Following an anti-inflammatory diet and having a consistent exercise routine, you can prevent the onset of these diseases and change your metabolic health for the better.
- Liz Keller
What is it, and should you be eating this way?
The word inflammation is often thought of as a negative term, and everyone is always looking to reduce it. However, inflammation is part of your natural defense system, and balancing it can be a good thing. The keyword there is balance, and when your immune system is out of balance, inflammation can become chronic which leads to weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and depression – just to name a few.
By following an anti-inflammatory diet and having a consistent exercise routine, you can prevent the onset of these diseases and change your metabolic health for the better. Metabolic health is defined as having ideal blood sugar levels, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference. According to a study from 2019, only 12% of Americans would be considered metabolically healthy by that definition.
What causes chronic inflammation?
- Poor diet
- Imbalanced gut health
- Lack of sleep
- Chronic stress
- Lack of physical activity
What does an Anti-Inflammatory Diet consist of?
Unlike some other diets, there is less structure and more general guidelines for specific foods to include and avoid with the anti-inflammatory diet. Adding anti-inflammatory foods into your diet is just as important as removing inflammatory ones. Studies have shown that people following an anti-inflammatory diet have a decreased risk for developing colorectal cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. Other studies have shown anti-inflammatory foods can help with recovery in athletic training, managing pain associated with aging, heart protection, and improving the quality of life for people with rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis.
Anti-inflammatory diet basics:
- Eat more fish- recommended 3-4 oz 2x per week (especially fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines, albacore tuna, herring, lake trout, and mackerel)
- Increase fruits & vegetables- 1-3 servings per meal (specifically blueberries, bananas, apples, peaches, tomatoes, and pomegranates, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and bok choy)
- Consume more nuts & seeds- 1-1.5 oz per day
- Choose extra virgin olive oil instead of canola or corn oil
- Avoid processed foods
Foods that increase inflammation:
- Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup
- Saturated and trans fat
- Omega 6 fatty acids
- Refined carbohydrate
- Excessive alcohol
- Processed meats
While most of the foods to avoid list includes foods that most people would assume are unhealthy without a degree in nutrition, let us specifically look at omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, which means we have to eat them in our diet because our bodies can not produce them, and without them, we would get sick. So while omega-6 fatty acids are not inherently unhealthy, when the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3s is not balanced, we find ourselves in a pro-inflammatory state. Omega 6’s are found in many healthy foods like nuts and seeds; the excessive amounts come from vegetable oil and the oils found in processed foods. Oils highest in omega-6 are sunflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, and cottonseed oil. If you check the majority of the packaged foods in the grocery store, you will find one or more of these oils on the ingredient list. It is thought that early on in human evolution, our diet consisted of an omega-6/omega-3 ratio of about 1:1. Now, with industrial food and processing technology, it is thought that the average American diet ranges between 10:1 to 20:1.
So the first step would be trying to avoid excessive omega 6’s in processed foods, and the second step would be to increase omega-3 intakes.
Foods high in omega-3’s include:
- Cold-water fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines)
- Nuts and seeds (flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts), and
- Some fortified foods (milk, eggs, and yogurt)
If you don’t regularly consume any of these foods, you should consider taking a fish oil supplement. Purchase fish oil supplements with caution and look for a professional quality brand.
Overall, eating this way would benefit any person looking to improve their metabolic health, fortify their immune system, decrease their risk of diseases, and improve their overall well-being.
If you’d like to learn more or adopt a more anti-inflammatory diet, contact me at: Eatsmart@fitnessincentive.com
About the Author
Liz Keller is a Nutritionist with a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition & Dietetics from Queens College. She is a certified CDC National DDP Lifestyle Coach through Solera Health and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Human Nutrition from Bridgeport University. She runs the Eat Smart program at Fitness Incentive.