Inflammation is one of the main causes of chronic disease. It can affect your heart, eyes, musculoskeletal system, immune system, and contribute to other diseases like Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease. There are many contributing factors that cause inflammation in the body. Stress, lack of exercise, smoking (and second hand smoke), exposure to toxins and genetic predisposition all can increase inflammation in your body. However, your diet can a major role. In a recent blog entry I suggested some beneficial ways to decrease inflammation in your body, however, this blog entry will focus specifically on an anti-inflammatory diet.
The Inflammatory Cycle
Inflammation is part of the natural healing process our body utilizes to stimulate repair of damaged tissues. When this process becomes chronic, however, further damage is done and the healing process is impeded. Inflammation also causes fat cells to become insulin resistant. This inhibits the body from efficiently burning sugar and fat and in fact results in an increased appetite and fat storage. The level of fat in your circulatory system increases and then accumulates in your muscles, arteries and organs leading to a wide range of disease like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, fatty liver, and more. The list goes on and we don’t have enough room in this blog to cover it all. The most important thing to take away is that eating an anti-inflammatory diet is one of the best ways you can proactively break the cycle of inflammation and help protect yourself from chronic disease.
Inflammation and Oils
One of the key points in an anti-inflammatory diet is to obtain a healthy balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. The ratio between these two types of fatty acids is the crucial component. It is theorized that humans evolved on a diet that was almost 1:1 in the ratio of foods containing omega 6s to omega 3s. The average Western diet is now at a ratio of about 16:1. This causes much more inflammation in the body. Studies have shown that people eating a diet with a ratio of 2.5:1 had reduced rectal cell proliferation in patients with colorectal cancer. The lower omega 6 to omega 3 ratio in women with breast cancer was also associated with a decreased risk. Inflammation was suppressed in patients with rheumatoid arthritis eating a 2-3:1 diet. Asthma patients had a beneficial effect with a ratio of 5:1, yet had adverse effects when eating a diet with a ratio of 10:1.¹
Typical foods high in Omega-6s are refined vegetable oils, soybean oil (common in many snack foods and cookies), corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, canola oil, margarine, and many types of mayonnaise and dressings (read the label). It’s important to remember that you shouldn’t try to completely avoid Omega-6s in your diet. The important thing to remember is that we want a balanced ratio.
“A lower ratio of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids is more desirable in reducing the risk of many of the chronic diseases of high prevalence in Western societies,” states Dr. Simopoulos of The Center of Genetics, Nutrition and Health.
Omega 3 fatty acids have been one of the nutritional buzz words for the past few years, and for a very good reason. These have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body and are found in foods such as kale, spinach, collards, walnuts, wild salmon, black cod, sardines, mackerel, flax seeds (oil), chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and avocado. If you’re going to eat beef, opt for the organic grass fed kind.
Many of you may be curious about the dangers of eating so much seafood in relation to mercury levels. The Washington Post provided a great graph which can help you pick your seafood wisely.
Source: Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on the Risks and Benefits of Fish Consumption. | Patterson Clark/The Washington Post. Published on April 3, 2012, 11:13 a.m.
It is important to remember when you are at the market, to buy wild caught fish and not farm raised fish. Here’s why:
- Farm raised fish have less anti-inflammatory omega 3’s.
- Farm raised fish have more pro-inflammatory omega 6’s.
- Wild caught fish have more anti-inflammatory omega 3’s (about 33% more in many fish).
- Farm raised fish contain more toxins and pollutants.
- Farm raised salmon are given canthaxanthin to make them more pink, which has been linked to retinal damage.
Inflammation and Sugar
Sugar and refined carbohydrates like white flour are also pro-inflammatory, due to their effect of increasing blood sugar and insulin levels in the body. Chemical reactions between proteins and sugars form molecules called AGEs (advanced glycation end products), which are inflammatory. Your body tries to protect you from these molecules by breaking them apart with immune cells. These immune cells produce large amounts of inflammatory chemicals to do this. When our bodies are flooded with sugar and refined carbohydrates too many of these inflammatory chemicals are released over extended periods of time, contributing to chronic inflammation.
The best way to fight this branch of inflammation is to stay away from refined carbohydrates and sugars. This can be done by eating less bread, white potatoes, chips, pastries, sodas, crackers, fast food, and products containing high fructose corn syrup. The anti-inflammatory diet contains more whole grains, beans, sweet potatoes, winter squashes and other vegetables. Good fruits that fight inflammation are blueberries, pomegranate, pineapple, and papaya.
Anti-inflammatory Herbs and Spices
There are many herbs and spices that can help fight the effects of inflammation in the body as well. Some of these include:
- Boswellia (Indian Frankincense)
- Holy Basil
There are also many wonderful Chinese herbs for inflammation. However, it is best to visit a practitioner of Chinese medicine to find out which ones are most appropriate for your constitution and diagnosis.
¹Biomed Pharmacother. 2002 Oct;56(8):365-79. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Simopoulos AP. The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, Washington, DC 20009, USA. firstname.lastname@example.org