Any time we see the term “inflammation,” we think of negative health issues. In reality, when our bodies are working the way they are supposed to, inflammation can be a good thing. When our immune systems sense something like a cut, they send compounds to the area that kill bacteria and fight infection. This is inflammation at its helpful best.
The flip side of this process is that our immune systems can sometimes run amok. Immune cells are put into action but will attack our own bodies, causing chronic inflammation. As we age, chronic inflammation can play a role in many diseases, including cancer, dementia, heart disease, liver disease, and type 2 diabetes. There are several possible causes for this chronic inflammation. Genetics, stress, and obesity can play a part in causing this health danger. Our diets can also play a very big role in inflammation formation.
Several foods have been pinpointed as being causes of inflammation, especially white flour, sugar, and fried foods. The good news, though, is that food choices can be our allies as well as our enemies when it comes to inflammation. Particular foods can have a dramatic effect on reducing the diseases caused by inflammation.
Let’s look at some of the foods that come to our rescue when we are trying to protect our bodies. We’ll start with our old friends: the fruits and vegetables. Every one of them has the ability to attack chronic inflammation. The vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in fruits and vegetables can put the brakes on inflammatory compounds. To see these benefits, it’s best to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and get a minimum of five half-cup servings each day. More, of course, is even better. Go for a multi-colored grouping (orange, red, green, blue). In addition to fighting inflammation, blueberries have been proven in studies to improve memory and other types of thinking.
Our next superstars in our war on inflammation are nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds are rich in healthy fats and contain a bunch of antioxidants. Nuts help reduce bad cholesterol, which is easily affected by inflammation. Nut eaters have better heart health and tend to weigh less than folks who don’t eat nuts. While all seeds and nuts are healthy and worth eating for a daily snack, walnuts and pecans are highest in antioxidants. Eat one to two ounces daily of nuts and seeds for maximum benefit.
Food group number three in our look at inflammation is fish. Omega-3 fats can prevent the formation of inflammatory compounds and even help destroy them. Unfortunately, the American diet is very low in these fats. Fish are the highest food source for omega-3 fats, and the American Heart Association recommends eating at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fish each week. Fish eaters have a lower risk of developing heart disease, dementia, and depression. Your best bets are fish high in omega-3’s but low in mercury, such as Arctic char, Atlantic mackerel, rainbow trout, salmon, and sardines.
Fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and fish are all our friends when we are trying to eat to reduce dangerous inflammation in our bodies. They aren’t our only allies in this battle, however. Other beneficial foods are whole grains, beans, olive oil, coffee, tea, and dark chocolate. With this wide variety of beneficial food choices, fighting inflammation can actually be as delicious as it is healthy!