Looking to switch over to an anti-inflammatory diet to help shield against heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other rampant chronic diseases? It doesnt require hard-to-find or even particularly expensive ingredients like powders or supplements.
Natural foods are rich in an army of inflammation-fighters. For instance, red wine, grapes and some berries contain inflammation fighting compounds called flavan-3-ols. Fiber in legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables fuel beneficial microorganisms in our intestines, which transform it into butyrate, an anti-inflammatory short-chain fat that protects against heart disease and may even have brain benefits.
For an effective anti-inflammation diet, Mari Anoushka Ricker, M.D., a director of integrative medicine at the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona and an associate professor at the university, recommends a plate filled with vegetables and fruit, and rounding out meals with food like lean protein and whole grains.
Below are examples of specific anti-inflammatory foods.
All vegetables have anti-inflammatory properties, and to rake in the most inflammation-fighting nutrients, you should aim to eat a wide variety of them. Take your cue from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which suggests eating dark green, red and orange vegetables, among others.
* The cruciferous botanical family of plants is rich in nutrients, including anti-cancer, sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates.
All fruit can help fight inflammation. Note that because 100% fruit juice is a concentrated source of natural sugar, its best to consume in moderation and focus on eating fruit whole.
These foods are rich in nutrients and fiber, which might explain why eating legumes is linked to a reduced risk of inflammatory conditions such as heart disease and obesity. Sweet potatoes are the staple starch in the Japanese Okinawan dietan eating pattern followed by some of the healthiest and longest-living people on the planet.
A whole grain contains both the bran and germ, which gets removed when refined into white flour. Thats a shame, because the bran is rich in fiber, which gets converted into anti-inflammatory butyrate by our gut bacteria. Whole grains are also rich in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (beneficial plant compounds) contained within the bran and germ, which fight inflammation in many ways. Most common grains contain tannins an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory naturally-occuring compound.
Nuts and seeds have lots of nutrients, many anti-inflammatory such as vitamin E and ellagitannins (a type of tannin). The latter, along with the fiber in nuts and seeds, are on the menu for our gut microorganisms, which convert them to anti-inflammatory butyrate.
The most anti-inflammatory proteins come from plants, such as legumes, and from fish rich in omega-3 fats, says Dr. Ricker.
Coffee and tea are rich in inflammation fighters such as chlorogenic acid (coffee) and flavan-3-ols like EGCG (green tea).
A staple of the traditional Mediterranean diet, extra-virgin olive oil gets at least some of the credit for this diets anti-inflammatory effects. Whats at work? Its high monounsaturated fat content (74% of total fat) doesnt promote deposition of plaque in your arteries like saturated fat, and it contains anti-inflammatory compounds such as hydroxytyrosol. Avocados are also mono-rich and chock full of vitamins and minerals. Their phytonutrientssuch as lutein and zeaxanthinmay fight the destructive inflammation caused by UV rays, thus protecting skin.
One of the major benefits of many herbs and spices is that they block the action of pro-inflammatory cytokines (a type of cell-signaling protein), among other anti-inflammatory properties.
The American way of eating is a recipe for chronic inflammation, due to its emphasis on foods high in saturated fats, added sugars, refined grains and sodium.
Meanwhile, were skimping on the anti-inflammatory foods: Fish, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, says Dr. Ricker.
The typical American diet sparks inflammation in many ways, including its impact on our waistlines. About 42% of Americans age 20 and up are obese, with some of that excess fat lodged deep in the abdomen, parked in and around the liver and other organs. This visceral fat is the most toxic type and when these fat cells become overfilled, they die, emitting inflammatory compounds.
Why is our diet so fattening? Increasingly, evidence points to ultra-processed foods, which make up about 60% of an Americans calorie intake. These concoctions of added sugar, saturated fat and salt include cereal bars, cake mixes, instant noodles, soft drinks, certain breads, sausages and so many of the other foods sitting in supermarket aisles.
Weight gain can happen quickly on an ultra-processed diet. In a tightly controlled National Institutes of Health study, people checked into a medical center for a month, and could eat only foods provided by researchers. They consumed about 500 more calories per day on an ultra-processed food diet than on a diet based on whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, simply-prepared chicken and other proteins. Interestingly, people reported enjoying both diets about equally.
Not surprisingly, people started gaining weight on the ultra-processed diettwo pounds in two weeksand lost that same amount in the two weeks on the whole foods diet.
Obesity aside, there are other ways an unhealthy diet inflames the body:
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