Food Fight Against Inflammation

By Patrice Powers-Barker, OSU Extension, Lucas County
The Truth Contributor

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations states, “Good nutrition is our first defense against disease and our source of energy to live and be active”. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2020 – 2025) are written to be flexible and applicable at different life stages. They are not hard and fast rules. They are meant to be used as a guide as we make food choices for our long-term health and wellness. Many Americans live with one or more chronic diseases, and this often includes ongoing, low-grade systemic inflammation.

According to the Mayo Clinic, inflammation is a normal response to an infection or injury. For example, a fever helps fight off infection or your ankle swells when it’s sprained. These are short-term examples when the body is helping fight off or repair a problem. The challenge with low-grade, systemic inflammation is that it is ongoing. It might not be noticeable like a fever or swollen ankle, but it keeps the immune system in a constant state of high alert. Overtime, that ongoing chronic inflammation increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.

Just like we have learned that there are better food choices to help decrease the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes, there is now more emphasis and research on foods and eating patterns that have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. A recent review identified the following foods as “functional foods”: yogurt, whole grain products, green tea, and others. While these have shown anti-inflammatory properties, remember, there is no single food that is the answer to all health conditions. We are reminded to include these foods as part of our overall healthy eating plan,

Mayo Clinic’s simple suggestions for anti-inflammatory eating:

  1. Eat more plants. Whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes (beans and lentils) have anti-inflammatory nutrients. Some great fruits to add include: strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges
  2. Focus on antioxidants. Antioxidants can help prevent, delay, or repair some types of cell and tissue damage. Antioxidants are found in the list of previous plant foods above (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes).  Add green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and collards, as well as tomatoes, avocados, ginger, turmeric, and green tea to the grocery list.
  3. Eat Omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids might also help regulate pain related to inflammation. These healthy fats are available in fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel, as well as smaller amounts in walnuts, pecans, almonds, ground flaxseed and soy.
  4. Eat less red meat. Red meat can increase inflammation. Dieticians recommend making realistic goals. They do not say “never” to red meat but encourage you to substitute the foods listed above like fish and soy-based protein a few times a week for red meat.
  5. Cut down on processed food. Many of the following foods contain unhealthy fats that can increase inflammation: sugary cereals and drinks, deep-fried food, margarine and sweets. They can contain unhealthy fats that have been linked to inflammation.

There is still ongoing research to continue to learn about inflammation in the body and how to prevent and reduce it. Right now, the main message is not to eat certain foods all the time, but to eat a variety of foods that include the ones listed above for health and wellness.

Just like eating healthy is important, there are additional habits that can have a positive impact on chronic inflammation. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds of us of the following:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Be physically active
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight

Harvard Health Publishing also recommends aiming for an overall healthy diet. They suggest that if you’re looking for an eating plan that follows the ideas of anti-inflammatory eating, consider the Mediterranean diet which is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grain, fish and healthy oils. One last reminder = in addition to helping lower inflammation, these types of food choices can have positive effects on your overall physical and emotional health.