The relationship between inflammation and our health has been well studied for decades now. Inflammation – or the gathering of white blood cells, swelling and cleansing -- is a normal and appropriate response to physical injury and the natural healing process. It is not a normal and appropriate physical function, however, to see signs of inflammation on an ongoing basis, even at low levels. Medical professionals do treat for and monitor this, but complementary diet and lifestyle improvements can also be a powerful inflammation reducing tool.
An anti-inflammatory diet would call for foods low in sugar, trans fats and omega-6 fats (found in meat, snack foods and fast food), and high in omega-3 fats. A Mediterranean-style dietary influence is one example of a healthful eating pattern that is rich with beneficial vitamins, minerals, mono- and polyunsaturated essential fatty acids, antioxidants, phytonutrients, healthful oils and dietary fibers. Foods called out as optimal choices include cold-water fish like salmon, herring, and mackerel; fish and krill oil supplements – particularly for those who do not eat fish; whole grains; walnuts, flaxseeds and other nuts; legumes; avocados, berries, watermelon, tomatoes; dark leafy greens; certain spices like ginger, turmeric and rosemary; olive and canola oil.
It may surprise some people to see many higher-fat foods on the list, as they may have associated these with an unhealthful way of eating. On the contrary, foods rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fats are now recognized for all of their healthful properties, particularly with regard to reducing inflammation – commonly seen in arthritic joints – and improving markers of cardiovascular health – including lowered measures of triglycerides, cholesterol and blood pressure. They may also support improved symptoms of some autoimmune processes, and the outcomes of other pre-existing medical conditions.
There are also many lifestyle choices that you can make in the name of preventive health:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat a balanced diet
- Exercise regularly
- Reduce stress levels
- Minimize exposure to pollution and tobacco smoke (including second-hand smoke)
- Minimize alcohol exposure (though red wine has been linked with anti-inflammatory properties)
- Include vitamins and nutrients shown to help reduce inflammation