The Anti-Inflammatory Diet

I don’t like the word “diet”.  The word, which simply refers to the food we eat, has been taken out of context.  Instead, “diet” now refers to a restrictive, rigid plan someone follows in order to lose weight.  I envision deprivation and depression, and I am not a fan.  However, if I ever had to pick a “diet” to follow, it would be this one:  The Anti-Inflammatory Diet!

It’s not so much a diet, as it is a lifestyle.  Which is what I’m all about!

Inflammation in the body is not just acute, like after surgery or an injury (or an intense workout!).  We are seeing more and more people testing positive for inflammatory markers, chronically.

Chronic inflammation is a little different than acute inflammation.  For example, acute inflammation increases inflammatory markers over a hundred-fold.  While, chronic inflammation increases inflammatory markers by two- to four-fold.  You don’t need lab work to measure for acute inflammation.  It is easily identified by pain, redness, swelling, and even heat.  Chronic inflammation is much harder to identify.  Lab work can be drawn to measure inflammatory markers.  Moreover, chronic inflammation is, well, chronic – slow in onset, yet persistent; if things don’t change, it will persist.  Whereas, acute inflammation is, well, acute – it comes on quickly and goes away quickly.

Science has concluded that one of the causes of chronic inflammation can be environmental, which includes poor lifestyle choices.

Did you know that there is a big inflammatory response in fat cells?  Particularly visceral fat (the fat in the stomach that surrounds the organs) has more inflammatory response than subcutaneous fat (the fat that is under the skin).  So, someone with a lot of body fat, will have more inflammation than someone with a little body fat.  In fact, it is thought that this inflammation isn’t just a side effect of obesity, but rather the link between obesity and disease, and particularly between visceral fat and disease.

Certainly, there are other lifestyle factors involved with inflammation beyond excess body fat.  Stress, lack of exercise, lack of sleep, and poor diet all can contribute to chronic inflammation.

Chronic inflammation can cause heart disease, diabetes, respiratory disease, and some cancers.

So, the Anti-Inflammatory Diet is something that can be followed short-term in the case of acute inflammation from surgery, an injury, or surrounding a hard workout.  However, I recommend it be followed long-term for overall health and well-being – which includes longevity.  But more important than living a long time is feeling good while you’re here.  This way of eating can improve the quality of your life by helping you to feel good, physically.

This diet is just as much for the healthy person who exercises regularly and the athlete (it will help with recovery between workouts!!), as it is for the person who has chronic disease and can’t get enough exercise – when you can’t work out frequently, the foods you eat become that much more important to managing your health.


Anti-inflammatory Diet

  • Eat more fruits and veggies:
    • Locally grown is the best.
    • Fresh at the grocery store and frozen is second.  Many times the produce at the grocery store has traveled hundreds and even thousands of miles.  Along the way, nutrients are lost.  The process of freezing foods causes it to loose nutrients, but they are frozen in their freshest (most nutrient dense) state.  Therefore, they are both treated as equals.
    • Canned is third, but canned is still better than nothing!
  • Eat more food sources of omega 3 Fatty Acids:
    • Fish sources have the strongest effect: Salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies, lake trout.
    • Plant sources have a minimal effect: walnuts, flax seeds and flax seed oil, and chia seeds.
    • Fish oil supplements don’t seem to produce any anti-inflammatory response.
  • Eat more whole grains:
    • Brown rice, whole wheat pasta and bread, oatmeal, barley, “ancient” grains (quinoa, spelt, farro, kamut, millet, etc.).  The less processed the better!
    • Starchy vegetables can be included here or under fruit and veggies, and they include:  potatoes, corn, and legumes (beans and peas).
  • Eat more healthy protein sources:
    • Poultry, fish, lean beef and pork, game
    • Use egg whites to increase volume with less fat
    • Low fat milk, yogurt, and cheese
    • Handful of nuts and seeds or small spoon of nut butters
    • Beans and peas
  • Add a variety of spices to your food:
    • Ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, clove, curry, black pepper, garlic, sage, red pepper, rosemary, cocoa powder, cardamom, nutmeg, etc.  By doing this, you can take “bland tasting healthy food” and make it taste great!
  • Incorporate probiotics into your diet:
    • Kefir, yogurt (w/ live cultures), sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented pickles (less commercialized), Kombucha tea, miso paste, microalgae, tempeh.
    • The goal for probiotics is 1 billion CFU’s per day (or 5-10 billion if you have chronic gastrointestinal issues).
  • Eat less saturated and trans fats:
    • Saturated fats: Processed meats like sausage, hot dogs, hot links, bologna, salami, etc.
    • Trans fats: high fat snack foods (mostly baked goods) like cookies, cakes, and crackers, as well as canned dough products (like canned biscuits and canned cinnamon rolls, for example).
  • Eat less refined and processed foods:
    • Packaged, store bought food items
  • If of age, don’t drink alcohol or drink alcohol in moderation:
    • Men: 0-2 drinks per day
    • Women: 0-1 drink per day
    • One drink = 1.5 oz distilled spirits, 12 oz beer, 5 oz wine

You can see by looking at this list of foods, it really is a healthy diet, full of nutrient dense foods.

I recommend taking the approach of focusing on the foods you should be eating more of.  Set goals to increase these foods.  When you take this approach, you will automatically eat less of the foods you should be eating less of.

I don’t recommend focusing on the “shouldn’t eat” list.  We set ourselves up for failure when we focus on what we shouldn’t be eating.  As soon as we start looking at what not to do, we start to want it!