Despite the progress in the field of medicine, why are we as a nation getting sicker by the day? Have you wondered about that? Lifestyle diseases are on an all-time high, thanks mainly to our diet and our lifestyle. So, to protect you from the debilitating effects of chronic diseases, lowering your inflammation levels is crucial. Inflammation in the body causes a wide number of diseases, namely arthritis, diabetes, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and even cancer.
So, it is important to make lifestyle changes and make anti-inflammatory foods an intrinsic part of your daily diet. Besides the obvious prevention of diseases, an anti-inflammatory diet can delay the aging process, increases your metabolism and also stabilizes blood sugar levels.
What is the Immune system?
Inflammation and immunity go hand in hand, and one way the immune system functions is causing an inflammatory response to outside bacteria and other invaders. Our body has a complex defense system and comprises two kinds of the immune system; one is inherent immunity, one which you are born with. It protects you from daily battles with the outside threats and the weapons it utilizes to combat with are mucus and stomach acid. Fevers and a cough reflex are some of the examples of antigens that your immunity fights with. Then there is an adaptive immune system which keeps developing as you grow, each time you are attacked by a virus or germ, it keeps a record of it and builds its own strategy to knock off the unknown enemy. It is fascinating to know about these complex system that our body possesses, a complex amalgamation of cells, biological pathways and chemicals which are capable of doing so many miraculous things.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation on its own is not problematic. First, let us get down to understanding what inflammation is and how an inflammatory response from the body is absolutely crucial to protect you from invaders. Inflammation is a sort of defense system which recognizes an invader and acts on it before it causes damage to our body. The immune system sends white blood cells to protect the outsider from damaging the tissue.
Our immune system is alerted by chemical mediators known as cytokines, which help in instigating the defense system to heal. An example is wound healing, and how inflammation protects it from invading microorganisms. Inflammation, as you have found out, is good for the body; the problem arises when inflammation gets out of hand. An over amplified inflammatory response can result in pain or swelling, This is when the inflammatory system is unregulated and fails to protect your body from invaders.
When does Inflammation Cause a Problem?
The immune system is so programmed that it can distinguish between situations when to attack and when not to attack. When the body’s own cell sends a signal, an antigen from your immune system will receive it, interpret it and not attack it. On the other hand, when the body is attacked by a harmful bacteria or virus, your immune system will respond and attack, accordingly.
But things go wrong when the immune system loses its ability to distinguish between its own and outside invaders and starts attacking its own cells, when things go horribly wrong. So when the defense system attacks its own cells and tissues instead of protecting them, it becomes the root cause of most problems, namely autoimmune diseases and other diseases.
Symptoms of Chronic Inflammation
Now you know about inflammation, but do you know how to recognize chronic inflammation?
If you are having one or more of the following symptoms, you need to take stock of things, namely, make some positive changes to your lifestyle!
- Brain fog or frequent bouts of headaches
- Digestive issues like bloating
- Osteoarthritis or joint pain
- Chronic fatigue
- Weight gain or unable to lose weight
- Gum problems
- Mood swings
Tips to Transform your Diet and Reduce Inflammation
You need to balance your inflammation levels in order to lead a happy disease-free life! But how do you bring about that balance? With the help of foods, of course! Your diet plan plays the all-important role in fixing inflammation and prevents diseases, whose root cause is inflammation. “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”, Hippocrates had said that ages ago, and modern day nutritionists and holistic healers are reiterating the same gospel truth! Here are some ways of putting your diet in order.
- Enrich your diet with fiber- A minimum 25 gm of fiber should be added to your diet. It adds the necessary phytonutrients to your diet. The anti-inflammatory phytonutrients are mostly found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains like oak and barley.
The vegetables which need to be added to the diet, in this case, should be okra, eggplant, and onions. The fruits rich in fiber are bananas and blueberries.
- Include a generous serving of fruits and vegetables- Consume at least nine servings of fruits and vegetables. One serving would mean half a cup of vegetables, so now you know the exact amount of fruits and vegetables to be had every day to be labeled as a perfect anti-inflammatory diet.
- Reduce the intake of saturated fat- You need to drastically reduce the intake your saturated fat. Ideally, it should be just 10% of your daily intake of your calories.
Hydrogenated vegetable oils are to be avoided completely, stick to oils, full of omega 3 fatty acids like olive oil and avoid the over consumption of red meat. This will take care of your heart health to a great extent.
- Up your consumption of omega 3 fatty acids- If you love to eat fish, this should prove to be good news, because a diet rich in fish like salmon, oysters and trout is a great weapon to combat inflammation. Try consuming it at least three times a week.
- Do not eat processed foods – This one is a no-brainer! Consider eliminating processed foods with too much of sugar, salt, and additives as soon as possible.
Besides processed sugar like high fructose corn syrup, even artificial sugars are a complete no-no! High levels of consumption of this kind of foods have been said to increase the chances of diseases like diabetes, hypertension, fatty liver syndrome, elevated uric acid levels and so on.
- Use herbs and spices to flavor your foods- Instead of using too much of sugar and/or salt, flavor your foods with anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric, cinnamon, ginger and so on.
These spices are a great way to make your foods high on taste; and they turn out to be healthy as well.
- Choose your snacks wisely- When it comes to a healthy eating plan, most of the times we are successful in eating healthy, except for the time when it is snack time. That is the time we gorge on foods like biscuits and cookies, which are highly inflammatory foods.
Stick to Greek yogurt, apples, carrot sticks, and a handful of nuts to quell your hunger pangs.
- Do not forget the good fats- Your cooking medium should be beneficial for your health and not high in omega 6 fatty acids.
Remember, your body requires fats, but it should be the right kind of fats like nuts, seeds, coconut oil, olive oil and clarified butter.
The Right Foods to Add to an Anti-inflammatory Diet
The right foods can do wonders to your health; foods which are wholesome, nutritious and anti-inflammatory in nature. The first thing which needs to be added to your diet is a healthy dose of anti-oxidants. Along with antioxidants, you need to add omega 3 Fatty acids and the right nutrients, namely vitamins and minerals too, to make it a perfect anti-inflammatory diet.
- Berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries)
- Dark chocolate
- Whole grains like oats
- Beans (choose from red beans, pinto beans, and black beans)
- Dark green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach etc.
- Sweet potatoes
Foods to Include for Your Daily Dose of Omega-3 fatty acids
- Nuts (like almonds, pistachios, and pecans)
- Omega-3 fortified foods (including milk and eggs)
- Chia seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Sabja seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Oily fish (like salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines and tuna)
Some Herbs to Include in an Anti-Inflammatory Diet There is increasing evidence that shows that some culinary herbs like garlic, ginger, and turmeric can help reduce inflammation.
Foods to Exclude from an Anti-inflammatory Diet While there are some foods which should be included in your diet plan, there are some which you must avoid, like omega 6 fatty acids, which increase the inflammation levels of the body. The foods to avoid are,
- Refined grains like white flour
- Vegetable oils (such as hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated oil like cottonseed, soybean, corn, safflower and peanut oil)
- Dairy products (such as milk and milk products like ice-cream, butter, cheese)
- Red Meat (such as lamb, bacon, ham and so on)
A Sample Anti-Inflammatory Diet
This sample diet can help you to form an idea about what foods to include and what to exclude in your daily diet to reduce inflammation and also prevent various diseases.
Day 1 of Anti Inflammatory Diet
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs made with three whole whites and filled with 75g chopped bell peppers and a handful of spinach.
- Mid-morning snack: A handful of mixed nuts
- Lunch: One grilled chicken breast, one small cup of black/white rice a chicken salad and sautéed veggies with red peppers, green beans, and ¼ tbsp. of olive oil.
- Mid-afternoon snack: A bowl of sprouts with sliced cucumbers, tomato, and onion.
- Dinner: 100g grilled salmon with steamed broccoli/ sautéed veggies with mushrooms.
Day 2 of Anti Inflammatory Diet
- Breakfast: Amaranth porridge with almonds.
- Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad.
- Lunch: Baked salmon fillet with mixed green salad, with ½ tbsp. olive oil
- Mid-afternoon snack: Chicken soup
- Dinner: One salmon steak with spinach and steamed green beans.
Day 3 of Anti Inflammatory Diet
- Breakfast: 100g smoked salmon, plus spinach.
- Mid-morning snack: An apple with one tablespoon of peanut butter.
- Lunch: One small bowl of black rice with spicy roasted green beans, with grilled tofu and ½ tbsp. olive oil.
- Mid-afternoon snack: Pumpkin soup.
- Dinner: Chicken minced with roasted red and yellow bell peppers, onion, and sweet potato and spiced up with garlic.
Day 4 of Anti Inflammatory Diet
- Breakfast: Spinach and scrambled eggs (one whole, two whites), with avocado.
- Mid-morning snack: 1 pear.
- Lunch: Green beans and tomato salad with slightly toasted sesame seeds.
- Mid-afternoon snack: 10 walnuts.
- Dinner: Black rice salad with 100g grilled chicken.
Day 5 of Anti Inflammatory Diet
- Breakfast: 2 poached eggs with grilled tomato, broccoli, rocket leaves with ¼ avocado and ¼ cucumbers, slicedMid-morning snack: 15 almonds.
- Lunch: Smoked salmon salad with spinach tomatoes, cucumber, and red pepper.
- Mid-afternoon snack: A cup of preferably black grapes
- Dinner: Black gram cooked in spices.
Day 6 of Anti Inflammatory Diet
- Breakfast: Spinach scrambled eggs with spring onion and cherry tomatoes.
- Mid-morning snack: 12 walnuts.
- Lunch: Spicy roasted beans with chick peas.
- Mid-afternoon snack: A bowl of mixed sprouts.
- Dinner: Millet khichri with roasted cauliflower.
Day 7 of Anti Inflammatory Diet
- Breakfast: Oats and egg pancake with grilled tomatoes, and steamed spinach.
- Mid-morning snack: A smoothie with seasonal fruits.
- Lunch: 150g chicken breast with steamed asparagus and green salad.
- Mid-afternoon snack: 10-15 almonds.
- Dinner: Beetroot salad with chicken and an avocado.
To move towards an anti-inflammatory diet, we have to move away from the standard American Diet and veer towards the tried and tested Mediterranean diet. A Mediterranean diet is all about fresh fruits and vegetables, more of fish, less of meat and is absolutely free of additives and preservatives. It goes without saying that the people who follow the Mediterranean diet have less chances of getting afflicted with cancer.
Visit the Island where People forgot to well…Die!
The truth is stranger than fiction! Yes, when we hear the story of Stamatis Moraitis of Boynton Beach, Florida, who got diagnosed with lung cancer, we didn’t believe it either . He wanted to spend his last years closer to his roots so he went to live in Ikaria, an island off the Greek coast. He lived there for several months and he continued to live there happily and healthily for years together! That is the beauty of people living in these islands.
Fed on a typical Mediterranean diet they seldom suffer from any diseases. Ikarians also live about eight to ten years longer than the people living in America and have less chances of capitulating to cancers and cardiovascular disease; they also suffer less depression and report fewer cases of dementia. Perhaps it is the time we took cues from this diet and started transforming our diets for good! An anti-inflammatory diet is a key to a long healthy life. So, let us accept that and follow the path shown by the original pioneers of the Mediterranean Diet!