Should You Try The Anti-Inflammation Diet?
Chronic inflammation may be at the root of many diseases, from acne to Alzhimer’s.
Fight inflammation naturally by changing how you eat
Do you suspect you might need to try the anti-inflammation diet? Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. That’s the case with inflammation. It’s a completely normal and necessary response in the body that occurs when your immune system tries to defend against infection and injury. Get a cut and your immune system rushes cells to the area to protect and repair it. But when your body continually senses that it’s under attack, that urge to protect doesn’t get turned off, leading to what’s known as chronic inflammation, explains Desiree Nielsen, a registered dietitian in Vancouver and author of Un-Junk Your Diet: How to Shop, Cook and Eat to Fight Inflammation and Feel Better Forever.
There are a number of reasons why our immune system can be permanently turned on, she says, like oxidative damage to cells and tissue due to chronic stress, a terrible diet or low-grade infection, she explains. Most importantly, chronic inflammation can lead to other health problems, she says. “You get this cycle that can lead to all sorts of chronic disease outcomes.” These include heart disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and arthritis. Plus, there’s evidence that there’s an overzealous immune system response to Alzheimer’s, diabetes, acne, eczema and irritable bowel syndrome. For all these reasons, reducing inflammation should be a priority.
The good news is: You can make changes just by switching up what you eat. Ready to help your body keep its cool? Below are eight tips to get you started on an anti-inflammation diet.
Eat more whole foods.
“Get back to one-ingredient foods, such as chicken, broccoli and apples,” says Neilsen. Also, keep animal products, like meat and dairy, to a minimum. However, eat fish, especially cold-water varieties, which are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, along with added sugars and processed foods. Make whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and pulses, such as kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils, regular menu items. Plant-based foods are sources of prebiotics, fibre and nutrients, all which work to fight inflammation.
Consume less dairy.
Dairy is a source of both omega-6 fatty acids and saturated fat. A bit of both is part of a healthy, anti-inflammation diet, but we often eat too much of these fats. “The body needs some saturated fat, but when we go overboard, that excess drives inflammatory pathways,” explains Nielsen. Instead, try an alternative milk in your coffee or tea, or cashew cheese instead of cream cheese.
Snack on berries.
Nielsen says that if you commit to a whole foods diet, you’ll likely get most of the nutrients you need to fight inflammation. But if this kind of change alone isn’t doing the trick, eat more foods with specific anti-inflammatory nutrients, like polyphenols and flavonoids. Berries are fantastic sources, so aim for at least half a cup a day.
Spice up your latte.
Turmeric is touted as an anti-inflammation diet food thanks to the work of its active component, curcumin. However, Nielsen says you need to consume at least half a teaspoon each day to show an effect over time. Try it in a golden latte with a plant-based milk, ginger, turmeric and a little bit of raw honey or maple syrup. “Having it as a daily drink is a little ritual you can create that will make it easy to remember to take your turmeric,” says Nielsen.
Choose your meat and dairy wisely
The anti-inflammatory diet means not eating a lot of meat and dairy, but they aren’t off the table. Instead of a sugar-laden yogurt, try a plain version with active bacterial cultures that support gut health. Add your favourite anti-inflammatory foods as mix-ins, such as berries, nuts (walnuts are a source of omega-3 fatty acids) and hemp seeds.And if you want to stick with beef or cow’s milk, choose grass-fed varieties.
Stop counting calories (within reason).
Inflammation can exacerbate weight gain, says Nielsen, but if you want to make a change, counting calories isn’t the best way. For example, 100 calories of potato chips affects your metabolism and your cellular response very differently than 100 calories of broccoli. “Someone who has excess weight would be well advised to not focus on reducing calories and restricting portions but to choose the types of foods that will help support a more anti-inflammatory environment.”
Make your snacks.
A lot of convenience-store snacks have inflammatory ingredients, so prep homemade snacks and you won’t be tempted by that 3 p.m. doughnut. As part of your ant-inflammation diet, make a batch of trail mix and be sure to include pumpkin seeds, which are packed with omega-3 fatty acids. You could also add raw chocolate, which contains anti-inflammatory polyphenols.
Ask a professional for help.
Do you suspect that something you’re eating isn’t making you feel well? Consult a registered dietitian who specializes in allergies, intolerances and inflammation before eliminating the food, says Nielsen. They can help you determine what your anti-inflammation diet could look like. Certain foods can be harmful for some people, but others can still be part of an optimal diet, notes Nielsen.“If you don’t have Celiac disease or an inherent gluten intolerance and your gut is well, gluten will not cause inflammation,” she says. “But if you have inflammation or a dysfunctional gut, gluten can fuel inflammation.”
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