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7 steps to an anti-inflammatory diet

From Shelby Moose, Crossing Rivers Health Registered Dietitian

Inflammation sounds bad, but is it? Yes and no.

Inflammation is one of your body’s powerful healing processes. Under normal conditions, it’s an acute (short-lived), controlled response to an injury, such as a cut or a sprain, or a routine illness. Acute inflammation defends your body then goes away once healing is underway. Acute inflammation looks like redness, swelling, heat, joint pain, muscle pain.

Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is the result of subtle, undetectable abuse to your body. Culprits include an unhealthful diet, lack of physical activity, genetics, stress, and exposure to cigarette smoke or environmental toxins. Chronic inflammation lingers, creating a state of chaos, and research suggests that this may be the root of many complex diseases and health problems, including Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, COPD, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, poor digestion, headaches, poor sleep, inflammatory bowel disease, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

Growing evidence shows that diet and lifestyle can either create a pro-inflammatory environment or an anti-inflammatory one.

Here are some everyday steps you can take to cool the heat of inflammation with good nutrition:

Eat your fruits and veggies.

Eating an abundance of fruits and vegetables from all parts of the color spectrum will provide you with a variety of antioxidants and health-promoting plant phytochemicals.

Vegetables from the cruciferous family — broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, and cauliflower — are especially rich in these inflammation-fighting compounds.

Deeply pigmented fruits and veggies are generally phytochemical powerhouses — think red, blue, purple, dark green, yellow, and orange — but so are garlic, onions, cauliflower, and mushrooms. 8-10 servings per day is a great goal! 1 serving = ½ cup or 1 cup leafy greens.

Fill up on fiber.

This is easy when you base your meals on healthy carbohydrate choices like vegetables, fruits, legumes (beans and lentils), and whole grains. Eat fewer foods made with flour and sugar, especially packaged snack foods, as these refined carbohydrates promote inflammation.

Favor healthful fats.

Use extra-virgin olive oil as your main oil. Include moderate amounts of avocados, nuts, and seeds in your meals or snacks.

Another reason to avoid heavily processed foods is that they often contain low-quality, damaged fats, (such as trans-fats and omega-6 fatty acids) which promote inflammation.

Move beyond meat.

Fish, with its healthful omega-3 fats, and plant-based proteins like legumes and less-processed forms of soy (tofu, tempeh, edamame, soy milk) can help reduce inflammation. Meat, and to a lesser extent poultry, milk and dairy, can be pro-inflammatory.

Spice it up.

Spices are more than just flavoring agents — they are also packed with phytochemicals. Ginger and turmeric are particularly noted for their anti-inflammatory properties.

Take tea breaks.

All types of tea — green, oolong and black — contain inflammation-fighting phytochemicals, but green is the top choice. What about coffee? Coffee does contain phytochemicals, but in excess, it can contribute to inflammation.

Practice moderation.

Eating more calories than your body needs can promote inflammation. If your weight stays fairly steady, you are probably eating the right amount of calories for your level of activity.

Alcohol is inflammatory, especially in excess. If you drink, red wine in moderation is the healthiest option. To satisfy a sweet tooth, fresh fruit or small amounts of plain dark chocolate are your best bets.

Work on ways to SNEAK in anti-inflammatory foods. Small changes can add up!

If you’re making soup: add beans and extra vegetables! Don’t forget to utilize your spice cabinet.

If you’re having a salad: use olive oil and lemon juice as dressing. Use a variety of colorful fruits and veggies instead of dull iceberg.

If you’re having pizza: top with veggies! Include garlic.

If you’re having a snack: pop your own popcorn and top with spices and olive oil instead of bagged, chemical-ridden popcorn.

Morning cup of coffee: switch up your coffee with tea a few times a week.

If you are interested in making an appointment with Shelby, ask your primary care provider for a referral.