What is inflammation and how can it harm you? Your body is responding to a perceived invader and trying to fight it. According to the National Institutes of Health’s Aging & Disease, “one of the major changes that occur during aging is the dysregulation of the immune response, leading to a chronic systemic inflammatory state.” (“Redefining Chronic Inflammation in Aging and Age-Related Diseases,” April 2019, www.nih.gov.)
If your body is constantly inflamed, it’s more at risk for health problems like diabetes, obesity, stroke, arthritis, depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
You’ve probably heard that red or processed meat, processed flour products, fried foods and sugary drinks can cause inflammation. But there are foods that can reduce inflammation and possibly lead to less joint pain, more energy and improved overall health.
Food as medicine
IBJI’s OrthoHealth Registered Dietitian Arleen Temer-Wittcoff likes to think of food as medicine, a concept that stands the test of time. Good nutrition is foundational for health. “Every meal becomes an opportunity to nourish the body with nutrients and compounds for muscle synthesis, injury repair, and metabolic stress reduction,” she says. Here’s a look at some anti-inflammatory foods.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fats provide anti-inflammatory benefits and fish is a great addition to a meal plan. The overlying message is to eat a whole foods diet with fish incorporated once or twice a week. If you don’t eat fish, a fish oil or algae supplement is a possible alternative.
In addition to the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, eating fish is a great source of protein. Recommendations include two 4-ounce servings per week of fish including wild salmon, sardines, cod, herring, lake trout or canned tuna. These options are low in mercury.
According to a Harvard Health Publishing article, “other omega-3 sources (less potent than fish, however) include ground flax, flaxseed oil, walnuts, and, to a limited degree, green leafy vegetables.” If you plan to eat flaxseeds or chia seeds, make sure they’re ground to get the full benefits, Temer-Wittcoff recommends. Chia seeds can be easily incorporated into a delicious pudding.
Fill your plate with vegetables, especially those that are cruciferous (rich in sulforaphane). Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale are good sources. “Researchers have studied the effects of sulforaphane and it is found to block an enzyme that potentially causes joint pain and inflammation,” Temer-Wittcoff says. “If you eat fish, have some broccoli on the side, use spices like turmeric or ginger, and have a glass of green tea. All of these things combined can be helpful in fighting inflammation or pain.”
Brightly colored fruits and vegetables
Temer-Wittcoff recommends berries, citrus, peppers, carrots and tomatoes for their rich compounds. Leafy green vegetables, because of nitric oxide, are their own category and help to lower blood pressure. Consider spinach, arugula and cabbage. Either fresh or frozen will do.
Studies have linked curcumin and ginger to anti-inflammatory responses in the body. Use the dried or fresh versions of ginger and turmeric in cooking. It can be used to spice soups, stews, beans or whole grains. Adding some black pepper is thought to enhance the absorption of curcumin in the turmeric.
Everyone loves cool beverages in the warmer months. Why not make an iced pitcher of green tea instead of sugary lemonade? Green tea contains polyphenol compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties.
Tip: Have headaches? Temer-Wittcoff recommends adding fresh ginger and turmeric to green tea.
Very few foods contain significant amounts of vitamin D, so most people can benefit from taking time to get outdoors and spend time in the sunshine. According to the Vitamin D Council, regular time in full sunshine can help the body produce its own vitamin D.
If that is not possible then taking a supplement is also a recommendation. Talk to your physician about the dose that is right for you.
It’s always important to stay hydrated. “Experts say to drink half of your body weight in ounces, which is a blanket statement for healthy audiences,” she says. “This is a decent target to hit. If you are exercising and sweating, you may need more.”
Optimize your nutrition
IBJI’s OrthoHealth program can help you create an individualized plan to optimize your metabolic health. Plus you can get free nutrition tips delivered to your email each month by signing up for our OrthoHealth newsletter. Learn more at ibji.com/orthohealth or call (847) 324-3020.
• Stefanie Dell’Aringa is a copywriter & Social Media Specialist For Illinois Bone & Joint Institute (IBJI).