Every few years, a new diet fad makes the rounds in the media and on talk shows, promising amazing results by just tweaking what you eat or drink. Lately, the focus has been on the anti-inflammatory diet – which the medical community looks at as more than a passing fad.
“The anti-inflammatory diet is very promising on several fronts,” explains Patty Guay-Berry, registered dietician for the Shady Grove Adventist Aquilino Cancer Center. “Researchers are finding that a diet that helps the body fight inflammation can help reduce a person’s risk of heart disease, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.”
Inflammation and your health
A little inflammation is actually good for your health. It’s part of your body’s defense against outside threats, which may include stress, infection or toxins. The immune system senses these dangers and activates proteins from white blood cells and other substances to help protect your cells and tissues.
Chronic inflammation, however, is bad for the body. The immune system can overreact and constantly trigger inflammatory responses from factors like:
- Poor diet choices
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of physical activity
- Alcohol and tobacco use
- Chronic stress
“This inflammatory cascade is what can lead to serious health issues – including cancer,” explains Patty.
How the anti-inflammatory diet works
The anti-inflammatory diet works exactly how the name implies – it helps your body naturally fight the inflammation response.
“What we put in our bodies changes how our cells respond,” Patty says. “Certain nutrients in food that contain vitamins and minerals are proven to fight inflammation, while others – like processed foods, refined sugar and simple carbohydrates – can trigger an inflammatory response in the body.”
Antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, resveratrol and curcumin are all nutrients and compounds that boast inflammation-fighting properties.
What to eat on the anti-inflammatory diet
“An anti-inflammatory diet is beneficial for anyone, and it’s easy to get started,” encourages Patty. She offers a few simple tips to get started today.
Eat more whole foods
Whole foods include fruits, vegetables, beans, fish and lean meats. Load up your grocery cart with plenty of fruits and vegetables for meals and snacks and skip processed foods loaded with unhealthy additives.
“Start reading food labels,” she advises. “Stick to foods that have five ingredients or less.”
Another one of Patty’s favorite tips is to visit a local farmer’s market or join a community-supported agriculture (CSA) group in your area. You’ll have access to new and fresh fruits and vegetables, which can make eating healthy more fun.
“Use your plate to guide healthy choices at mealtimes,” adds Patty. “At least half of your plate should be covered with fruits and vegetables and about one-fourth should be a lean-protein. Use the remaining space for healthy whole grain sides, like brown rice or quinoa.”
Cut back on sugar
Sugar has made its way into many foods – from bread to cereals, tomato sauce and prepackaged snacks. To make it even more confusing for shoppers, there are roughly 61 different names for sugar that can be listed in ingredients. Patty once again urges shoppers to read the label before putting items in the cart.
“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration now requires food manufacturers to list added sugar on food labels, making it easier for consumers to find healthy foods,” she says. “Keep in mind, men should only have nine teaspoons of added sugar and women need to stick to six teaspoons of added sugar or less in a day.”
Adding more fruits, vegetables and whole foods to your plate is another great way to combat unnecessary sugar intake. Fruit does not contain “added sugar” and can be a good way to have a sweet taste, along with getting good nutrients.
Add more whole grains and high-quality protein
Whole grains are another important part of any healthy diet. These options often have less sugar and fewer refined carbohydrates, giving you more bang for your buck. High quality protein is also likely to have fewer additives.
“I often tell people to buy the best quality protein you can afford,” Patty explains. “You may not be able to eat grassfed beef every night, but when you can, opt for higher quality cuts for stronger health benefits.”
And if your budget is tight, beans are a very affordable source of protein. When purchasing canned beans, make sure to get BPA free.
Mindful choices lead to healthy diets
It’s easy to get into a rut when it comes to meals and snacks. Patty encourages the people she sees to make more mindful choices.
“When you’re in the grocery store, planning meals for the week or getting ready to order from a restaurant, stop and ask yourself ‘Is this good or bad for my body?’” she says. “Taking just 10 seconds to put more thought into what you are putting into your body can help you break bad habits and make healthier choices.”