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Eat to Beat Inflammation
The anti-inflammatory diet focuses on key foods to help minimize the symptoms of chronic inflammatory disease.
Inflammation is a natural part of our body’s immune system. When we get the flu or catch a virus, our immune system triggers an inflammatory response to defend against harmful invaders. When we have a wound, the inflammatory process is also activated to help repair our body’s damaged tissues. Both cases are a form of acute inflammation, which means they are normally short-lived. With chronic inflammation the body can have abnormal, misplaced, and, or systemic inflammation for a prolonged time. This can have a negative impact on our tissues and organ function.
Today, inflammatory-related diseases like type 2 diabetes, asthma, heart disease, colitis, Crohn’s disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and vasculitis are more prevalent than ever. Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, cancer, and chronic obstructive lung diseases are among the most common inflammatory conditions worldwide and are among the leading causes of mortality.
Causes of Chronic Inflammation
When acute inflammation from infections or injuries are left untreated chronic inflammation can ensue. Long-term exposure to irritants like pollution or industrial chemicals can also cause chronic inflammation. Several other factors may cause chronic inflammation – being overweight or obese, smoking, excess alcohol consumption, exposure to chronic stress, our environment (i.e. air pollution, chemicals), and some medications. Genetics undoubtably plays a role in chronic inflammation, particularly when it comes to auto-immune diseases. Many autoimmune disorders linked to chronic inflammation include type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis/ psoriatic arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, Addison’s disease, Graves’ disease, Sjogren’s syndrome, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, vasculitis, pernicious anemia, and celiac disease.
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet
The diet mimics some eating patterns found in the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on whole, nutrient-dense foods. An anti-inflammatory diet can help us maintain good health and keep our immune system in top shape. Foods rich in vitamin C, E, zinc and lean protein are your go-to nutrients for health maintenance.
Vitamin C is found naturally in citrus fruits, cantaloupe, kiwi, papaya, mangos, pineapple, strawberries and blueberries. Vegetable sources of vitamin C include green and red peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, spinach, tomatoes, and winter squash. Nuts and seeds provide great sources of vitamin E, while beans and lentils offer good sources of plant-based lean protein and zinc.
In general, the anti-inflammatory diet recommends less processed and refined foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, red meat (beef and pork), and fats like margarine, vegetable shortening and lard. Instead, the diet encourages wholesome foods – many which have antioxidant properties. Some research has found that these beneficial antioxidants protect our bodies against cell damage and inflammatory-related diseases caused by free radicals. Healthcare practitioners may also prescribe omega-3 and turmeric supplements for some individuals. If you are considering supplementation, connect with a registered dietitian to find the best regimen.
Top Anti-Inflammatory Foods
• Dark leafy greens (spinach, arugula, mustard greens, kale, collard
greens, Swiss chard, microgreens, Boston lettuce, romaine)
• Blueberries, blackberries, and cherries
• Dark grapes
• Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli and cauliflower)
• Beans and lentils
• Green tea
• Red wine (moderate amounts – no more than 15 drinks a week for
men, no more than 10 drinks a week for women or no more than 2
standard drinks per drinking occasion)
• Healthy fats – olive oil, flaxseed oil, canola oil
• Nuts – walnuts, pistachios, almonds, pine nuts
• Fish – salmon, sardines (those high in omega-3s)
• Spices – turmeric and cinnamon
• Dark chocolate
• Some healthy carbohydrates (whole grain breads, pastas, rice)
- Butler, N. (2017, Dec 3). Anti-inflammatory diet: What to know. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320233.php
- Canadian Institutes of Health Research. (2018, Jan 2). Inflammation in chronic disease. Retrieved from http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/43625.html
- Dansinger, M. (2017, Jun 21). Diabetes and inflammation. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/type-2-diabetes-guide/inflammation-and-diabetes#1
- Dietitians of Canada. (2018, Sept 27). Alcohol and nutrition. Retrieved from http://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Alcohol-and-smoking/Alcohol-and-Nutrition.aspx
- Donath, M.Y., & Shoelson, S.E. (2011). Type 2 diabetes as an inflammatory disease. Nature Reviews Immunology, 11(2): 98-107.
- Eder, L., & Harvey, P. (2018, Feb 5). Inflammatory diseases can increase risk of heart disease: Doctors’ notes. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com/life/2018/02/05/inflammatory-diseases-can-increase-risk-of-heart-disease-doctors-notes.html
Rosanna Lee is a registered dietitian / nutritionist with the College of Dietitians of Ontario. She currently practices in private and at multiple medical clinics in the Greater Toronto Area (Lifemark Bathurst and St. Clair, Long Branch Walk-in Clinic, Get Well Clinic). Get in touch with Rosanna today to kick-start your health and wellness journey! Email: [email protected].