Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FAND, CFCS Family & Community Health Sciences Educator Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County
This month's Small Steps to Health and Wealth™ message is about inflammation. Inflammation is a protective process of the body healing itself in response to an injury or exposure to a harmful substance. This is useful when your skin is healing from a cut, but, inflammation is not always beneficial.
Chronic (or ongoing) inflammation occurs when the immune system attacks the body's healthy cells leading to autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, states of immune deficiency including Crohn's disease, or skin conditions including psoriasis. Underlying chronic inflammation also may play a role in heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease.
Evidence supporting the impact of specific foods on inflammation in the body is limited. We know that some foods have the capacity to suppress inflammation, but it is unclear how often and how much food is needed for this benefit. Though there is promising research about the impact of foods such as fatty fish, berries, and tart cherry juice, beware of any food or beverage touted to be an anti-inflammatory miracle.
Remember, current science promotes good overall nutrition as important to enhance the body's immune system and provide antioxidants. Healthy fats, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, reduce inflammation and help regulate membrane function. These types of fats should be included in a healthy diet. Remove saturated fat found in meats, butter, cream sauces, fried foods and trans fat found in many processed foods to eliminate inflammation.
Here are some additional tips to reduce inflammation in your diet:
- Let fruits and vegetables make up at least half your plate at meals. Take care to regularly fit in fresh, frozen, or dried berries and cherries. Be sure to eat a variety of vegetables, including leafy greens such as kale, chard, and Brussels sprouts.
- Opt for plant-based sources of protein including beans, nuts, and seeds.
- Choose whole grains instead of refined ones. Give up white rice and replace it with brown, black, or wild rice; whole oats or barley for cream of wheat; and whole-wheat bread instead of white bread.
- Pick heart-healthy fats such as: olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds for a few delicious choices.
- Choose fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and anchovies to get a heart-healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Season your meals with fresh herbs and spices. They pack a flavorful and antioxidant-rich punch to your diet.
Though diet is important, it's not the only factor. Quality and duration of sleep and other lifestyle factors can also have a direct impact on inflammation. Overall, to avoid issues with chronic inflammation, make it your mission to take small steps to achieve a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, get adequate sleep and engage in regular physical activity.