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Anti­ Inflammatory Diet

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Why should I eat an anti-inflammatory diet?

We need inflammation for many healing responses in the body. However, chronic inflammation is responsible for many damaging effects of common diseases. Eating well helps us balance the healing and harmful sides of inflammation. Since ancient times, inflammation has been described as redness, heat, swelling, and pain. We initially believed that inflammation had simple causes. However, we now know that inflammation is the result of a complex dance of chemical mediators that impact every cell type and organ system. Inflammation creates an environment in the body where many harmful conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer can overwhelm us.

Inflammation can cause many problems, but it’s also the first step in healing. Inflammation sends out signals of tissue damage or invasion by foreign substances to call for a measured response to protect us. Inflammation after an infection or physical injury is healthy and normal. It subsides after the body has healed itself. This capacity for both hurt and harm is why inflammation needs to be managed carefully. You can reduce the harmful side of inflammation by eating well.

 

How does inflammation cause chronic pain?

Let’s talk about some biochemistry.

The link between inflammation and chronic pain is oxidative stress, a part of the inflammatory process. Oxidative stress involves free radicals, high-energy particles that zip around our system like little out-of-control bumper cars and damage our cells. Some free radicals are produced by your body during normal and healthy metabolism. Others are stimulated by outside influences such as smoking, too much sun exposure, toxics in our environment and the wrong foods. Regardless of their source, free radicals damage our cells, cause swelling and pain and interfere with healing.

 

Nutrition is a powerful cure for chronic pain

Diet plays a major role in preventing chronic diseases. You’ve likely heard of antioxidants. Here’s why they matter. Antioxidants, mostly derived from food and supplements, are molecules that can deactivate free radicals and make them harmless. 80% of your immune system lies in your digestive tract. If the free radicals are not deactivated by antioxidants, your digestive tract can be constantly attacked. Your immune system will respond with inflammation.

 

 

The top 10 anti­-inflammatory foods

1. Vegetables
I encourage everyone I know to enjoy more dark-colored leafy greens. They really are a plentiful and remarkable superfood. Packed with vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids, leafy greens likely reduce your risk of cancer. In addition, they are a wonderful source of calcium.

2. Fruit
Like oatmeal, fruits have a large amount of soluble fiber that reduces cholesterol. Enjoy fresh fruit after your meal for a tasty dessert. Here’s an important note: fruit juice isn’t as healthy as you think. Even juices with no added sweeteners naturally contain the sugar of all the fruit it took to make the drink. Fiber makes us feel full and naturally prevents us from eating too much fruit sugar. It’s easier to down five glasses of orange juice than to eat five oranges in one sitting.

3. Berries
Berries are rich in antioxidants. Anthocyanins, the antioxidants that color your berries, combine with quercetins to reduce inflammation and slow down memory loss in seniors. The ellagic acid in berries also prevents cancer. If you have arthritis, the Arthritis Foundation recommends that you eat berries each day to reduce your pain.

4. Beans and lentils

We should all eat more beans. These powerhouses of protein, fiber, and minerals help keep your blood pressure in check. In addition, they contain a lower proportion of starch compared to grains. If you are diabetic, have more beans. Using beans or lentils for a main course with a small amount of meat for flavoring can also stretch the food dollar. For dinner, I often have lentils in salad with vegetables or in a soup. I place lentils in the bottom of a roasting pan and add chicken breasts, sliced onions, and homemade (or store-bought organic) broth. Cover and cook until the chicken is done, add greens, and enjoy. Here’s a recipe for lentil soup.

5. Avocados

Enjoy your guacamole. The monounsaturated fat avocados contain may help reduce blood cholesterol. They also have large amounts of beta-carotene, fiber, and potassium (60% more than bananas, another good source of potassium). Avocados may be high in fat, but don’t shy away from them.

6. Extra-virgin olive oil
The Mediterranean populations have used olive oil as a staple in their diets for centuries to positive effect. “Extra-virgin” refers to the very first cold-pressing of a batch of olives. “Cold-pressed” means that the olives were pressed without heat or chemicals. Cold-pressing preserves the phenolic compounds which may help inhibit genes that cause inflammation. These genes are also related to obesity, type-2 diabetes, and high cholesterol. For a simple and one of the most delicious salad dressings around, mix half a cup of olive oil and add in two tablespoons of lemon juice. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. That’s it!

7. Nuts
Nuts reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, contain good polyunsaturated fats, and are also rich in arginine. Arginine may help your blood vessels. Nuts are wonderful for you but pack a lot of calories. Definitely enjoy nuts in moderation. Use nuts to replace, not add to, your usual snack. Roasted nuts go rancid quickly so avoid pre-roasted nuts unless you know when they were prepared and intend to eat them soon. Instead, try this. Soak raw nuts for six to eight hours to reduce the phytates. Phytates interfere with the absorption of some of the good nutrients in nuts. Dry them in a dehydrator or in a very low oven with the door partly open.

8. Fish
An analysis of 20 studies suggests that eating one to two 3-ounce servings of fatty fish a week—salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, or sardines—reduces the risk of dying from heart disease by 36%. The omega-3 fats in fish reduces blood pressure, improves blood vessel function, and may help ease inflammation. Replace some of your red meat intake with fish. Sautéed, steamed, or baked, fish is versatile and delicious. Fish cooks so quickly that it makes a wonderful weekday dinner.

9. Whole-grain foods
Whole grains are high in dietary fiber which reduces your cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular disease. A bowl of steel-cut oats each day for breakfast is an easy way to add whole grains to your diet. Fiber soaks up water when in the body and moves slowly through the digestive tract, attaching to bile acids along the way and carrying them out of the body. As bile acids are composed of cholesterol, oats reduce your cholesterol level. Fiber also keeps your bowels healthy and makes bowel movements easier to pass.

10. Dark chocolate

Enjoy your dessert! Dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa is rich in flavanols which may lower blood pressure. Eat dark chocolate in moderation as it is also bursting with calories – two ounces packs about 300 calories. Place a piece of dark chocolate on your tongue, close your eyes, and savor it. You’ll find that you only need a small amount to satisfy your taste buds.

 

Chew on this

Sometimes the best solutions can be the simplest. Research shows that chronic pain drugs seldom help patients in the long-term. Drugs often seem to ‘work’ only because of their short-term effects.

Nutrition, on the other hand, is proven by our best research to reduce your pain. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are also far less expensive than pharmaceutical drugs. Eating a balanced diet is one of the most powerful ways to reduce your pain.

What’s your favorite anti-inflammatory dinner? Share your recipe with us in the comments!

Heather Tick M.D.

Heather Tick M.D.

Using both the data of modern science and the time-proven traditions of complementary medicine, Dr. Heather Tick M.D. has helped tens of thousands of patients reach their peak levels of health. For over twenty years Dr. Tick has dedicated herself to researching evidence-based holistic treatments for pain and inflammation. A multiple-book author, including the highly acclaimed Holistic Pain Relief - An In-Depth Guide to Managing Chronic Pain, Dr. Tick empowers her patients to live free of pain and full of life. She is the first holder of the prestigious Gunn-Loke Endowed Professorship of Integrative Pain Medicine at the University of Washington and a Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Washington in the departments of Family Medicine and Anesthesiology & Pain Medicine.

6 Comments

  • Gareth

    Thank you for the article Heather as always I have appreciated all your insights and direction with regards to inflammation/pain management.

    March 29, 2016 at 12:02 pm
  • Heather Tick M.D.
    Dr. Heather Tick M.D.

    Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed the read.

    March 29, 2016 at 1:52 pm
  • Deb Renner

    Thanks for taking the time to put this quick and dirty lists on line for us to easily add to the stuff we are already learning from your book.
    I do these things quite often it’s just dfmaking the habit of always doing it that needs to sink in. Today I found some raw tumeric. Do you think the powdered stuff is better? may be more concentrated maybe? I plan to just grate it raw in the food. Do you think it should be cooked to release the innflamation benefits. I’m really going blind when it somes to tumeric cuz it’s a rather new thing out there. Tumeric Tea is wonderful!!!!

    March 31, 2016 at 12:45 am
  • Heather Tick M.D.
    Dr. Heather Tick M.D.

    Hi Deb,
    Raw turmeric and the powder are both wonderful and powerful superfoods that reduce inflammation. It’s great that you are starting to build a new and health promoting routine. I think cooking does activate the turmeric, but I can’t say that for sure because research is lacking. I think the uncooked variety is still a super anti-inflammatory- but for me personally the cooked curries or golden milk seem to be even better.

    To you health

    April 1, 2016 at 9:24 am
  • David Maestas

    Hi Heather, thank you for the article! I’ve been doing some reading for preventing inflammation with ulcerative colitis and a few resources say to stay away from grains, raw veg, and chocolate.
    Do you think it’s best to avoid these foods with UC? Thank you!

    October 24, 2016 at 7:48 am
  • Heather Tick M.D.
    Heather Tick M.D.

    I have certainly seen good results with grain free diets. As for the rest, I think the best way is to try the elimination as see the effects.

    November 30, 2016 at 9:19 pm

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