Inflammation, in its ideal form, is the body’s response to infection and injury. When it works properly, it’s a solution addressing pain and invading organisms. But when inflammation is systemic (throughout our body), low-level and persistent, we are neither healed nor protected. Long-term inflammation can be a factor in chronic pain, as well as many illnesses including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, asthma, allergies, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s.
Inflammation is more common today because our bodies are out of balance. Our bodies produce chemicals called prostaglandins, using nutrients from the food we eat as a raw material. The major nutrients that our bodies use to create prostaglandins are fatty acids from our foods. These are the omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids produce an anti-inflammatory response in our bodies. Omega-6 fatty acids produce an inflammatory response.
Our bodies need an equal amount of each of these fatty acids to maintain a balanced inflammatory status. However, today’s “standard American diet” provides us with up to 20 times as much omega-6 fatty acid as omega-3 fatty acid.
The goal is to balance your food choices so that the sum of all foods eaten over the course of the day is in the positive, anti-inflammatory range.
What are the main sources of the inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids?
Sweets, starches (especially grains), and highly processed foods are the main culprits. We consume more cereal grains (and the oils produced from them) than ever before.
In addition, the animals we eat are also consuming increasing quantities of these grains (primarily corn). Even fish are being corn-fed in farms that raise seafood to meet our growing demands!
Does this mean I have to follow a highly restrictive diet?
No—it simply means you need to be aware of the balance of nutrients your body is receiving! Learn to make nutritional choices that support your body’s natural desire to create a balanced equilibrium of anti- and pro-inflammatory responses.
How do I know if a food is inflammatory?
Foods affect inflammation in complex and unpredictable ways. The IF Rating™ System is a new tool that takes the guesswork out of an anti-inflammatory diet by showing how different foods fuel or fight inflammation. Using the IF Ratings, you can create your own healing, inflammation-reducing diet.
The formula used to calculate the IF Ratings measures the effects of more than 20 different factors that determine a food’s inflammatory or anti-inflammatory potential, including:
- amount and type of fat
- essential fatty acids
- vitamins, minerals and antioxidants
- glycemic index
- anti-inflammatory compounds
Components of an anti-inflammatory diet
Focus on meats, fish, eggs and leafy vegetables!
Low starch and other simple sugars: Insulin and high blood glucose are inflammatory. Have starch only in small portions (½ banana or one side of a hamburger bun) and preferably in unprocessed forms. Aim for less than 30 grams in any meal—less is healthier.
No high fructose corn syrup: High free fructose (in contrast to sucrose—table/white sugar) is inflammatory and contributes to cross linking of collagen fibers, which means prematurely aged skin. This doesn’t mean it’s better to switch to artificial sweeteners! Sucrose is much less inflammatory than alternative sweeteners.
High ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats: Most vegetable oils (olive oil is the exception) are very high in omega-6 fats and are inflammatory and should be avoided. Omega-3 fats from fish oil cannot have their full anti-inflammatory impact in the presence of vegetable oils, so consider how you cook them. Omega-3 supplements are often needed to overcome existing inflammation. For maximum absorption, be sure to take them at a meal where you also eat saturated fats.
No trans fats: All are inflammatory. Read ingredient lists and look for the words “partially hydrogenated.” Don’t believe “no trans fats” claims without reading the ingredient list!
Probiotics and prebiotics: The bacteria in your gut are vitally important in reducing inflammation. Most of the bacteria that initially colonize breastfed babies and are also present in fermented products seem to be helpful. A high-quality probiotic supplement can also be quite helpful.
Saturated fats are healthy and reduce the peroxidation of omega-3 fatty acids at sites of local inflammation, e.g. fatty liver. Saturated fats should be a significant source of dietary calories to balance you towards anti-inflammatory. Vegetable oils (corn, soy, cottonseed, safflower) are rich in omega-6 fatty acids and are dangerously inflammatory. These polyunsaturated oils are less healthy than saturated fats. Olive oil is the most healthy.
Vegetable antioxidants: Vegetables and fruits, along with coffee and chocolate supply very useful, anti-inflammatory anti-oxidants.
How can I balance inflammatory factors?
Here are some simple suggestions to add anti-inflammatory choices into your daily routine:
- Exercise regularly
- Minimize stress
- Get a full night’s sleep
- Eat whole foods, especially organic
- Consider taking a high quality fish oil
- Cook with aromatic spices – garlic, ginger, cayenne, turmeric are anti-inflammatory
- Add avocado, kale, spinach, anchovies, wild Atlantic or sockeye salmon, Brazil nuts, and other anti-inflammatory foods
Mindful choices that add in more omega-3 fatty acids or develop relaxing behavior is the place to start! Making anti-inflammatory choices doesn’t have to feel like deprivation. Remember, everything is a balance.
The Everything Anti-Inflammation Diet Book, by Karlyn Grimes
The Inflammation-Free Diet Plan, by Monica Reinagel (http://www.inflammationfactor.com)
Foods that Fight Fibromyalgia, by Deirdre Rawlings
Meals that Heal Inflammation, by Julie Daniluk
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