There’s an ever-growing consciousness in America about our food and our diets, so much so that it can be confusing. There are so many diets out there that promise to do different things. Because I have an inflammatory autoimmune disease, the diet I follow is anti-inflammatory. The point, as you may suspect, is to minimize inflammation in your body. But, it’s not just for those with inflammatory conditions, it’s a healthy preventative lifestyle for anyone. Inflammation is responsible for many issues in our bodies, including aging, heart disease, asthma, and arthritis. So, minimizing inflammation is good for everyone.
Inflammation occurs for many reasons — often as a response to trauma or an injury — and inflammation is damaging in itself. What many people don’t know is that certain foods are actually inflammatory and damaging to our bodies. The idea behind the anti-inflammatory diet is not only to help keep inflammation at bay by eating things that are good for us, but also to avoid those foods that are harmful and can cause more inflammation.
Without getting too technical into all the chemical mediators involved in inflammation, I'll discuss the basic principles for following this diet. There’s a ton of information out there on the different chemical cascades involved in inflammation if you’re interested, but in order to simplify things, we’ll talk in black and white, good and bad. Working with a nutritionist is always a good idea when you’re embarking on a new diet or making lifestyle changes regarding food, as they can make sure you’re meeting all your nutritional needs in the process.
Fats: Minimizing your saturated fats (butter, cheese, ice cream, red meat) and maximizing your healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, almonds).
Omega-3 fatty acids: These anti-inflammatory fatty acids can be found in things like fish oil and flax seed. They decrease inflammation, help with arthritis, and improve heart health, just to name a few. I take Nordic Naturals Omega-3 fish oil supplement three times a day.
Whole grains: Substituting a heartier grain for more processed grains like white bread will decrease the inflammatory response. Whole grains include quinoa, barley, oats, rice, corn, and wheat. If you’re gluten-free like me, obviously you should skip the wheat.
Fruits and vegetables: This is a no-brainer. We all know fruits and vegetables are the key to good health, and you’re not getting any nutritional value from those Flaming Hot Cheetos.
Eliminate processed foods: See above. The next time you grab a snack from a package, read the label. You’ll be amazed at all the things in your food you can’t pronounce. Many of the chemicals in processed foods cause inflammation in your body and help contribute to the disease process. And, this isn't even taking into account the effect of all the added salt, sugar, and fat. To make you feel better, my nickname at work used to be “Chippy,” because I was always eating a bag of chips. If Chippy can change, so can you.
Sugar: Limiting your sugar intake is super-important if you want to be healthy. To limit added sugar in your diet, reading labels really helps. Drinks are a sneaky culprit. Those tasty holiday Starbucks drinks you love so much are swimming with sugary syrup.
Look, I’m not the fun police here. Like I said before, I was born into a nacho-cheese dynasty. But, who’s to say that I didn’t end up with an inflammatory disease partially because of my terrible diet? The good news is that it’s never too late to change your bad habits. The anti-inflammatory diet is a lifestyle; it’s a way of eating to promote good health by limiting harmful foods. Whether you choose to eliminate those harmful foods is completely up to you. For someone like me who is controlling a disease, it’s better to avoid the bad stuff. But, for those of you looking to prevent disease, a little dip into the nacho pond now and then won’t hurt you. Just think of me fondly while you’re there, and say hello to my mom and dad.