When most people think of inflammation, an image of a swollen joint such as a sprained ankle pops into their mind. But this is not the only kind of inflammation -- in fact, inflammation is the body's first line of defense against a multitude of harmful invaders, such as unwanted bacteria, viruses and other nasty critters. The inflammatory process has several soldiers in the form of white blood cells that act as protecting agents when the body is attacked.
Although this process is critical in maintaining the balance of health, researchers and scientists have now demonstrated that problems occur when the inflammatory process becomes chronic and no longer "switches off." Unfortunately, today's go-go-go lifestyle and fast-food world create a breeding ground for chronic inflammation to develop.
Recent studies have clearly demonstrated that long-term inflammatory reactions are linked to numerous disease processes such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's and type II diabetes. Luckily, there are very powerful natural steps that can be taken to keep inflammation at bay.
5 foods to eat
The following foods and supplements contain natural anti-inflammatory properties and should be included in the diet three to four times per week.
Salmon offers a rich source of omega-3 essential fatty acids in the form of DHA (docosohexanoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentanoic acid). This type of fat contains powerful anti-inflammatory properties that have been shown to be beneficial in helping those with heart disease, arteriosclerosis, depression, attention deficit disorder and allergies. Salmon, herring, sardines and light tuna are all great options to include in the diet.
2. Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are loaded with plant nutrients called phytochemicals that prevent and can even reverse the inflammatory process. Unfortunately, according to a recent large-scale study conducted by Statistics Canada, most Canadians are eating far too few servings of fruits and vegetables. When planning meals, try to include five to 10 servings of produce per day. How much is one serving? It can be:
• 1 medium-sized fruit or vegetable
• 1/2 cup of juice
• 1 cup of salad
• 1/2 cup of canned or frozen fruits or vegetables
Also, the more colourful the fruit or vegetable, the more nutrition and disease-fighting value it contains. Look for red, purple, green, yellow and orange options, and include a variety of colours in every meal.
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3. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts and sesame seeds also contain anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fats. In fact, various studies have shown that half a handful of nuts per day is beneficial in lowering cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.
4. Fish oils
In addition to taking a high-quality multivitamin on a daily basis, I recommend supplementing with a high-quality distilled fish oil for the powerful anti-inflammatory effects. The omega-3 recommended dosage for adults is two grams per day. The recommended daily amounts per age group for children are:
• Birth to 12 months: 500 mg
• One year old: 600 mg
• Two or three years old: 700 mg
• Four to six years old: 1,000 mg
• Seven to nine years old: 1,200 mg for boys; 1,000 mg for girls
• 10 to 12 years old: 1,400 mg for boys; 1,200 mg for girls
• 13 to 15 years old: 1,500 mg for boys; 1,200 mg for girls
5. Fresh, clean water
Oftentimes, a state of dehydration can promote the inflammatory process. Flush your system out daily with six to eight glasses of fresh, clean water to promote proper elimination and optimal health.
Foods -- and habits -- to avoid
Certain foods and lifestyle habits can trigger an inflammatory reaction in the body. These foods include:
• Full-fat cheeses, ice cream and cream cheese
• Red meat (e.g., steak, ribs, hamburgers, hot dogs, pork, bacon)
• Trans fatty acids (aka partially hydrogenated fats) found in various types of processed and packaged foods and margarine
• White flour and sugary products (e.g., cookies, cakes, sugary cereals, pop)
• Deep fried foods (e.g., doughnuts, French fries, onion rings)
• Excess alcohol
Remember, the inflammatory reaction in itself is not a bad thing. In fact, the body needs it to fight off infection and to help repair muscular or tissue damage. Problems arise when inflammation becomes chronic. The best approach is to focus on prevention by including the above foods in the diet on a regular basis. Exercise, stress management and proper hydration are also key elements to keeping the body well-tuned, saving inflammation for when it is really needed.
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Dr. Joey Shulman is the author of national bestseller The Natural Makeover Diet (Wiley, 2006). For more information, please visit www.drjoey.com.
Last updated: June 2016