Photo: Fresh Berries

by Sabra Leomo, Registered Dietitian

Women are multi-taskers; if we are doing one thing we are doing six things. We are wonderful at getting things accomplished but we often put our own needs and health on the back-burner. Insufficient sleep, stress, obesity and busy lifestyles that lack self-care can all contribute to inflammation in our bodies.

Let’s take a minute to talk about inflammation. It is important to differentiate between acute and chronic inflammation. Acute inflammation is completely natural, and occurs when you get a cut and it becomes red, swollen and warm within minutes or hours. Acute inflammation is how our bodies heal themselves and once the injury is healed the inflammation goes away. Inflammation becomes problematic when it sticks around for a long period of time -- this is known as chronic -- and can lead to tissue damage and inflammatory disease.

Chronic inflammation may become the root of many diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease1. Inflammation also plays a role in autoimmune diseases where the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells.

There is no single anti-inflammatory diet, rather it a way of eating that incorporates foods that have anti-inflammatory effects while minimizing foods that can cause inflammation. Foods that are considered anti-inflammatory are ones that are recommended for a general healthful diet.

Incorporate more of these anti-inflammatory foods into your diet:

  • Fruits and vegetables - All fruits help fight inflammation in the body due to their high fiber and antioxidant content. But berries have especially strong anti-inflammatory benefits—likely owing to the powers of anthocyanin, which is the blue, violet, and red flavinoid pigment in plants. This gives berries their rich color and anti-inflammatory properties. Bright colored vegetables and dark leafy greens also contribute anti-inflammatory effects on the body.
  • Olive oil - Extra virgin olive oil contains a compound called oleocanthal that works to decrease inflammation in the body comparably to ibuprofen. Olive oil is best used in salad dressings or low-heat cooking so that nutrients are not destroyed by heat.
  • Whole grains - The fiber and nutrients that are provided by whole grains help lower C-reactive protein, which is a marker for inflammation in the blood2.
  • Nuts and seeds - Nuts such as almonds and walnuts contain magnesium, l-arginine and vitamin E, which may help keep inflammation under control.
  • Omega 3-fatty acids - Animal experiments and clinical intervention studies indicate that omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) have anti-inflammatory properties and, therefore, might be useful in the management of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases3. Vegetarian sources of omega-3s provide only alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is a precursor to DHA. The best sources of ALA are seeds, oils from seeds, and walnuts (for example: chia seeds, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, hempseeds, hempseed oil) .
  • Green, white, or oolong tea - Tea contains polyphenols, which are natural antioxidant plant compounds that have anti-inflammatory effects. 
  • Turmeric and ginger - These spices have strong anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin is the main anti-inflammatory compound in turmeric, and has been found to be effective in reducing joint inflammation4. Add some black pepper to your diet when you consume turmeric to increase the absorption of curcumin.

Limit foods that can cause inflammation:

  • Saturated fat and trans fat - These fats should be avoided because they may cause inflammation and increase the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
  • Sources of added sugar - Processed sugars (soda, sweetened snacks, candy, sweetened cereal, etc.) trigger the release of inflammatory messengers called cytokines5. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons or 25 grams of added sugar per day.
  • Processed and refined carbohydrates - Fiber, vitamins, and other important nutrients are removed during the process of making refined carbohydrates. Fiber helps you feel full longer and helps feed beneficial bacteria in your gut. Refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta, and pastries also cause blood glucose levels to rise rapidly compared with carbohydrates that contain fiber. 
  • Red meat and processed meats - Consuming processed meats is linked to increased risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke6.

Chronic inflammation is associated with many diseases including autoimmune disorders. Adding anti-inflammatory foods to your diet while decreasing foods that cause inflammation can help decrease your risk of chronic inflammation. Aim for variety while enjoying fresh and healthy foods that optimize a healthy weight.

Footnotes: 

1 “Inflammation and Diet”. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. http://www.eatright.org/resource/health/wellness/preventing-illness/inflammation-and-diet. Accessed 14 August 2017.
2 “Association between dietary fiber and serum C-reactive protein”. PubMed.gov. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1456807/. Accessed 16 August 2017.
3 “Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases”. PubMed.gov. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12480795. Accessed 15 August 2017.
4 “Turmeric”. Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/treatments/natural/supplements-herbs/guide/turmeric.php. Accessed August 18 2017.
5 “The effects of diet on inflammation: emphasis on the metabolic syndrome”. PubMed.gov. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16904534. Accessed 16 August 2017.
6 “WHO report says eating processed meat is carcinogenic: Understanding the findings”. Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2015/11/03/report-says-eating-processed-meat-is-carcinogenic-understanding-the-findings/. Accessed 16 August 2017.