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Food’s fight in battling chronic inflammation

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Apr 7, 2020

Inflammation – good or bad – is how your body responds to protect itself. Inflammation can be “good” such as when you body’s fighting off harmful microbes in response to irritation, an injury, or an infection.  For example, you cut your finger. Immediately, your immune system sends white blood cells to the affected area causing redness and swelling. In this situation, inflammation is essential for safeguarding your finger from harmful microbes. Inflammation also helps heal and repair damaged tissue restoring it back to health.

While acute cases of inflammation helping fight off infections are good, long-term or chronic inflammation is considered bad.  When the inflammatory response drags on for too long or occurs in places not needed, it can become problematic. This scenario of chronic or long term inflammation can ignite a long list of disorders chipping away at the body’s healthy tissues.  Chronic inflammation is associated with triggering chronic diseases such as arthritis, asthma, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, or even Alzheimer’s.

Foods to avoid causing inflammation

Certain foods may play a role and have been associated with increasing the risk for chronic diseases such as colon cancer. These same foods have also been associated with excess inflammation, a contributor to the development of other chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Here is a listing of pro-inflammatory foods to avoid or limit that may increase inflammation in the body:

  • Refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice, and pastries
  • French fries and other fried foods
  • Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages
  • High-fat red meat (burgers and steaks) and processed meat (hot dogs, bacon, sausage, bologna)
  • Margarine, shortening, and lard

Foods to adopt in an anti-inflammation diet

One way to combat chronic inflammation is by consuming an anti-inflammation diet.  Healthy food choices are always a wise decision and when combined with other healthy lifestyle patterns such as exercise, adequate sleep, managing stress and refraining from smoking, this helps break the cycle of chronic inflammation reducing your risk of chronic diseases.

Advice on how much of and how often anti-inflammatory foods should be eaten to successfully battle chronic inflammation, requires more research to determine this. At this time, the best advice is to embrace eating a wide variety of health-promoting, anti-inflammatory foods every day. 

Five-step plan for battling chronic inflammation

Here are 5 steps setting you on a wellness path towards reducing chronic inflammation while gaining better health:

1. Have a fruit/vegetable at every meal and snack

One of the best ways to fight inflammation lies not in your medicine cabinet but in your kitchen.  That’s why one of the most powerful tools to utilize is what you find at the grocery store. It’s time to load up your cart with fresh, frozen, canned, or dried fruits and vegetables.  

Plan on having an anti-oxidant rich fruit and or vegetable at every meal and snack and you’ll be feeding your body the arsenal it needs to fight off chronic inflammation. This is easily done by including brightly colored produce containing protective compounds of polyphenols. Known for their antioxidant abilities to combat cell damage, polyphenols are found naturally in foods such as apples, tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, and cherries along with leafy greens such as spinach, kale, collards, and broccoli. 

2. Choose healthy fats

Healthy fats are an important part of your diet. Eaten in moderation, “good” fats can help lower your risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and stroke. Each day include the following healthy fats in your meals and snacks:

  • Olives and extra virgin olive oil, also canola, peanut and avocado oils 
  • Omega-3 rich foods such as salmon, albacore tune, halibut, and sardines
  • Snack on walnuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews, and peanuts
  • Mix in ground flaxseed, chia seeds, sunflower seeds and hemp seeds into smoothies, oatmeal, or salads. 

3. Make wise protein choices

When it comes to protein, rely on healthy sources of this macronutrient from either animal or plant-based sources. When choosing animal-based protein sources, be mindful of portion sizes – it’s recommended to consume no more than 3-4 ounces at a meal which is about the size and thickness of your palm. The healthiest, anti-inflammatory animal based sources of protein include;

  • Fatty fish such as canned or fresh salmon and tuna
  • Skinless chicken or turkey breast
  • Lean cuts of beef and pork. 
  • Protein-rich nonfat or low-fat dairy products such as milk, Greek yogurt, and cottage cheese. 
  • Eggs – limit to no more than 2 a day, unless told otherwise by a health professional

Protein rich, plant-based or meatless meals, high in fiber and lacking unhealthy fat, should also be enjoyed by including beans, peas, lentils, edamame, tofu, and tempeh. 

4. Go with whole grains

It’s time to ditch refined grains and focus instead on choosing whole grains. Packed with fiber and anti-oxidants, whole grains contain all three parts – bran, germ, and endosperm – and are loaded with vitamins, minerals and protein. Refined grains – pastries, cookies, cake, white flour – have removed the bran and germ which contain most of the vitamins and minerals. While 100% whole wheat bread is always a good choice, there are other excellent whole grains to choose from:

  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Brown rice
  • Farro
  • Quinoa
  • Wheat berries
  • Amaranth
  • Oatmeal
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur
  • Sorghum
  • Rye

5. Make room for herbs and spices

There’s a growing body of research showing that herbs and spices can ease inflammation. That’s because these flavor enhancers contain antioxidants and chemical compounds that disrupt the body’s inflammation-signaling pathways helping lower the body’s level of pro-inflammatory cytokines. You’ll be ahead of the game of reducing chronic inflammation by adding in fresh herbs and spices into every meal. 

Examples of fresh herbs to add to dishes include rosemary, thyme, oregano, or basil. Spice up recipes by experimenting with turmeric, garlic, black pepper, cinnamon, cayenne, or ginger. 

In conclusion

By embracing an anti-inflammatory way of eating along with other healthy lifestyle habits of adequate sleep, regular exercise and maintaining a healthy body weight, you’ll be on track for minimizing chronic health conditions while maximizing your overall well-being. 

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Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.

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