Diet and exercise play a tremendous role in helping us lead long, healthy, and active lives — this we understand more by the day. The two alone won’t always save us from life-threatening illnesses or trauma, but the likelihood we’ll be physically and mentally stronger if we embrace healthy choices early on in life is quite strong.
It’s clear we must eat the right foods, and not “just because.” Healthy, whole foods help us fight inflammation, which is important in staving off disease.
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Foods can either trigger a protective response from our immune system, which it is designed to do, or inflame our white blood cells to the point that they attack our internal tissue and leave us vulnerable to bacteria and viruses. Chronic inflammation is believed to be behind a growing number of diagnoses of autoimmune disease, cancer, arthritis, and heart disease.
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“Many processed foods are digested rapidly and send blood sugars levels up quickly. This can lead to elevated levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and higher indices of oxidation and inflammation which accelerates internal cellular damage,” said Shawn Talbott, a Salt Lake City-area nutritional biochemist.
“On the contrary, less-processed ‘whole’ foods such as fruits and vegetables tend to keep blood sugar levels lower and with a much slower rise, so cortisol/oxidation/inflammation is much lower, and sometimes even reduced below baseline levels,” he told LifeZette.
The good news, according to Florida-based registered dietician nutritionist Dr. Jo Lichten, author of “Reboot: How to Power Up Your Energy, Focus, and Creativity,” is that certain foods and other lifestyle factors can reduce inflammation and reduce our risk for these conditions.
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Even better, she told LifeZette, “These same foods are recommended for keeping a healthy weight — since excess weight causes chronic inflammation too.”
Both Lichten and Talbott both recommend the following foods as diet staples.
1.) Fatty fish. Fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help reduce inflammation, said Lichten. She recommends we eat one portion several times a week, and it should be cooked in a healthy way, such as baking rather than frying.
2.) Extra-virgin olive oil or expeller-pressed organic canola oil. Either of these can be used as a main fat source. These oils are rich in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat believed to reduce inflammation.
3.) Vegetable protein. Beans, nuts, and soybeans are great sources of anti-inflammatory foods. Beans are high in phytonutrients, which lower inflammation. Nuts are rich in monounsaturated fats, fiber, and vitamin E. Soy, including tofu and edamame, contains isoflavones, which may lower inflammation.
4.) Colorful fruits and vegetables. Think berries, tart cherries, tomatoes, beets, and dark greens. The more colorful they are, the more antioxidants they contain.
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5.) Spices. Include a healthy mix of ginger, turmeric, garlic, onions, and peppers in the diet, as these are rich in antioxidants that can cut back on inflammation. Many of these are also said to offer medicinal qualities for brain function, pain control, and overall health, according to Lichten and Talbott.
6.) Whole grains. Oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat bread, and bulgur wheat are healthy options for anti-inflammatory foods as well. Refined grains tend to be high in fiber, which may also help with inflammation.
“Foods can have a huge impact on the overall level of inflammatory balance, and thus, our health,” said Talbott. “Eating is perhaps the most intimate interaction that we have with the world — the food that we eat ‘becomes’ part of us. This makes the whole ‘you are what you eat’ concept much more than a clever saying.”