How Can Eating Anti-Inflammatory Foods Improve Health?
The much-hailed Mediterranean diet is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols.
The Mediterranean diet has been shown to lower heart disease risk and low-density lipoprotein levels. The Mediterranean diet is also associated with a reduced incidence of cancer, as well as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Women who eat a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts may have a reduced risk of breast cancer. The Mediterannean diet is 1 of the only diets with a Level of Evidence A Recommendation, meaning that the evidence has been demonstrated from several high-quality studies.
Most of the Mediterranean diet consists of anti-inflammatory foods, such as fish, herbs, many plant-based foods, and red wine.
Why is inflammation such a big deal when it comes to disease?
Inflammation comes from the Latin, inflamare, meaning heat. Acute inflammation is the body’s response to attack or injury. When we get a cut or get sick, macrophages and white blood cells work to decrease the swelling and repair the damage.
Chronic, low-level inflammation causes cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and osteoarthritis. Inflammation comes from being exposed to chemicals in the environment, such as cigarette smoke, heavy metals, pesticides, or pollution.
Chronic inflammation can also occur in response to other unwanted substances in the body, such as an excess of fat cells. Inside arteries, inflammation helps kick off atherosclerosis or the buildup of cholesterol-rich, fatty plaque. The body perceives this plaque as abnormal and foreign, so it attempts to wall off the plaque from the flowing blood. The contents then mingle with blood, forming a clot that blocks blood flow. These clots are responsible for the majority of heart attacks and most strokes.
However, a huge source of inflammation comes from dietary factors. Casein, dairy, food additives, gluten, omega-6 fatty acids, and trans fats are just some examples of pro-inflammatory foods. The body doesn’t recognize these chemicals, which results in inflammation. Reducing these foods in one's diet can help decrease inflammation and improve overall health and longevity.
Just as there are pro-inflammatory foods, we can protect against inflammation by eating anti-inflammatory foods. These foods contain antioxidants and polyphenols, which are protective compounds. Free radicals are harmful to antioxidants and cells and protect against free-radical damage by donating an extra electron to the free radical to create molecular stability. Plant-based foods tend to be high in polyphenols, which are packed with antioxidants.
We tend to think we need to eliminate things from our diets. However, there are many beneficial foods to add to our diets to combat inflammation.
Some of the best anti-inflammatory foods are:
Berries. These include blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Berries have a high level of antioxidants, which help prevent free radical damage to cells. They can also be a great alternative to sugar when we are craving something sweet. Top cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt with berries.
Cruciferous vegetables. These include broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cauliflower. Not only do these vegetables have fiber and vitamins, they have been shown to reduce the risk of certain cancers. Trying chopping up brussel sprouts, sprinkling chopped walnuts and dried cranberries, drizzling olive oil, and baking them at 350 for 15 to 20 minutes. This is a great healthy option for dinner, holidays, or parties.
Garlic, Ginger, and green tea. These 3 foods have anti-inflammatory properties that help with conditions such as arthritis, auto-immune conditions, and even diabetes. Green tea has been shown to help with weight management, too.
Oatmeal. Try this for breakfast with a scoop of pea protein powder. Oatmeal is filling and also contains soluble fiber to promote cholesterol management. Top it off with berries, cinnamon powder, or a drizzle of manuka honey.
Oily fish. Full of omega-3 fatty acids, albacore tuna, salmon, and sardines also help reduce inflammation.
Other anti-inflammatory foods include dark chocolate, flaxseed, and olive oil. Other quick tips to adapt an anti-inflammatory diet are choosing whole grains instead of refined breads and pastas, eating more fruits and vegetables, sautéeing food in olive oil rather than butter, and substituting a fish meal for red meat at least twice a week.
Reducing exposure to chemicals through one's diet is a key way to decrease disease risk and increase life expectancy. Try incorporating 1 new food into one's diet each week and switching out a pro-inflammatory food.
Mayo Clinic. Mediterranean diet: a heart-healthy eating plan. mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801. Accessed April 24, 2018.