Understanding Inflammation: The Importance of Diet, 3/3 By Jeanne Rosner, MD
Updated: Nov 21, 2022
As discussed previously, chronic inflammation often goes unnoticed until serious disease is diagnosed. This chronic, often imperceptible, low-level inflammation appears to be the root cause of many serious illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, neurodegenerative conditions (Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases), depression, asthma, allergies, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.
In previous posts, we have reviewed the lifestyle changes we can make to reduce our risk of chronic inflammation. These modifications include making environmental changes, developing good rest and sleep habits, having strong social relationships, taking part in regular exercise, maintaining an ideal body weight and avoiding obesity, and practicing various stress reduction modalities.
Diet also plays a huge role in reducing chronic inflammation. Unfortunately, most people around the world spend a great deal of their lives in a pro-inflammatory state, thanks to their diet.
In this final post on inflammation, I will delve deeply into the anti-inflammatory benefits of diet. We will look primarily at the anti-inflammatory diet recommended by physician and integrative medicine specialist Dr. Andrew Weil. It was derived from the healthiest components of both the Mediterranean and Asian diets.
Carbohydrates can negatively influence the inflammatory process through the chemical reactions that occur between sugars (carbohydrates) and proteins, which create pro-inflammatory compounds called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). This inflammatory state can be moderated by keeping blood sugar low and stable.
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a useful tool to measure a carbohydrate's effect on blood sugar levels. The rating shows the physiologic effects of carbohydrate-rich foods and their relationship to health. This numeric blood sugar ranking provides a comparison to ingesting a glucose load (ranked as 100). The goal is to eat lower glycemic index foods, which will result in a lower blood sugar level, further translating to a lower, or non-existent, spike in insulin levels. The long-term consumption of foods with a high glycemic index is associated with an increased risk of Type 2 Diabetes and coronary heart disease.
Eat foods that are less refined, less processed with a low glycemic index.
Eat more whole grains, beans, sweet potatoes, winter squashes and other vegetables and temperate fruits such as berries, cherries, apples and pears, instead of tropical fruits such as bananas, pineapple, mango and papaya.
Cook pasta al dente.
Add vinegar to food, it can blunt the glycemic response by a third.
Fats Fats are a necessary component of our diet; however, the quality of fats varies tremendously.
Fats to include in your diet:
Increase omega-3 fatty acid consumption (sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon, herring, flax seeds (freshly ground), hemp seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, fortified eggs)
Consider a fish oil supplement with EPA and DHA (2 grams/day)
Include avocados and nuts (walnuts, cashews, almonds and nut butters made from these nuts)
Use extra-virgin olive oil as your primary cooking oil. If you want a neutral tasting oil, use expeller-pressed, organic canola oil.
Fats to limit and/or avoid:
Strictly avoid margarine, vegetable shortening, and all products listing them as ingredients. Also avoid all products made with partially hydrogenated oils (AKA trans fats) of any kind.
Avoid reaching the smoking point of oils. The fat gets denatured.
Limit store-bought salad dressings (often high in sugars and omega-6 fats)
Reduce intake of saturated fat
Eat more vegetable sources of protein (soy foods, beans, lentils and other legumes, nuts and seeds)
Eat less red meat (eat only grass fed and grass finished if possible; they provide more omega-3 fats) and poultry; these contain pro-inflammatory fats
Decrease consumption of animal protein, except for fish and high-quality cheese and yogurt
Herbs and Spices Eat an unlimited amount of turmeric, curry powder, ginger, garlic, basil, cinnamon, rosemary and thyme.
Drinks Drink mainly water and tea (white, green or oolong teas).
Dark Chocolate Enjoy plain dark chocolate with a minimum of 70% cocoa content, in moderation.
Putting It All Together
Eat as wide a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables as possible. Aim for different colors, which helps assure that you are covering all of your nutrient needs.
Minimize your consumption of processed foods and fast food.
Reduce sugar, high fructose corn syrup and all foods ending in "ose" (dextrose, maltose, glucose, etc. – these are all other forms of sugar).
Reduce or eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages; drink more water.
Eat more whole grains.
Eat more healthy fats: more omega-3 fats, polyunsaturated oils, monounsaturated oils, nuts and seeds. Avoid trans fats.
Eat more plant-based proteins, beans, nuts, legumes (eat fewer animal sources of protein).
Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid: www.drweil.com/diet-nutrition/anti-inflammatory-diet-pyramid/dr-weils-anti-inflammatory-food-pyramid/
International table of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2002, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: ajcn.nutrition.org/content/76/1/5.full.pdf
Jeanne Rosner, MD
Jeanne Rosner is a board-certified anesthesiologist who practiced pediatric anesthesia at Stanford Medical Center for nearly 20 years. In 2011 she began teaching nutrition classes in her son’s 5th-grade science class. It was an “aha” moment for her. She realized that learning and teaching about nutrition, health and wellness in her community was her destiny.
Since retiring from anesthesia, Jeanne has been a nutrition educator in the San Francisco Bay Area, at local middle and high schools. She teaches middle school children the importance of eating food closest to the source, making good food choices and eating in a balanced and moderate way.
Dr. Rosner started SOUL (seasonal, organic, unprocessed, local) Food Salon in 2014. SOUL Food Salon’s mission is to educate and empower people to be healthier. She holds small gatherings (salons) at which experts in the health and wellness community share their knowledge on how to lead a healthier life.
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