Anti-Inflammation Diet For Dummies
Choosing an anti-inflammation diet is one way to control inflammation in your body. For anyone living with chronic inflammation, finding a way to decrease symptoms and, if possible, erase the inflammation altogether, is a blessing. In many cases, living with inflammation doesn't have to be permanent — you can treat, prevent, and sometimes even eradicate those inflammatory issues by knowing which foods are triggers for you, which foods are bad for everyone, and how to change your diet accordingly.
Linking Inflammation to Chronic Diseases
Inflammation contributes to the development and symptoms of chronic illnesses, and understanding that link is the first step in knowing how to change your diet in order to combat inflammation and take better care of yourself. Here are some illnesses linked to inflammation:
Heart disease: Clinical research has linked heart disease — from coronary artery disease to congestive heart failure — to inflammation. Physicians and researchers provide evidence that the fatty deposits the body uses to repair damage to the arteries are just the start.
Cancer: Foods and proteins, such as fruits and green vegetables, can help you significantly reduce your risks of cancer. Chronic inflammation has been shown to contribute to the growth of tumor cells and other cancer cells.
Arthritis and joint pain: Arthritis has always been linked to inflammation, but it hasn't always been evident that a change in diet could help alleviate the pain and possibly even postpone the onset. Now, however, medical and nutrition professionals see the benefits that natural, vitamin-rich foods can have in relieving the pain of arthritis and possibly even diminishing the inflammation.
Weight gain: It's no secret that food is linked to obesity, but certain foods have a tendency to pile on the pounds more than others. Refined flours and sugars, for example, don't get digested properly and turn to fat much sooner than other, unprocessed foods. Obesity increases inflammation throughout the body by piling pressure on the joints and aiding arthritis, for instance.
Choosing Good Fats for an Anti-Inflammation Diet
Consuming fat in an anti-inflammatory diet isn't forbidden — but the key is knowing which fats are good, which are bad, and which aren't too awful in moderation. "Fat" has become a dirty word in the dietary world, but some fats are not only good for you but necessary for a healthy lifestyle:
Good fats: Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are essential to keeping the good fat in your body in check. Good sources of these fats include olive oil, nuts (almonds, pecans, peanuts, and walnuts, for example), oatmeal, sesame oil and seeds, and soybeans, as well as the omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, herring, trout, and sardines. The total fat intake for a day should equal between 20 and 35 percent of total calories for the day, and just 10 percent of those calories should be made up of the "bad" fats.
Not-so-good fats: Some foods with saturated fats are okay in moderation, as long as your "moderation" doesn't mean daily. Splurge every now and then, but remember that each splurge takes away from the good you're doing for your body. Sources of saturated fats include fatty meats, butter, cheese, ice cream, and palm oil. Not all saturated fats are bad: Coconut and coconut oil, while considered saturated fats, are actually healthy and beneficial to an anti-inflammatory diet.
Awful fats: Avoid trans fats at all costs. Trans fats are the bad fats found in cakes, pastries, margarine, and shortening, among other foods. One quick and easy way to identify trans fats is to consider the form: Is the fat a solid that can melt and then solidify again? If so, chances are it's a trans fat. Reading the labels on foods is another way to identify trans fats: Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats are trans fats, too.
Making Anti-Inflammatory Food Choices
After you discover the link between inflammation and chronic illness — and the important role food has in fighting them both — you need an idea of what foods will help you treat and even prevent inflammation. Here are some ideas to guide your food choices for different meals:
Breakfasts: Turn to natural ingredients in homemade smoothies, such as berries, honey, and Greek or non-dairy yogurt. Some egg dishes, particularly those made with organic eggs, can help lower inflammation as well. Want toast? Try something gluten- and wheat-free, like rice breads.
Snacks and appetizers: The easiest natural snack is a handful of fruit or fresh veggies. Grab a good crispy apple or a handful of snow peas and you've done your body proud. Want to make it a little snappier? Throw together an avocado dip, stuff an oversized portobello mushroom with kale and other heart-healthy ingredients, or grab a handful of dates. Fruits and nuts are great on-the-go snacks and are filled with vitamins and nutrients, as well as the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids found in most nuts.
Soups and salads: Sometimes there's nothing better than a good cup of soup or a nice salad, but it's easy to get fooled by those that may not be as healthy as they appear. Good soups for fighting inflammation include vegetable soup with a butternut squash base or miso soup with gluten-free noodles. Many people have inflammatory reactions to tomatoes and other nightshade fruits and vegetables, so it's a good idea to stay away from tomato-based soups with potatoes and bell peppers. For salads, steer toward the darker greens and fresh organic toppers, dressed with just a sprinkling of vinegar or olive oil.
Main dishes: Some good anti-inflammatory options for main dishes include most kinds of fish, which is full of omega-3 fatty acids. If you're looking for a bit of protein in your main dish, turn to chicken or even tofu. Try to avoid red meat if possible, but use grass-fed meat if you must go that route.
Desserts: Think "desserts" and the word "sweet" is likely the first to pop into mind — and just because you're trying to fight inflammation doesn't mean you have to fight your sweet tooth, too. Try some chopped fruit and melted dark chocolate to get the vitamins in the fruit and the rich antioxidants in dark chocolate. Need something creamy? Try adding some vanilla extract or honey to a Greek or non-dairy yogurt or, if dairy isn't a problem for you, add it to a little bit of light ricotta cheese.
Changing Your Cooking Methods to Reduce Inflammation
An anti-inflammatory diet begins with choosing the right foods, but it continues with using anti-inflammatory cooking methods to prepare those foods. You can undo a lot of the good in your healthy foods by cooking them the wrong way. Here are some tips on getting the most out of your cooking methods:
Baking: Put your food in the center of a glass or ceramic baking dish, leaving room around the sides to let hot air circulate. Setting veggies on the bottom of a dish, under meat or fish, adds moisture and enhances flavor. Cover the dish to let the food cook with steam while retaining its natural juices.
Steaming: Use a vegetable steamer, rice cooker, or bamboo steamer — or create your own steamer with a covered pot and slotted insert — to gently cook a variety of foods. Take care not to overcook vegetables, fish, or seafood. Marinate foods with herbs such as rosemary and sage before steaming, and add spices such as ginger and turmeric to foods while steaming to infuse the flavor into the food.
Poaching: This gentle cooking method requires no additional fats, such as oil. Bring poaching liquid (water or stock, usually) to a boil and add your meat, seafood, or veggies; reduce the heat and simmer until done for a lowfat, flavorful result. Save the poaching liquid from meat or fish and use it as the base of a soup.
Stir-frying: This method allows you to cook with a small amount of oil (or none at all) at high temperatures for a very short amount of time so that the food absorbs very little oil. Vegetables in particular retain their beneficial nutrients.
Grilling and broiling: Reserve grilling for fish and veggies, which don't need much cooking time. Grilling and broiling meats involves excessive temperatures that cause the fats and proteins in meat and protein turn into heterocyclic amines (HAs), which may raise the risk of certain cancers.
Microwaving: As for giving your food a quick zap in the microwave, that convenience appliance destroys the nutrients in food because of the high heat, so you should avoid this cooking method.