Uses for the Anti-Inflammation Diet
Inflammation is the body's natural way of fighting disease. It's fairly well understood that certain chronic illnesses-- such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and eczema stem -- lead to chronic inflammation. Many more diseases -- obesity, hypertension, atherosclerosis, osteoporosis, Parkinson's, cancer, depression and COPD -- are also linked to chronic inflammation.
According to About.com's Alternative Medicine Guide, chronic inflammation occurs:
"when the immune system continually releases chemicals that are typically responsible for combating harmful substances like viruses and bacteria. Often resulting from lifestyle factors like stress and lack of exercise, chronic inflammation occurs even when there are no foreign invaders to fight off.
Since nutrition is thought to influence chronic inflammation, it is not surprising that proponents believe that the anti-inflammation diet can help "curb" inflammation and prevent or treat the following illnesses:
- heart disease
- inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease)
- irritable bowel syndrome
Foods Purported to Be Anti-Inflammatory
While every book you read on the anti-inflammatory diet presents its own, special twist on the diet, in general eating foods from the list below will start you off on the right track. You'll probably notice these diet tips are not that different from eating a regular healthy diet.
- Eat a rainbow of organic fruits and vegetables -- Load your plate with plenty of raw and cooked vegetables -- at least 9 servings per day -- from each color group and don't forget about adding extra leafy greens. Choose 2 to 4 servings of fresh fruits and be sure to include antioxidant fruits such as strawberries and raspberries.
- Get wholesome with whole grains -- Eat 3 servings a day of whole grains such as brown rice, millet, quinoa, amaranth, or buckwheat. Small amounts of rice noodles, udon or soba are okay, but limit yourself to eating these only 2 to 3 times per week. If possible, avoid baked flour -- white or wheat -- as it is not part of an anti-inflammatory diet.
- Walk on the wild side of seafood -- Eat seafood, including salmon, sardines, anchovies, herring, and (some) shellfish. Seafood that is either sustainably farmed or wild-caught is best. Additionally, smaller, cold-water fish contain the least amount of mercury and the highest amount of Omega-3 fatty acid, which is most desirable on an anti-inflammatory diet.
- Pick plenty of plant-based proteins -- Start with one to two servings of organic beans and legumes every day. Then add one serving of a soy-based protein like tofu or edemame.
- When choosing other proteins -- When plant-based proteins don't quite cut it, choose up to 2 servings per week of organic eggs, sheep or goat milk products, and 1 serving of organic meats such as chicken, turkey or lamb.
- Enjoy EFA's and healthy fats -- Select essential fatty acids in the form of purified fish or omega flax oils. Grab a handful of nuts or seeds, such as walnuts or almonds. Olive, walnut and sesame oils are great for cooking. Oils that are genetically modified -- like soy, corn, canola or other blended oils -- are purported to contribute to inflammation.
- Help yourself to hydration -- Drink plenty of water and green tea. At least 8, eight-ounce glasses a day.
- Super sweet tooth? -- No problem. Try small portions of healthy desserts such as dried, unsweetened, unsulphered organic fruits, fruit sorbet, and even a few squares of organic, dark chocolate (70% cacao.)
Foods to Avoid on the Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Purporters of the anti-inflammatory diet say that foods containing Omega-6 fatty acids should be eaten in moderation while on this diet as they increase the natural production of inflammatory chemicals in the body. Because there are some health benefits derived from Omega-6 fatty acids -- they help maintain bone health, regulate metabolism and promote brain function -- they should not be cut out completely. Rather, balancing Omega-6 fatty acids with Omega-3 fatty acids is encouraged.
Below is a list of foods high in Omega-6 fatty acids:
- milk, cheese, butter, ice cream and other dairy products
- vegetable oils (corn, safflower, grapeseed, cottonseed, peanut and soybean oil.)
What the Research Says
While scientific research is limited as to the benefits of the anti-inflammation diet in COPD, the research that is available suggests that following an anti-inflammatory diet may help reduce C-reactive protein, a substance in the body that is found in higher levels when inflammation is present. Moreover, there's at least some evidence that the anti-inflammation diet may help reduce inflammation in long-term, inflammation-related illnesses such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity.
Be sure to check with your health care provider before starting this, or any other type of eating plan.
Jen Hoy. Whole Foods Cooking Guide. The Anti-Inflammatory Diet: Cooling the “Fires” Within.
Peter Kardos, MD and Joseph Keenan, MD. Tackling COPD: a Multicomponent Disease Driven by Inflammation. MedGenMed. 2006; 8(3): 54. Published online 2006 August 31.
Cathy Wong, About.com Alternative Medicine Guide. Anti-Inflammatory Diet. September 23, 2011