By Margaret Wertheim May 3, 2013
Inflammation is associated with some of the worst health problems out there including heart disease, cancer, and autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. While acute inflammation is a helpful process for the body when you have an injury such as cutting your finger or spraining your ankle, chronic inflammation is detrimental. Here are some easy ways to adjust your diet to decrease inflammation and improve your overall health:
1. Make sure to get your omega-3 fatty acids.
EPA, one of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, fish oil, and algae-based supplements along with DHA, has anti-inflammatory properties. Unfortunately, plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids like flaxseed and walnuts provide alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which does not have anti-inflammatory properties until it’s converted by your body to EPA and only a very small amount of ALA gets converted. To truly reap the anti-inflammatory benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, it’s best to consume EPA directly by eating fish, taking fish oil, or an algae-based EPA and DHA supplement.
2. Avoid omega-6 fatty acids and trans fats.
Omega-6 fatty acids promote inflammation in the body through the production of inflammatory compounds. Most people eat way too many omega-6 fats, which you will find in corn, soybean, and cottonseed oils. Another type of pro-inflammatory fats are trans fats, found in any products with “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredient list. They are usually found in baked goods, shortening, and margarines.
3. Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates.
Sugar and refined carbohydrates contribute to elevated blood sugar and insulin levels, which may cause and exacerbate inflammation. In addition, sugar and refined carbs also contribute to weight gain and can make it more difficult to lose weight. Excess body fat is another major contributor to inflammation.
4. Eat antioxidant-rich foods.
Free radicals are highly reactive compounds that can damage the cells of your body and create and contribute to chronic inflammation. Antioxidants are able to neutralize these free radicals to reduce inflammation. Antioxidants include vitamins A, C, and E as well as the colorful pigments of fruits and vegetables.
5. Make sure you’re getting plenty of vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with several inflammatory and autoimmune conditions like Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis, though it’s specific role has not yet be elucidated. The two main sources of vitamin D are the sun and food. Many people, especially those who live further away from the equator, don’t get much sun exposure especially during the winter. When you aren’t making enough vitamin D in your skin from sun exposure, make sure to include food food sources of vitamin D like fish and egg yolks and foods that are fortified with vitamin D like almond or coconut milk.