If you suspect that you have a problem with inflammation, a health-promoting step to take might be shifting over to an anti-inflammatory diet. Such a diet may help you lessen chronic inflammation in your body and improve overall health.
As we have discussed elsewhere, chronic inflammation is widely believed to cause several of the most common and deadly diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. One very effective way to combat chronic inflammation is through diet. Even the ancient physician Hippocrates knew that food can be the best medicine for a variety of conditions. The typical American diet is filled with inflammation-promoting foods such as overly processed foods, unsaturated fats, white flour and white sugar.
Eating a balanced, anti-inflammation diet can go a long way toward reducing chronic inflammation in the body. The anti-inflammatory diet is rich in lean protein, whole grains and a variety of fruits and vegetables. It is very similar to the Zone or a Mediterranean diet with a special emphasis on omega-3 fatty acids. While the purpose of an anti-inflammation diet is optimal health and not weight loss, people often do lose weight.
Elements of a Healthy Diet
The first step is to cut back on foods that promote inflammation; dairy, processed foods, trans-fats, red meat and partially hydrogenated oils. Instead, choose a wide variety of vegetables and fruits, whole grains and lean protein sources. Some of these items can also lead to leaky gut, which fosters food-triggered inflammation.
The general outline of a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet is as follows. Eat between five to six servings of vegetables and fruits every day. Try to eat a variety of colors, orange, yellow, dark green and red. A wide selection of fresh produce will provide many anti-inflammatory agents plus trace vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, beta-carotene, zinc and potassium. Switch to olive oil for salads and cooking. Try drinking green tea (decaf or regular) for more antioxidant benefits.
Next, eat five to six servings of whole grains such as wild rice, quinoa, whole wheat, bulgur wheat, millet, oats and barley. There is some controversy surrounding grains and inflammation. Some experts believe that all grains cause inflammation while other anti-inflammatory diets will include whole grains. One thing that all experts agree on; however is that highly processed grains like white rice and white flour encourage inflammation.
Many experts in food sensitivities and allergies have found that common whole grains such as any type of wheat, rye, or barley (the gluten-containing grains) are especially problematic for many people with chronic inflammatory conditions. With that in mind, people who wish to keep breads and grains as part of their diet should make the switch to only certain whole grains.
Protein should be kept to two or three servings each day. Healthy proteins are; cottage cheese, yogurt, chicken, eggs or lean red meat (preferably grass-fed and no growth hormones) and omega-3 rich seafood such as salmon, herring, shellfish or sardines (of course, avoid these if you are allergic to fish and/or shellfish). Soy-based tofu may be helpful as a protein source.
Sweets and saturated fats should be kept to a minimum. One exception is dark chocolate, which also has anti-inflammatory properties. Try substituting small amounts of dried or fresh fruits to satisfy a sweet tooth (again, if you are allergic to molds – avoid the dried forms of fruits).
Overeating is also a risk factor for chronic inflammation and leads to weight gain. Surveys have shown that many people do not have a clear sense of how much they are eating and may not know what the correct portion sizes of different foods should be.
Here are some basic rules-of-thumb to follow in regard to portion sizes. Fruit and vegetable portions should be about the size of a baseball. Fruits and vegetables are one food category that it is fine to have extra portions of. A single portion of starches or grains should be about the size of a fist or tennis ball. A serving of protein is around three ounces, which is similar in size to a deck of cards.
Butter and cheese should be quite limited, one ounce of cheese or about the size of a domino and one teaspoon of butter or margarine or about the size of one die. A serving of dark chocolate is one ounce or approximately the size of a package of dental floss. These guidelines are easy to remember and will help to establish portion control and avoid the problem of overeating.
Many doctors, nutritionists, and health experts agree that food is medicine. Simple dietary changes can go a long way toward restoring health and even reducing a person’s dependence on prescription medications. By following the simple guidelines provided here, it may be possible to maintain a healthy weight, avoid leaky gut, and reverse the negative health effects of chronic inflammation.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates