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National nutrition month: Reduce inflammation with an anti-inflammatory diet

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The foods you choose to eat have a significant impact on your overall well being. Eating the right foods can help you maintain an ideal weight, as well as reverse, manage, or prevent diseases and illnesses, and even live longer! 

As part of National Nutrition Month, SIU Medicine is increasing awareness about the importance of a healthy diet and share ideas on what a healthy diet looks like. 

Of course, there's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to nutrition. But most people benefit from following a few dietary principles based on scientific research.

Here's one principle everyone should follow: Eat foods that have been proven to reduce inflammation, and avoid foods that promote inflammation. 

Inflammation: When a good thing goes bad

Acute inflammation is an important process that is started by your immune system. It's a protective response against infections, illnesses or injuries.

For instance, when you sprain your ankle, you'll probably notice swelling, redness and tenderness. This is inflammation at work. Immune cells, fluids and other molecules are sent to the area to heal injured tissues and remove unhealthy or damaged compounds from the area.

But sometimes, inflammation can become long lasting and widespread. This can cause chronic, or ongoing, damage to cells and tissues in your body. Doctors can test for this by looking for certain inflammatory “red flags” in your blood.

With chronic inflammation, you may also begin to struggle with things like joint pain, fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, skin issues and more. It also puts you at greater risk for certain health diseases, including arthritis, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer and heart disease.

Where does chronic inflammation come from? Common causes include environmental toxins, stress, tobacco products and especially: an unhealthy diet.

The main goal of an anti-inflammatory diet is to reduce chronic inflammation. To do this, make sure you are selecting (and avoiding) certain foods.

What to eat

Foods that help fight inflammation tend to be minimally processed and rich in a variety of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, healthy fats (like omega-3 fatty acid) and other nutrients. Some of the best inflammation-fighting foods include: 

  • Vegetables, especially dark leafy green veggies like kale, spinach, bok choy and Brussels sprouts
  • Fruits, especially cherries, blueberries, strawberries and oranges
  • Lean animal protein, especially chicken and fish
  • Nuts, seeds, olives, avocados and olive oil
     

What not to eat

It probably won't surprise you that heavily processed foods filled with sugar, artificial ingredients, and preservatives tend to promote inflammation. These types of foods can also disrupt our hormones, damage the healthy bacteria living in our digestive tract (an important part of our immune system), and raise our blood sugar too high.

If you're on an anti-inflammatory diet, avoid things like:

  • Vegetable oils
  • Trans fats
  • Sugary drinks (including diet soft drinks)
  • Refined carbohydrates like white bread and pasta
  • Crackers, cookies, candy and other types of junk food
  • Processed meats like lunch meat
  • Alcohol
     

Additionally, some people find that reducing or eliminating dairy products (like milk and cheese) and gluten (a protein found in grains like barley, wheat, and rye) makes them feel better, too. This may be something to explore within your own diet.

Just remember: speak with your doctor before making any significant changes to your nutrition, medication routine or lifestyle.

An anti-inflammatory diet improves the way you look and feel—and can even help you live longer and avoid chronic illness. Contact SIU Medicine to find out more about our nutrition information and services.

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