Inflammation is a vital part of the body’s immune response. It is the body’s attempt to heal itself after an injury; defend itself against foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria; and repair damaged tissue. Without inflammation, wounds and infections would never heal. Therefore, inflammation is a good and necessary dynamic in maintaining health of the body.
However, sometimes inflammation persists, day in and day out, even when your body is not threatened by a foreign invader. That’s when inflammation can become your enemy. It can lead to a host of health problems such as asthma, osteo and rheumatoid arthritis, hay fever and even heart disease and cancer.
One of the most powerful tools to combat inflammation is choosing the right foods. Following a diet low in processed foods and saturated fat and rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts and beans is great for your body. Aside from avoiding long-term and persistent inflammation, you may also be able to reduce your risk of illness. Consistently pick the wrong ones, and you could accelerate the inflammatory disease process.
If you’re looking for an eating plan that closely follows the principle of anti-inflammatory eating, consider the Mediterranean diet, which is frequently touted for its anti-aging, disease-fighting powers.
Studies confirm eating these foods can do the following:
- Lower blood pressure
- Protect against chronic conditions ranging from cancer to stroke
- Help arthritis by curbing inflammation
- Benefit your joints as well as your heart
- Lead to weight loss, which makes a huge difference in managing joint pain.
Here are the key foods to focus on if you’re eyeing in switching to “anti-inflammatory” diet:
Best sources would be salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, anchovies, scallops and other cold-water fish. Health authorities like The American Heart Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommend three to four ounces of fish, twice a week. Arthritis experts claim more is better.
Hate fish? Take a supplement. Studies show that taking 600 to 1,000 mg of fish oil daily eases joint stiffness, tenderness, pain and swelling More recently, researchers have shown that taking fish oil supplements helps reduce joint swelling and pain, duration of morning stiffness and disease activity among people who have rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Nuts and Seeds
Best sources would be walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios and almonds. Eat 1.5 ounces of nuts daily (one ounce is about one handful).
“Multiple studies confirm the role of nuts in an anti-inflammatory diet,” explains José M. Ordovás, PhD, director of nutrition and genomics at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.
A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2011 found that over a 15-year period, men and women who consumed the most nuts had a 51 percent lower risk of dying from an inflammatory disease (like RA) compared with those who ate the fewest nuts. Another study, published in the journal Circulation in 2001 found that subjects with lower levels of vitamin B6 – found in most nuts – had higher levels of inflammatory markers.
More good news: Nuts are jam-packed with inflammation-fighting monounsaturated fat. And though they’re relatively high in fat and calories, studies show noshing on nuts promotes weight loss because their protein, fiber and monounsaturated fats are satiating. “Just keep in mind that more is not always better,” says Ordovás.
Fruits and Veggies
Best sources would be colorful fruits and veggies – the darker or more brilliant the color, the more antioxidants it has. Good ones include blueberries, cherries, spinach, kale and broccoli. Aim for nine or more servings daily (one serving = 1 cup of most veggies or fruit or 2 cups raw leafy greens).
Fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants. These potent chemicals act as the body’s natural defense system, helping to neutralize unstable molecules called free radicals that can damage cells.
Research has shown that anthocyanins found in cherries and other red and purple fruits like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries have an anti-inflammatory effect.
Citrus fruits – like oranges, grapefruits and limes – are rich in vitamin C. Research shows getting the right amount of that vitamin aids in preventing inflammatory arthritis and maintaining healthy joints.
Other research suggests eating vitamin K-rich veggies like broccoli, spinach, lettuce, kale and cabbage dramatically reduces inflammatory markers in the blood.
Best sources would be extra virgin olive oil goes through less refining and processing, so it retains more nutrients than standard varieties. And it’s not the only oil with health benefits. Avocado and safflower oils have shown cholesterol-lowering properties while walnut oil has 10 times the omega-3s that olive oil has. Suggested serving is two to three tablespoons daily.
Olive oil is loaded with heart-healthy fats, as well as oleocanthal, which has properties similar to nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs. “This compound inhibits activity of COX enzymes, with a pharmacological action similar to ibuprofen,” says Ordovás. Inhibiting these enzymes dampens the body’s inflammatory processes and reduces pain sensitivity.
Should you avoid Nightshades?
Nightshade vegetables, including eggplant, tomatoes, red bell peppers and potatoes, are disease-fighting powerhouses that boast maximum nutrition for minimal calories.
They also contain solanine, a chemical that has been branded the culprit in arthritis pain. There’s no scientific evidence to suggest that nightshades trigger arthritis flares. In fact, some experts believe these vegetables contain a potent nutrient mix that helps inhibit arthritis pain.
However, many people do report significant symptom relief when they avoid nightshade vegetables. So doctors say, if you notice that your arthritis pain flares after eating them, do a test and try eliminating all nightshade vegetables from your diet for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference.
Including these more natural, less processed food in your diet will not only avoid persistent inflammation but will also have a noticeable effect on your physical and emotional health. A healthy diet is beneficial not only for reducing the risk of chronic diseases, but also for improving mood and overall quality of life.