foods to eat to reduce inflammation

How to Eat to Reduce Inflammation

I took Pilates group classes twice a week at South Aiken Physical Therapy and Wellness for about a year.  If the workout was especially hard, then I might feel a bit sore in my back, abdominal, or glute muscles.  This type of inflammation is good for our bodies. The people in my Pilates class and other classes offered at fitness facilities are generally healthy. 

On the other hand, the patients in the physical therapy section of SAPT are there for rehabilitation from serious injuries to their bodies.  If you have ever sprained your ankle or broken a bone, you are familiar with the sharp pain, swelling, and heat that come with severe physical inflammation.  

There is also a silent type of inflammation that happens in the body when you have certain conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer or autoimmune diseases.            

Inflammation from these conditions, whether physical injuries or chronic diseases, is influenced by the foods you eat.  Almost all diseases are made worse by inflammation, which is the body’s response to an irritant. Unhealthy foods increase inflammation in our bodies. By eliminating them we can reduce inflammation and improve our health. Still other foods help to reduce inflammation, and these foods should be eaten freely.

Eliminate These Foods to Reduce Inflammation

Sugars 

Do I even have to mention this one?  Sugar and high fructose corn syrup add calories to the diet, but virtually no nutrients.  Even natural sweeteners such as honey or maple syrup that have a few nutrients, should be eaten only in moderation.  The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than six added teaspoons of sugar daily and only nine teaspoons for men.  The average American consumes more than 22 teaspoons per day, so clearly most people are eating too much sugar.  Excess sugar consumption is associated with obesity and diabetes, among other conditions.  

Bad Fats

Vegetable oils are all highly processed.  They are also high in omega-6 fats that can be inflammatory in high doses.  High intakes of omega-6 fats have been associated with many diseases, including Alzheimer’s, type-2 diabetes, arthritis, macular degeneration, cancer, autoimmunity and a number of psychiatric disorders. You can lower omega-6 intake by eliminating refined vegetable and seed oils. All vegetable and seed oils, including canola, cottonseed, corn, soy, peanut, sesame, safflower, and sunflower, contain very high amounts of omega-6 fats.

White Flour 

White flour has less protein and fiber than whole wheat flour, and more carbohydrates. It also has a relatively high glycemic index, so that your body treats bread or other foods with white flour as similar to sugar. Reduce the amount of white flour products in your diet to reduce inflammation.

Processed Foods

Too much sugar, sodium, and fat in your diet can lead to serious health issues, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer. Unfortunately, processed foods are often packed with these ingredients. A recent study by Tufts University found that 58  percent of the average American diet consists of highly processed foods.  These are foods that are chemically processed and made from refined ingredients and artificial substances. Another recent study found a correlation between high consumption of ultra-processed foods and increased mortality risk. 

Processed Meats

Processed meats include foods such as bacon, ham, lunch meats and sausage.  Most of these meats are cured with ingredients such as nitrites and nitrates.  Excess processed meat consumption has been related to a number of cancers, especially colon and stomach cancer, but also breast, prostate and pancreatic cancers.  There also seems to be a link between high processed meat consumption and high blood pressure, possibly because of the large amount of salt in most processed meats.  Most medical authorities recommend eating very little, if any, processed meats.  

Increase Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Foods with Omega-3 Fats

Research has shown that higher intakes of omega-3 fats, especially fatty fish and fish oil, are associated with reduced heart disease risk. Two to three 4-ounce servings of fatty fish per week will supply the needed amounts of the omega-3 fats DHA and EPA. ALA, another form of omega-3 fat, is found in large amounts in flax, chia and hemp seeds and oils, but these do not convert well to DPA and EPA. Ideally you should eat both ALA containing foods as well as fish. 

Fiber

Fiber helps maintain good bowel function by increasing the size, weight and regularity of your stools. It also helps to feed the good bacteria in your gut. A high fiber diet can decrease your risk of colon cancer. Fiber is found in high amounts in fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, so increase your intake of those foods to get the recommended 30 grams of fiber per day.  

Vegetables 

Non-starchy vegetables are extremely important in the diet because of the number of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber that they contain. A high intake of vegetables is key for cancer prevention as well as overall optimal health. On average Americans are eating two servings of vegetables a day, and less than 10 percent of the population are eating three or more servings daily. The vast majority of us should increase our veggie intake. I challenge you to “count your vegetables” with a goal of eating five to seven servings daily.  Once you are eating five to seven servings on a regular basis, then try and make sure you are varying them by color and type.

Beans and Legumes

Beans or legumes are a type of seed.  They are good sources of protein and contain a number of nutrients, including folate.  Research suggests that a high consumption of beans may decrease cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. They can also improve gut health because the fiber in them is a source of food for the good gut bacteria.  

Nuts

Aside from providing key proteins and nutrients, good fats, antioxidants, nuts aid in the reduction of cholesterol and can help you live longer.  Almonds are high in calcium, fiber, vitamin E and magnesium. Almonds help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease, and can help protect against diabetes. Cashews are rich in iron, high in magnesium, and have a similar fat profile to olive oil. Cashews help prevent cancer, promote a healthy heart and strong bones, and are also good for your skin and hair, being rich in copper. High in omega 3 fats, antioxidants, and phytosterols, walnuts are good for your heart, can help protect against cancer, and are good for your brain, aiding in reducing depression and the risk of age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.

This time of COVID-19 is an especially good time to review how you are eating. Strive to reduce inflammatory foods and increase the anti-inflammatory foods in your diet. Check out this article for more tips on making healthy eating simpler.

Note: A version of this article was first published in Aiken’s Bella Magazine.

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