Fighting Fires: Anti-Inflammatory Diet Primer
There seems to be renewed interest in the anti-inflammatory diet of late with a host of new books revisiting the topic. I have been an anti-inflammatory fan since Dr Andrew Weil and Dr Nick Perricone introduced the concept more than a decade ago. The anti-inflammatory diet is the cornerstone of my nutritional approach as it is a way of flooding your body with good nutrition to live your best life. If you have been wondering what the term meant, here is a quick overview.
The anti-inflammatory diet is based on a high quantity of unprocessed plant foods, with or without poultry or fish. As a base, these foods are nutrient-dense and lower in calories to support a healthy weight and optimal metabolism overtime. They also naturally contain many plant chemicals which are anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant in nature – your arsenal against aging and environmental assault!
There are also two key metabolic effects/strategies to an anti-inflammatory plan:
- Balance the blood sugars. While some of us think of blood sugar control as only an issue for diabetics, in fact it is years of erratic blood sugar control on a daily basis that can set us up for permanent blood sugar derangement. Choosing unprocessed carbohydrates such as intact oats, quinoa or wheat berries (not ‘made with whole grain’ breakfast cereals) provides highly nourishing, slowly digested carbohydrates which hit the bloodstream in a slow and sustained way. This keeps insulin levels in check…and inflammation too.
- Eat only healthful, anti-inflammatory fats. It is not the amount of fat you eat but the type. Choose whole food sources of healthy fat such as nuts, seeds, olives, coconut and avocados first as they come packaged with complete nutrition such as extra fibre, protein and minerals. Next, choose moderate amounts of healthy oils such as extra-virgin olive oil (the anti-inflammatory staple) supplemented by smaller amounts of virgin coconut, expeller pressed almond or organic canola. Banish omega 6-rich cooking oils such as soy, corn, safflower and grapeseed oils; eliminate margarines and shortenings made with these oils and any processed foods made with these oils – while omega 6 fats are essential, we greatly over-consume them which favours pro-inflammatory end products of omega 6 metabolism. Keep your animal based saturated fats to a minimum and choose poultry and fish most often. Dairy should be more of a condiment than a main event.
To help get you started on your anti-inflammatory journey, here are 5 quick tips that anyone can adopt!
- Take 3 tablespoons of hemp seeds a day. They contain a lion’s share of omega 3 fats in addition to being high in magnesium , which is often lacking in a processed food diet. Hemp seeds are also a source of the rare anti-inflammatory omega 6 fat called GLA>
- Banish white flour and sugar. White flour is just like sugar to your bloodstream – it will send blood sugars soaring into an inferno only to leave you cranky and hungry in its scorched wake. Choose only 100% whole grain foods and try to choose actual grains over processed grain foods like muffins.
- Stop drinking sweetened beverages. See above…and the added insult is that your body doesn’t compensate for drinkable calories by eating less. So you gain more weight.
- Make extra-virgin olive oil your main household oil. It is 81% oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that just might be the last uncontroversial healthy fat! You can cook with a standard grocery store version as long as you don’t bring the heat above medium-high and most extra virgin olive oils have a smoke point of between 375 – 425 so you can bake with them!
- Start eating more turmeric. Turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory but it is notoriously difficult to get it into your bloodstream. The way to win the battle is twofold: by eating it daily and getting a little help from black pepper, which contains a molecule that improves your uptake of turmeric. Add it fresh to smoothies and juices and stir-fries and add powdered to soups, curries, casseroles and pasta dishes (as long as you don’t mind the intense yellow colour!)