So many “diets” of today promote a quick-fix, easy solution versus focusing on long-term, sustainable change. Our society is geared for instant gratification, hence the reason why marketers love to promote everything from a packet of hunger-reducing sprinkles you pour over food to the ever-famous diet pill. Well, as it stands true for most things in life, there is no such thing as a “quick” fix. If you want to get healthy, lose weight and look younger, you will have to make a lifestyle shift by eliminating negative behaviors, incorporating healthy food choices and exercising daily. So on that note, let’s talk about the anti-inflammatory diet, which isn’t really a diet per say but moreover a lifestyle and happens to be one to which I abide by very closely!
Let’s start first by defining inflammation. Inflammation is the immune system’s first response when tissue has become injured, irritated, or diseased and makes it possible for the body to deal with a large number of foreign and toxic substances, playing a primary role in tissue repair. However, long-term internal inflammation has now been found to have the opposite effect and instead of helping to heal damaged tissue, actually causes tissue damage. Chronic inflammation has also now been found to be a major cause of weight gain and to further, inhibits ones ability to shed extra pounds by simple calorie reduction.
There are a number of factors which promote the over-production of inflammatory chemicals within the body; smoking, lack of exercise, obesity or weight gain, and sleep deprivation. But perhaps the largest cause of internal inflammation comes from the foods we eat. As it turns out, all foods can be divided into three categories based on how they affect us on a cellular level: pro-inflammatory, neutral, or anti-inflammatory. If you were to take a wild guess at which foods increase inflammatory response, what would you say? Yep, you guessed it: high sugar and processed foods! Dr. Weil, one of the most formidable champions of the anti-inflammatory diet, states, “If I could summarize everything I know about nutrition in one sentence, it would be…stop eating refined, processed and manufactured foods if at all possible.”
It’s important to realize that Inflammation is directly linked to insulin response in the body. We’ve discussed how high-sugar, refined foods cause the body to release insulin. Well, increased insulin levels in the blood lead to chronic inflammation which ultimately leads to, aside from general weight gain, a number of degenerative diseases, particularly those which are associated with aging. Fundamentally, this means that we need to make conscious food choices by purposefully selecting foods which will minimize insulin response, therefore, minimizing inflammatory response. At the end of this post, I’m going to challenge you to incorporate anti-inflammatory foods into your diet, as well as eliminate pro-inflammatory foods, for 2 solid weeks – you will be amazed at the results! So, let’s take a closer look, starting with those foods which actually cause inflammation!
- Sugar: table sugar, HFCS, dextrose, maltose, etc. Translation: dump the soda!
- Fruit Juice: if you want the nutritional benefits of fruit, just eat the fruit. Juice is all sugar, no fiber, which will spike insulin response. Note that many manufacturers actually add sugar to juice to make it even sweeter…parents, serve your kiddos real fruit slices, not juice.
- Refined Grains: crackers, bagels, white flour, white bread, pasta, cereal, etc. – choose 100% whole wheat products only, but preferably, cut out wheat all together.
- White Rice: white rice is stripped of all essential nutrients, fiber and vitamins – select whole grain brown rice, only.
- Trans Fats: vegetable oils which have gone through the chemical process of hydrogenation found in most fast foods, french fries, deep-fried foods, commercial baked and processed goods like doughnuts, crackers, peanut butter, etc.
- Dairy: particularly low-fat products like yogurt, skim milk and all ice cream products, whipped cream, etc. Note: many folks suffer from milk allergy and digestive intolerance – we’ll review this at a later date.
- Coffee: yes, I know…booooo. We love our coffee, don’t we? When you drink coffee throughout the day, not only are you ingesting a pro-inflammatory food, but you are also exhausting your adrenals which can be detrimental to your metabolism as well as a number of other cellular activities. Cut your overall consumption down to 1 cup in the morning (some experts feel 1 daily cup to be beneficial). Choose organic coffee as most commercially manufactured coffees have a significant chemical load.
- Alcohol: overconsumption of alcohol will cause inflammation of the liver, deterring the liver’s ability to effectively detox the body and excessive toxin load will lead to overall systemic inflammation.
- Grain-Fed Beef and Poultry/ Processed Meats/ Excessive Meat Consumption: look for grass-finished beef and free-range chicken. Cut out the bacon, salami and all other deli meats which more often contain chemicals, nitrates and even sugar! Limit meat consumption to 4 ounce servings, 1 meal daily, as the majority of your diet should consist of fresh, raw vegetables and fruits, whole grains such as brown rice and grain-like items such as quinoa and fatty fish such as salmon.
- GMO’s, Preservatives, Additives, Artificial Colors and Flavors: 90% of those food products which fall into the “processed” category contain a number of artificial chemicals, i.e. MSG. MSG is a highly addictive neurotoxic, flavor-enhancer found in almost all processed foods and has been linked to headaches, obesity, racing heart, fibromyalgia, as well as a host of other horrific symptoms and conditions. MSG takes many names and many forms, so buyer beware!
- Water!: 3 liters daily
- Fresh Vegetables: mostly raw as found in salads and smoothies, fresh or frozen but never canned. Note: Always be aware of The Dirty Dozen
- Fresh Fruits: berries, melons, peaches, nectarines, apples, etc. In moderation, enjoy bananas, figs, tangerines, pineapple and grapes as these fruits have a higher Glycemic Index – higher in sugar. Note: Always be aware of The Dirty Dozen
- Healthy Herbs and Spices and herbal teas
- Healthy Fats: extra virgin cold pressed organic olive oil, extra virgin organic coconut oil, expeller-pressed canola oil, nuts, seeds and avocado.
- Fish & Seafood: wild salmon, black cod, herring, sardines, etc.
- Whole Grains and Grain-Like items: brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, etc.
- Beans and Legumes: when coupled with brown rice or other whole grain, creates a complete protein.
- Lean Beef & Poultry: organic, grass-finished beef and free range skinless lean chicken. Free range organic eggs.