Pain in your body is caused by inflammation. Whether it’s in your joints, muscles, or other areas pain can really disrupt your life. I suffer from Rheumatoid Arthritis. It’s an auto immune disease where your immune system attacks your joints, causing them to degrade. It also causes much inflammation in the joints and surrounding tissues. There are of course medications called anti-inflammatories that can reduce the inflammation and therefore the pain, but taking medication for the rest of your life is not the best choice. Although not as effective as medication, diet can also change your inflammation level, for better or for worse.
Let’s talk about foods that reduce inflammation. Omega 3 fatty acids are at the top of anti-inflammatory foods. Seeds and nuts are high in Omega 3s. Flax and flax seed are especially high in lignans which have high antioxidant properties, in addition to Omega 3s. They are also high in soluble and insoluble fiber- another anti-inflammatory. Two tablespoons of ground flax seed mixed in your morning yogurt or oatmeal is a great start. Whole wheat products contain a ton of fiber, also a great source. Whole wheat also contains selenium, another powerful anti-inflammatory. Many health care experts are touting the Mediterranean diet for anti-inflammation, as well as a healthy choice. It contains lots of fruits and vegetables. Choose those that are colorful. Red peppers, dark greens like kale and spinach, and richly colored berries are all anti-inflammatory. When choosing fats go for olive oil, nuts, and avocados. Watch out for portion sizes though, as they are high in calories. The Mediterranean diet also has a lot of fish, big in Omega3s. It’s recommended to eat at least 2 servings of high fat fish like tuna, salmon, or sardines every week.
You can imagine that the foods to avoid are typically thought to be unhealthy for anyone. Most of these foods contain Omega 6 fats. Omega 6 fats contain cytokines that cause spikes in blood sugar, as well as inflammation. They are found in processed and fried foods. Some oils often thought to be healthier than saturated ones are the main culprit. Light oils like sunflower, safflower, and corn all contain high amounts of Omega 6s. If you do fry, use peanut oil. It does contain Omega 6s, you need some in your diet. But it also contains resveratrol, a polyphenol anti-oxidant. Saturated fats also cause inflammation and should be kept to a minimum. Transfats are also a big component of inflammation. Refined carbs contain gluten that can cause inflammation. I know some people who swear by the gluten factor, but it’s not proven that everyone will benefit from going gluten free. Best to try it for a month or so to see if it affects you. Another factor for inflammation is low vitamin D levels. Many adults in the US have very low D levels. 4,000 units a day is recommended. Dairy products, eggs, and olive oil are rich in vitamin D but usually supplements are necessary. Especially in the winter when exposure to the sun is low in northern climes.
So, we should all try to include more healthy items in our diet. Make it a resolution this year to eat more colorful fruits and vegetables. Replace your oils with olive and peanut. Add fish and yogurt, along with flaxseed. Cut out refined carbs and keep saturated fats to minimum. Here’s to a happy and healthy new year!
KATHLEEN WEAVER-ZECH & DEAN’S TEAM CHICAGO