How to feel better and prevent disease by reducing inflammation with anti-inflammatory food
What if you could eat your way to abundant health and longevity? A growing body of research shows that by eating anti-inflammatory food we can ward off the most prevalent diseases, lose weight and improve our overall health and well being all at the same time.
The science behind anti-inflammatory food
Generally speaking, inflammation is not a bad thing. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to harmful stimuli. When it senses damaged cells, pathogens and injuries, our body responds with an immune response by releasing white blood cells. This initiates the healing process and protects us from foreign organisms, such as bacteria and viruses. When you feel heat, redness, swelling and pain at the site of an injury or infection, this is inflammation.
However, when inflammation persists it can get out of control and lead to disease. When we are stressed and exposed to ongoing toxins, our bodies continue to react and tries to protect us, resulting in chronic inflammation. When this reaction persists, day in and day out, it can contribute to many major diseases such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis and depression.
Eating anti-inflammatory foods reduces environmental factors that tax our immune system, such as heavily processed and refined foods. At the same time, it encourages replacing them with habits and natural, whole foods that aid our body’s healing response instead of inhibiting it.
Anti-inflammatory food benefits
Some of the benefits of eating a diet that’s rich in anti-inflammatory food include:
- Protection against cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and other major diseases
- Relief from chronic inflammation symptoms, such as arthritis
- Increased longevity and reduced signs of aging
- Improved mental health, including relief from depression and anxiety
- Weight loss
Principles of the anti-inflammatory diet
Dr. Andrew Weil, an integrative Harvard medical doctor and founder of the Anti-Inflammatory Diet, developed an anti-inflammatory food pyramid that outlines 16 main sources of anti-inflammatory foods. In order of quantity, he recommends consuming plenty of the following:
Did your mother ever tell you to eat the rainbow? It turns out what you eat is just as important, if not more, as how much you eat. Base your diet on 4-5 servings of vegetables a day, preferably organic. Variety matters: aim for both raw and cooked vegetables and leafy greens.
Eating 3-4 servings of fruit a day will not only pump your body with antioxidants, but will help keep you hydrated, too. Try to eat organic fruit when possible. It’s also best to try to eat seasonal produce. But when that’s not possible, check out the freezer section of your grocery story and stock up on frozen fruit as well.
Whole and cracked grains
Reading packages at the supermarket can be deceiving. Although many processed foods, such as cereal or granola bars, will often say “made with whole grains” on the box, whole grains are really those that are in their truest form. One rule of thumb is if it has more than one ingredient, it probably isn’t a true whole grain.
When you cook pasta “al-dente,” it has a lower glycemic index than when it is fully or overcooked. By lowering your glycemic load, you’ll be better able to control your blood sugar and reduce your chances of diabetes.
Beans and legumes
Central to most “Blue Zone” diets, studies have long shown that plant-based sources of protein, like beans, contribute to health and longevity. Rich in folic acid, fiber, magnesium and potassium, beans are great, lean sources of protein and energy. Tired of chickpeas? Try adzuki, anasazi, black beans or lentils.
Fats that are rich in monounsaturated or omega-3s are rich in polyphenols, antioxidants and essential fatty acids. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and lower the risk of chronic diseases. Try cooking with extra virgin olive oil or expeller-pressed canola oil, and incorporate plenty of eggs, avocados and walnuts into your diet. Other sources include hemp seeds and cold water fish.
Fish and seafood
Wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, herring and black cod are all great sources of omega-3s and lean protein. Don’t care for fish? Take 2-3 grams of a high-quality fish oil supplement daily.
Whole soy foods
Edamame, tofu, tempeh and soy nuts are great sources of isoflavones, which protect against cancer. When choosing soy foods, be sure to stick with natural sources, rather than processed soy foods, like imitation meats.
Cooked Asian mushrooms
Why mushrooms? Studies show that cooked Asian mushrooms greatly enhance immune function.
Incorporate lean meats, eggs, free-range chicken and other poultry into your diet. Local and organic is always best.
Herbs and spices
Spices not only enhance the flavor of our food, but they often contain powerful anti-inflammatory agents. Sprinkle cinnamon on yogurt, turmeric in soups and basil, rosemary and thyme on salads and cooked fish and meat.
Teas are rich in catechins, a type of natural phenol and antioxidant. Dr. Weil recommends drinking 2-4 cups of tea a day, especially white, green and oolong which are highest in the rich compounds.
Even for the most health-conscious person, getting all of the nutrients we need in a day can be hard. Determine where your gaps are and fill them with daily, high quality supplements.
If you choose to drink alcohol, Dr. Weil recommends drinking 1-2 glasses of organic red wine each day. Studies show that the resveratrol found in red wine can reduce the risk of heart disease and increase longevity.
There is nothing wrong with a little bit of sweets! Stay away from processed and refined sugars, and snack sparingly on high quality dark chocolate and unsweetened dried fruit. When choosing dark chocolate, look for chocolate that is at least 70 percent dark, and stick to snacking on one ounce at a time.
An anti-inflammatory lifestyle
Dr. Weil also encourages people to make lifestyle choices that will further help reduce their exposure to external toxins, including:
- Exercising more often
- Meditating and practicing deep-breathing techniques daily
- Avoiding processed foods of any kind
- Stopping smoking
Anti-inflammatory food recipe: Golden milk
What are your favorite anti-inflammatory foods?
Let us know in the comments section below.