Can You Improve Your Health by Eating an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

shutterstock_86487601There may be inflammation going on in your body that you’re not even aware of. This type of inflammation isn’t painful, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t bad for you. Research suggests that “silent inflammation” is a precursor to a variety of chronic diseases including heart disease, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and Alzheimer’s disease. The good news is you can reduce this type of inflammation by changing how you eat.

What is an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

The majority of the foods Americans eat are high in omega-6 fatty acids. You need a certain amount of omega-6s in your diet for health, but when you get too many of them and not enough of another kind of fat called omega-3 fatty acids, it causes an imbalance that leads to inflammation. Early humans got a roughly equal ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s in their diet, but people who eat a Western diet get a ratio of about 15 to 1 omega-6s to omega-3s. The goal of an anti-inflammatory diet is to create a more healthy balance between these two types of fats.

Where do these omega-6s come from? Many packaged and processed foods are made using soybean oil and other oils that contain linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid. Foods from fast food restaurants that are fried in the wrong kinds of oils are other sources of omega-6 fats. The problem is most people don’t balance these omega-6s with a healthy dose of omega-3 fats to shift the balance to a less inflammatory state.

Omega-3 fats are abundant in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines and another form of omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid is found in substantial quantities in walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and flaxseed. Grass-fed beef and lamb are higher in omega-3s than grain-fed animals.

How to Reduce “Silent” Inflammation

The key to reducing silent inflammation and lowering your risk for health problems is to cut back on processed foods, fast food and other sources of omega-6 while adding more omega-3s to your diet. You can do this by eating more fish, seeds, walnuts, and flaxseed. Processed foods and foods high in refined carbs also cause insulin spikes that contribute to inflammation and may eventually lead to insulin resistance.

When you prepare food at home, use olive oil. It contains healthy, monounsaturated fats and an ingredient called oleocanthal that has anti-inflammatory properties. Avoid cooking with soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil or safflower oil. These oils are all high in omega-6 fatty acids.

Stick with unprocessed foods, and substitute fresh fruits and vegetables for white rice and white potatoes to reduce insulin spikes. Choose whole-grain bread and cereals in place of bread made with white flour.

Choose lean protein sources, and when you eat meat, choose grass-fed. Replace a third of your meat with fish that are rich in omega-3s such as wild Alaskan salmon. Enjoy more non-meat protein sources such as nuts, beans, and lentils.

Avoid fast-food restaurants and restaurants that cook with the wrong kinds of oils. Don’t be afraid to ask what oils they use. Even more importantly, don’t frequent restaurants that haven’t eliminated trans-fats from their offerings. Even small amounts of trans-fats contribute to inflammation.

The Bottom Line?

Silent inflammation may be a contributor to a variety of diseases associated with aging. Fortunately, you can tip the balance in your favor by eating an anti-inflammatory diet. Do it for your health.
References:

Science Daily. “Olive Oil Contains Natural Anti-Inflammatory Agent”
Web MD. “Anti-inflammatory Diet: Road to Good Health?”

 

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