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Inflammation is your body’s defense system, but it can get out of hand. It is good if it plays a protective role in healing injuries, such as a cut or abrasion, or illnesses, such as the common cold. But chronic inflammation, which builds up over the years, can damage tissue and organs, leading to health problems such as type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease.
Inflammation may also be the reason you feel brain fog or experience digestive issues, muscle aches or rashes, say health coach Wintana Kiros, RDN, LDN and chef Jessica Swift, RDN, in their new book 28-day anti-inflammatory diet. The authors explain that high levels of body-wide inflammation are at the heart of many serious health problems.
Kiros and Swift say many factors contribute to chronic inflammation, including long-term stress, poor sleep, sitting too much and excess body fat. But the biggest culprit is a diet high in refined carbohydrates and processed foods. While there are no “good” and “bad” foods – for most people, anything in moderation is fine! blood by 20 percent, say Kiros and Swift.
If you’re trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle, it can seem daunting to change everything all at once. Instead, try small steps to gain momentum. For example, by adding a few of these “best” foods and reducing the number of these “worst” foods in your diet, can positively impact your health, say the authors.
Further, 28-day anti-inflammatory diet authors Kiros and Swift suggest the best and worst foods for inflammation:
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High-fiber foods prevent blood sugar spikes that cause the body to produce too many free radicals that release inflammatory messengers. Unfortunately, most of us can’t get enough of it; women under age 50 should aim for 25 g per day, 38 g for men. Over 50, shoot for 21g for women and 30g for men. High-fiber beans such as cannellini, black, or garbanzos are a great swap for higher-fat foods, such as beef.
Avocados are rich in inflammation-fighting antioxidants like carotenoids, as well as heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and vitamins A and E, which fight free radicals. They also contain soluble fiber, which may lower your risk of heart disease.
Replace a regular potato with a sweet potato. The bright orange color indicates that it is packed with polyphenols, which are antioxidants that can prevent or reverse inflammatory damage caused by free radicals. They also contain about 4 grams of fiber to help you work towards your daily goal.
Citrus fruits contain polyphenols that can help “turn off” the body’s inflammatory switch. They also contain flavanones, which can boost your immune system and prevent inflammation. Add them to salads for a flavorful antioxidant kick.
Bring on the leafy greens like kale, spinach, mustard, and mesclun! These vegetables are rich in carotenoids and vitamins A, C, E, and K, and studies have shown that eating several servings per week can lower the risk of stomach, breast, and skin cancer, as well as the risk of heart disease.
Nuts contain proteins that help keep blood sugar levels stable, preventing the release of excess insulin and the formation of free radicals. Nuts also contain insoluble fiber to keep things moving in your gut. A small handful of nuts such as almonds, walnuts or pecans or 2 tablespoons of nut butter make a heart-healthy snack.
Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and herring are full of omega-3 fatty acids. These polyunsaturated fatty acids inhibit the secretion of compounds that cause inflammation. Aim for 1.1 g of omega-3 fatty acids per day for women, 1.6 g for men, and try to eat a few servings of fish per week.
Berries contain high concentrations of anthocyanins, which research says can reduce inflammation and keep your brain sharp. Toss with Greek yogurt for a breakfast full of protein and antioxidants, or freeze some to snack on if you’ve got a sweet tooth.
Tomatoes contain antioxidants such as vitamin C and carotenoids such as lycopene. Lycopene is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Top toast with Greek yogurt, sliced tomatoes, and a sprinkle of lemon zest and mint for a fresh-tasting snack.
Teas, including green, black, white, and oolong, are loaded with polyphenols. Coffee is also rich in antioxidants that protect against cellular damage. Keep in mind to add extras, such as high-fat cream or sugar.
Apples contain polyphenols such as flavanols and anthocyanins. Be sure to eat the peel, which also contains fiber for gut health.
Whole-wheat bread or pasta, brown rice, barley, and oatmeal are better choices than refined grains. They contain fiber so your blood sugar doesn’t spike, and they aren’t stripped of nutrients like most refined carbs. Swap brown for white when eating rice, pasta or bread.
Get the most bang for your buck when indulging by opting for dark chocolate! It contains polyphenols such as anthocyanins and catechins.
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Worst: Refined carbohydrates
Foods high in refined carbohydrates are quickly burned by the body, causing blood sugar levels to spike and then crash. You can find them in foods such as white flour, white bread, and white rice.
Worst: deli meats
Foods such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs and processed meats are high in saturated fats. They may also contain preservatives, such as nitrates, which can increase inflammation levels.
Low-fat or low-fat dairy products can provide calcium and protein, which help keep blood sugar levels stable. But full-fat dairy adds unnecessary fat.
Baked goods are refined carbohydrates, which break down quickly, creating a blood sugar spike that increases inflammation. It’s okay to indulge once in a while, but follow the 80/20 rule: eat non-inflammatory foods 80 percent of the time and indulge in your favorite treats 20 percent of the time.
Worst: sweetened drinks
Soft drinks, juices, hot chocolate, and sweetened coffee drinks are high in added sugars, which can increase inflammation levels. Research has shown that these drinks are also linked to increased obesity and LDL cholesterol levels.
No food is truly off limits, but trans fats (also called partially hydrogenated oils) are fats that have been chemically altered to remain solid at room temperature. They increase inflammation and increase the risk of heart disease, so stay away from them as much as possible. This includes margarine and shortening, processed snack foods, fried foods, and store-bought baked goods.
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