It doesn’t have a catchy name or a trendy following to drop a size, but when it comes to your health, it’s one of the most effective diets in the world. Proponents of the diet say it can reduce heart disease risk, keep existing cardiac problems in check, reduce blood triglycerides and blood pressure, soothe arthritic joints and even prevent cancer. There’s no need to look anywhere but your kitchen.
While each plan has its own twist, all are based on the general concept that constant or out-of-control inflammation in the body leads to ill health, and that eating to avoid constant inflammation promotes better health and can ward off disease, says Russell Greenfield, MD, a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“It’s very clear that inflammation plays a role much more than we thought with respect to certain maladies,” Greenfield stated.
“We always thought anything with an “itis” at the end involved inflammation,” he says, such as arthritis or appendicitis. But even the illnesses without an “itis” at the end, such as cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, even Alzheimer’s disease, may be triggered in part by inflammation, he says.
It is becoming increasingly clear that chronic inflammation may be at the root cause of many serious illnesses.
When inflammation persists or serves no purpose, it damages the body and causes illness. Stress, lack of exercise, genetic predisposition, and exposure to toxins can all contribute to such chronic inflammation, but dietary choices play a big role as well.
Learning how specific foods influence the inflammatory process is the best strategy for containing it and reducing long-term disease risks.
Some of the foods highest on anti-inflammatory nutrients include chia seeds, wild fish, turmeric, ginger, garlic, broccoli, olive oil, grapes, ground flaxseed, papaya, apple peel, blueberries, tea (especially green, white and oolong), sweet potatoes, sage, cinnamon, greens, celery, acai juice, asian mushrooms, walnuts, avocados, hemp seeds, cayenne pepper, kelp and tart cherries.
According to new research from Oregon Health & Science University presented at the American College of Sports Medicine Conference (ACSM) in San Francisco, tart cherries have the “highest anti-inflammatory content of any food” and can help people with arthritis manage their disease long-term without pain medications.
Compounds extracted from apple peel may also influence expression of key anti-inflammatory properties within the body, suggests data from Germany.
Barry Sears, MD, from The Zone diet fame, calls inflammation a silent epidemic that triggers chronic diseases over the years. “You could feel fine but have high levels of inflammation,” he warns.
The average American diet, Greenfield says, includes far too many foods rich in omega-6 fatty acids, found in processed and fast foods, and far too few rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in cold-water fish or supplements. When that balance is out of whack, inflammation can set in, Sears explains.
Natural melatonin levels slowly drop with age. Some older adults make very small amounts of it or none at all.
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet is not a diet in the popular sense – it is not intended as a weight-loss program (although people can and do lose weight on it), nor is it an eating plan to stay on for a limited period of time. Rather, it is way of selecting and preparing foods based on scientific knowledge of how they can help your body maintain optimum health. Along with influencing inflammation, this diet will provide steady energy and ample vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids dietary fiber, and protective phytonutrients.
- To get maximum natural protection against age-related diseases (including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disease) as well as against environmental toxicity, eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and mushrooms.
- Choose fruits and vegetables from all parts of the color spectrum, especially berries, tomatoes, orange and yellow fruits, and dark leafy greens.
- Choose organic produce whenever possible. Learn which conventionally grown crops are most likely to carry pesticide residues and avoid them.
- Eat cruciferous (cabbage-family) vegetables regularly.
- Drink tea instead of coffee, especially good quality white, green or oolong tea.
- If you drink alcohol, use red wine preferentially.
- Enjoy plain dark chocolate in moderation (with a minimum cocoa content of 70 percent).
Overall, incorporating the foods listed above into your dietary strategy can help you overcome many health obstacles. Don’t focus so much on how many of each you eat, but rather eat them all in moderation. Let your body be your teacher and you’ll find yourself being drawn to these foods as you learn to enjoy them while satisfying your daily energy requirements.
Mae Chan holds degrees in both physiology and nutritional sciences. She is also blogger and and technology enthusiast with a passion for disseminating information about health.