-3 fatty acid foods (e.g., salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, anchovies, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, chia seeds, grass-fed beef)
  • Beans (e.g., kidney, black, pinto, white)
  • Nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, peanuts)
  • Spices (e.g., turmeric, garlic, ginger, cinnamon)
  • Dark chocolate (sparingly), green tea, red wine (up to 5 ounces per day for women and up to 10 ounces per day for men)

Simple steps to adopt an anti-inflammatory diet

Along with regular exercise and adequate sleep, these steps are essential to reduce inflammation:

  1. Include more anti-inflammatory foods in your diet each week.
  2. Have fruit with each meal and include vegetables in two meals a day. Eat a variety of colorful fruits and veggies. Try berries on your cereal, leafy greens with lunch, cauliflower with dinner and colorful peppers for a snack.
  3. Decrease the amount of unhealthy fats in your diet and replace with healthy fats. Eat foods containing omega-3 fatty acids. Have fatty fish at least two times per week; use olive oil and consume walnuts, flaxseed or chia seeds.
  4. Limit consumption of processed meats and snacks, white rice and pasta, and sweets. Eat lean meats, brown rice and whole-grain pasta instead.
  5. Add more plant-based sources of protein to your meals, such as beans, nuts and seeds.

Work on one to two changes per week, and soon they will become part of your regular, healthy habits. Start your anti-inflammatory diet today by preparing a healthy Mediterranean salad.