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Fight inflammation with food

Give your body protection with fiber, good fats, whole grains, and omega-3s.

Inflammation is the body’s response to an infection, injury, or some other stimulus that the body perceives as harmful. It can be helpful at first, but over time chronic inflammation can damage tissue, joints, artery walls, and organs. Fortunately, there are many healthy foods that can help lower inflammation in the body. “We focus on increasing fiber, whole grains, good fats, and omega-3s,” says Debbie Krivitsky, director of clinical nutrition at the Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Center at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help to reduce inflammation throughout the body.

Fiber

Fiber slows the absorption of food. This helps keep blood sugar levels more even, with fewer peaks and valleys. High levels of blood sugar encourage inflammation, and inflammation causes blood sugar to rise—a vicious cycle. Fiber also helps lower cholesterol, and it helps prevent the formation of small blood clots, which may cause heart attacks and strokes. The Institute of Medicine recommends that women ages 50 and older get 21 grams of fiber each day; men ages 50 and older should get 30 grams per day.

Foods rich in fiber include beans and legumes such as kidney beans, lima beans, and lentils; dark green vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, spinach, and kale; nuts and seeds such as peanuts, cashews, and pumpkin and sunflower seeds; whole fruits such as pears, apples, and strawberries; and whole grains such as oats, whole wheat, brown rice, and amaranth.

Whole grains

Whole-grain products contain all three parts of grain—germ, endosperm, and bran—in correct proportion. Not all whole grains are high in fiber, but they are all good at reducing inflammation because they also contain other inflammation-fighting substances—vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Diets rich in whole grains raise “good” HDL cholesterol levels and lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure. Krivitsky advises that you eat three 16-gram servings of whole grains per day.

But pay attention when buying grains. Words such as “organic,” “multigrain,” “enriched,” or “stone ground” on a package do not mean that the contents are whole grains. So look for “whole” before the name of the grain. On the other hand, brown rice, oatmeal, popcorn, and barley are all whole grains: don’t be concerned if they don’t say it. And, in the United States, “cracked wheat” and “crushed wheat” also mean whole grain.

Good fats

Some fats are essential for health. These “good” or unsaturated fats help reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, and stabilize the heartbeat. Krivitsky says that on average, 30% of your calories can come from “good” fats.

There are two kinds of good fats. Monounsaturated fats are found in nuts such as almonds and pecans; seeds such as pumpkin and sesame; and oils such as olive, peanut, and canola. Polyunsaturated fats are in foods such as fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds, and in some oils such as safflower, sunflower, soybean, and flaxseed. “It’s a good idea to mix these fats to reap the most benefit. But watch how much you eat. Fats are the most concentrated source of calories we have,” says Krivitsky.

Foods to avoid

Some foods and ingredients can increase inflammation. Here are some examples.

  • Foods with refined grains: White bread, white rice, white pasta, white flour. These foods spike blood sugar, which can cause inflammation.

  • Foods with added sugar: Juices, soda, cake, candy, cookies, jarred sauces, salad dressings. These foods also raise blood sugar, which can cause inflammation.

  • Foods with trans fats: Most stick margarine (but not soft tub margarine), partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, deep-fried fast foods, and most commercial baked goods. Trans fats raise “bad” LDL cholesterol and lower “good” HDL cholesterol, which increases inflammation in your artery walls.

  • Foods with saturated fats: Whole milk, butter, cheese, ice cream, red meat, and coconut products. These fats also raise cholesterol and increase inflammation in your body. Limit these to no more than 7% of your daily calories.

Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for many aspects of our health, including reducing inflammation throughout the body. There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) come mainly from fish. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found mostly in vegetable oils, walnuts, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, and leafy vegetables. The body converts ALA into DHA and EPA.

Krivitsky recommends that you get omega-3s from cold-water fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, and tuna. “The gold standard is wild salmon. Farm-raised salmon may have contaminants,” she says. “Eat fish at least twice a week, preferably four times a week.”  

Posted by: Dr.Health

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