Inflammation is a very hot topic, and most definitely worth learning more about. We are excited to share our take on this subject, and offer simple tips that you can easily integrate into your routine that offers an ‘anti-inflammatory’ bonus!
Did you know that inflammation is associated with “oxidative stress” which can be damaging to our blood vessels, and increase our risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, diabetes, arthritis, some cancers and even depression?
So let’s try to ‘knock out’ this inflammation that we all may be experiencing, starting with food! Just to clarify, we are talking about chronic inflammation, often identified through elevated C-Reactive Protein (CRP) markers in our blood, that can be caused by many factors, including stress, pollution, elevated blood sugars, excess weight, sleep disruptions, and processed / pro-inflammatory foods. Essentially, anything that shifts our body out of its natural homeostatic state can likely lead to an increase in inflammation.
Good news! If we modify our daily food routine to include foods that are known to help counter inflammation or reduce oxidative stress, we can help to support less inflammation in our bodies, and our overall health status. After completing a thorough literature review, we have summarized three different nutritional approaches to help reduce inflammation - let’s dive in!
Nutrition Approach #1:
Choose whole food products that have not been processed, and contain less than five ingredients reported on the “Ingredients List”. Processed foods are altered in some way, and often, with pro-inflammatory ingredients such as saturated fats and over-processed oils like corn and soybean oils (Pahwa et al., 2022; Laudisi et al., 2019).
Whole foods that are not as processed include:
Whole grains (eg. Choose steel cut oats vs. packaged instant oatmeal)
Fruit / vegetables (eg. Choose fresh / frozen fruit vs. dried / sweetened fruit)
Animal proteins (eg. Choose plain chicken breasts instead of pre-packaged and pre-seasoned chicken breasts / burgers / nuggets)
Dairy (eg. Choose plain yogurt vs. flavoured yogurt)
Nuts / seeds (eg. Chooses plain nuts / seeds vs. nuts / seeds seasoned with salt or sugar)
Legumes (eg. Choose either dried / unsalted canned legumes vs. cooked / salted canned legumes)
Nutrition Approach #2:
Load up on antioxidants! Antioxidants are known to have powerful properties that neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidation. Reducing oxidation in our bodies helps to also reduce overall inflammation. Nutrients known to have high antioxidant properties include: vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids, selenium, zinc, and phenolic compounds. OK, well, how do I load up on these nutrients?
Foods from PLANT sources have the greatest number of antioxidants, compared to animal-based foods. This is partly because the natural coloured pigments in fruits and vegetables have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties amongst many other benefits (Lu et al., 2021). Think of the vibrant colours in produce such as PURPLE blueberries, beets, or cabbage or GREEN kale, spinach or swiss chard. Spice up your plates for all meals and snacks to include the colours of the rainbow, and you will guarantee to top up your intake of antioxidants (and it makes your plate more visually appealing)!
Here’s a quick list of foods known to contain a higher amount of antioxidants (Carlson et al., 2010):
Vitamin C: broccoli, brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, leafy greens, honeydew, kale, kiwi, lemon, orange, papaya, snow peas, strawberries, tomatoes, and bell peppers (all colors).
Vitamin E: Almonds, avocado, swiss chard, leafy greens, peanuts, red peppers, spinach (boiled), and sunflower seeds.
Carotenoids including beta-carotene and lycopene: apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, bell peppers, kale, mangos, turnip and collard greens, oranges, peaches, grapefruit, pumpkin, winter squash, spinach, tangerines, tomatoes, and watermelon.
Selenium: brazil nuts, fish, shellfish, beef, poultry, and barley.
Zinc: beef, poultry, oysters, shrimp, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, lentils, and cashews.
Phenolic compounds: quercetin (apples, red wine, onions), catechins (tea, cocoa, berries), resveratrol (red and white wine, grapes, peanuts, berries), coumaric acid (spices, berries), and anthocyanins (blueberries, strawberries).
Nutrition Approach #3:
Let’s cut right to the chase for approach #3! Increase your food consumption of foods that scored higher on the “Dietary Inflammatory Index”. There is a little bit of overlap between anti-inflammatory foods, and antioxidant rich foods - but that just reinforces the benefits of adding these foods to your menu!
See below for this golden list:
Foods high in dietary flavonoids (e.g. berries, red cabbage, kale, parsley, citrus fruits and soybeans)
Garlic, onion and ginger
Omega-3 Fatty Acids (e.g. fish, walnuts, chia seeds, ground flax seeds)
Let’s put this all together using the Healthy U Anti-Inflammatory Guide:
Fill ½ of your plate with all meals & snacks with fresh / frozen vegetables and/or fruit. Make your day filled with foods like the colour of the rainbow.
Enjoy 2-3 servings of nuts & seeds daily, ideally unsalted versions. One serving = ¼ cup or 2 tablespoons. Add nuts / seeds to your salads, smoothies or baked goods!
Include at least 2-3 servings of Omega-3’s throughout your week! This can include fish (any type should work), walnuts, ground flaxseeds or chia seeds.
Choose the homemade versions of all food types / recipes when possible! Try making your own homemade granola bars, or instead of packaged tomato sauce, blend up your own roasted tomatoes, peppers and onions!
Don’t forget to take your vitamin D supplement on a regular basis! Our food supply is low in vitamin D sources, and we don’t want to age ourselves too quickly with an excess of sun.
We hope you enjoyed this blog post, and that you resonated with at least one simple tip that you can integrate into your daily routine! Let’s keep our bodies neutral on the inside, starting with food.
Contributors: Elisa Porretta, BSc Candidate, Stephanie Boissonneault, BSc Candidate & Amanda Berger, BSc Candidate
Carlsen MH, Halvorsen BL, Holte K, Bøhn SK, Dragland S, Sampson L, Willey C, Senoo H, Umezono Y, Sanada C, Barikmo I. The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide. Nutrition journal. 2010 Dec;9(1):3
Laudisi, F., Stolfi, C., & Monteleone, G. (2019). Impact of food additives on gut homeostasis. Nutrients, 11(10). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11102334
Lu, W., Shi, Y., Wang, R., Su, D., Tang, M., Liu, Y., & Li, Z. (2021). Antioxidant activity and healthy benefits of natural pigments in fruits: A review. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 22(9). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms22094945
Pahwa, R., Goyal A., & Jialal I. (2022). Chronic Inflammation. StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/#_NBK493173_pubdet_
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, April 28). Inflammation. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Retrieved October 25, 2022, from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/inflammation/index.cfm#footnote1