Is inflammation the new buzz word?
The topic of inflammation has received a lot of attention recently because of a growing awareness that it underlies many of our most common diseases, including heart disease and cancer.
Inflammation is harmful because it increases oxidative stress in the body which leads to the formation of free radicals. Free radicals can alter your body's cells in ways that set the stage for many age-related conditions.
You can find out if you have too much inflammation by asking your doctor to order a simple blood test called a C-reactive protein. This is one of the many markers in your body that increase in response to inflammation.
The causes of inflammation have a strong connection to both our food choices and to our body weight.
Foods in our Western diet that are associated with increases in inflammation are generally high in sugar and fat, particularly saturated fat, omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, and trans fats. The typical American diet is too high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, often obtained from trans fat sources â€" hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated sources, and too low in omega-3 polyunsaturated fats.
Our current ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is in the neighborhood of 20:1, whereas the ideal ratio is 3-4:1. In order to improve the omega-6 to omega-3 fat ratio, as well as reduce dietary sugar intake, cut out junk foods, sweetened soft drinks, refined grains, and processed meats, or consume them only in small amounts.
Maintaining a healthy body, and following a Mediterranean-style diet, high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and olive oil, and small amounts of red wine has been shown to be "anti-inflammatory."
In order to decrease inflammation in your body, consider incorporating the following "anti-inflammatory" principles:
1. Lose weight if you are overweight. Excess weight = more inflammation.
2. Eat smaller portions of food. Too many calories = more inflammation.
3. Avoid refined and processed foods â€" often found in the center aisles of the grocery store.
4. Eat antioxidant-rich fruits and colorful or leafy green vegetables. (Don't overdo night-shade vegetables like eggplant, tomatoes, and potatoes â€" which actually may increase inflammation in some people).
5. Avoid sources of saturated fats and trans fats (check labels for words like "hydrogenated" and "partially hydrogenated" and avoid them).
6. Increase omega-3 fatty acid intake (high amounts found in salmon, flax seed, walnuts, and tofu) or consider taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement that has a high content of EPA and DHA.
7. Include monounsaturated fats (good sources include olive oil, canola oil, and avocados).
8. Limit simple sugars (soft drinks, and anything white like bread, rice, and pasta).
9. Overcooking can also increase inflammation so be careful not to char foods on the grill or under the broiler.
10. Add anti-inflammatory herbs and spices (turmeric, ginger, cayenne, rosemary, oregano, and clove).
11. Drink white or green tea; they contain healthful antioxidants good for reducing inflammation.
12. Have 1 small block of 70% cocoa Dark Chocolate as an occasional treat.
13. Enjoy up to 1 glass of red wine daily â€" Pinot Noir and Cabernet make good choices.
Here's to an anti-inflammatory lifestyle and path to optimal health!
Lisa M. Davis, Ph.D., PA-C, C.N.S., L.D.N. is Director of Research and Development for Medifast. She holds a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University with a focus in Obesity Research, and she is currently the Director of Research and Development for the Medifast Program, a leading portion-controlled clinically proven weight loss program and co-author of the book, Anti-Inflammatory Foods for Health.