Inflammation can be tricky to manage. In short, controlled amounts, it helps your body recover from injury and illness by supplying necessary blood and heat to affected areas. However, ongoing or chronic inflammation increases your risk for heart and kidney disease and autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease.
The good news is that the meals you choose can increase or help to decrease overall inflammation. Many people with chronic conditions follow eating guidelines to keep their levels in check.
I'd love to share with you five tips to get more anti-inflammatory foods into your diet.
1. Choose Cooking Oils Wisely
When the news about saturated fats and heart disease risk broke, manufacturers raced to create healthier cooking oils. However, they may have done more harm than good in some cases.
While plant-based oils are generally higher in the unsaturated fats once considered beneficial, some researchers have begun to cast aspersions on the high omega-6 levels in the typical western diet. While omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids benefit human health, the wrong balance can increase inflammation.
What should you eat? Opt for cooking oils that have a better omega-3 to omega-6 balance — like olive and avocado oil — and aim to get more fatty fish in your diet. Seafood such as salmon, sardines and mackerel contain high levels of omega-3s to help balance the omega-6 in many popular cooking oils like safflower and sunflower.
What about canola oil? This cooking oil is known by many as a cheaper, healthier alternative. Some people tolerate it without problems — however, others develop violent allergies. Humans shouldn’t eat the raw plant since it’s genetically modified to eliminate toxic erucic acid and glucosinolates. However, high-heat cooking methods and hydrogenation alter the chemical structure, making it problematic for some people. Use with caution and mindfully examine any inflammatory effects.
2. Visit Your Farmer’s Market
Farmer’s markets are absolute bonanzas for getting more anti-inflammatory foods into your diet. Why is that? You’ll find the freshest, organically-grown produce brimming with antioxidants and phytonutrients to support vibrant health.
Part of that dynamic involves calming widespread systemic inflammation. Fresh food works by providing your body with the nutrition it needs to overcome daily stressors and toxins like micromanaging supervisors and environmental pollutants.
For example, summer stone fruits are a spectacular antioxidant source. Pick up a basket of fresh nectarines, peaches, apricots, plums or cherries — or their exciting hybrid cousins.
Do you want a healthy and anti-inflammatory summer spritzer, unlike the alcohol-based numbers that can spur swelling and anxiety? Mix a can of Zevia zero-calorie ginger ale with a dash of peach puree and top with fresh apricot and plum slices. Divine! For gut health, which is connected to inflammation try my Love Your Gut Synbiotic.
3. Go International
What’s on your dinner menu tonight? The typical American diet has become overly laden with problematic foods. However, you can improve your diet by taking tips from friends around the globe.
Many clinical nutritionists like myself uphold the Mediterranean diet as a model of healthy eating. Why? It’s high in plant-based foods, healthy oils and lean proteins, reserving fattier, denser meals like red meats as accompaniments, not the meal's centerpiece.
Plus, many people have little trouble getting on board with this meal plan. Who wouldn’t love a healthy plate of whole-grain spaghetti with zucchini, paired with a light caesar salad?
Do you have more exotic tastes? If so, go gaga for Asian cuisine. Popular spices like turmeric and ginger are anti-inflammatory powerhouses. Your best bet is pairing these herbs with black pepper to enhance the calming effect — try an exotic curried chicken with a side of carrot ginger soup with roasted vegetables.
4. Pick a Better Flour
If you’re like many, you have the trusty bag of bleached, all-purpose flour on your pantry shelf or tucked into a storage container. However, you could be serving up an inflammatory nightmare for your pancreas.
The manufacturing process can sometimes create a chemical byproduct called alloxan, which scientists use to induce diabetes in laboratory animals. When you combine alloxan with the rapidly absorbing, blood-sugar-spiking nature of white flour, you have a recipe for the Type 2 form of the disease in humans.
Fortunately, you have a world of other choices. You might have to experiment a bit to get the taste and texture to your liking, but you can play with quinoa and amaranth if you like ancient grains.
Are you craving more protein in your diet? Try lentil or garbanzo bean flour. You can even find insect flour in select specialty stores if you aren’t squeamish. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with opting for whole-grain flour or a gluten-free substitute like oat.
5. Think Plant-Based
Strive to make your diet as plant-based as possible. Such foods contain natural nutrients your body absorbs better than supplements. They provide the building blocks for all the processes your body needs to perform to function at its best and help promote homeostasis — your ability to maintain internal stability as conditions change. Drastic fluctuations can spur inflammation.
The easiest way to incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet is to look at your plate as a clock at each meal. Fill half of it with the deep, leafy green and colorful stuff, leaving 15 minutes for lean protein and 15 for starch.
You can also identify painless ways to incorporate more vegetables into typical meals. For example, do you take a sandwich or wrap most days for lunch? Top it with red pepper, red onion, lettuce and tomato.
Do you have a handful of vegetables left over from various meals that you don’t want to get limp and soggy? Mix up some broth-based vegetable soup and indulge in a bowl before your main course.
Eat More Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Feel Better
Chronic, widespread inflammation increases your risk of nearly every disease. It can also make you feel downright yucky and unenergetic most days.
However, you can tame the flame by getting more anti-inflammatory foods into your diet. Follow the five tips above to improve your meal planning and boost your overall health.