Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Fighting Inflammation with Food

by Liz Cascio,
Nutrition Specialist 
In honor of National Nutrition Month, we've invited LSF nutrition specialist and personal trainer Liz Cascio to be our guest blogger.

Inflammation is the body’s automatic security system: it activates when it recognizes anything that is foreign, such as an invading microbe, plant pollen, or chemical. It can also be triggered by tissue trauma, like an ankle sprain or a scrape - the body sends white blood cells and other immune chemicals to help keep the injured area clean and promote healing. In healthy individuals, inflammation is a good thing!

However, sometimes inflammation occurs even when the body is not under threat - the body responds as if normal, healthy tissues are infected or somehow abnormal. As a result, the body's normally protective immune system can cause damage to its own tissues. Fortunately, studies have shown that the solution to chronic inflammation might just be in the produce section of your grocery store. Below you’ll find some of the most powerful inflammation-fighting compounds and the foods you can start incorporating today to reduce your risk of inflammation and other chronic diseases!

Antioxidants 
Powerful phytochemicals (or plant chemicals) – such as Vitamin C and E, lycopene, lutein, beta-carotene, and polyphenols – protect the cells from exposure to free radicals and can also inhibit resulting inflammatory reactions in the body. A good rule of thumb is to fill 2/3 of every plate with an assortment of brightly colored fruits and veggies, like leafy greens, bell peppers, citrus fruits, berries, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes. Eating this way ensures you will get all the antioxidants you need to fight inflammation while also leaving less room for the processed, nutrient-poor foods that promote it.

Omega-3 and Essential Fatty Acids
Experts recommend no more than a 4:1 ratio of Omega-6 (which increases inflammation) to Omega-3 (which decreases inflammation). To keep the right Omega-6 to Omega-3 balance, reduce or eliminate the use of vegetable oils, margarine, saturated and trans fat and choose whole plant sources of fat (avocados, nuts, seeds, and olives). Reduce or eliminate refined grains, choose grass-fed meats and wild caught fish whenever possible and load up on leafy greens and berries. For an extra boost of omega-3, skip the fish oil supplements and instead add 1-2 tablespoons of ground flax seed, chia seed, or English walnuts to get a day’s worth of Omega-3 and the added benefit of fiber and protein.

Nitric Oxide
Nitric oxide is a powerful vasodialator (or blood vessel opener), increasing blood flow throughout the body and protecting the blood vessels from oxidative stress and inflammation. Beets and leafy greens like kale, Swiss chard, arugula, and spinach, are rich in dietary nitrates and nitrite, compounds that stimulate the production of nitric oxide in the body. Other nitric oxide-promoting foods include whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, and oats) legumes (lentils, beans, and peas), citrus, watermelon, and garlic.

Alkaline Balance
Studies have shown that foods high in acid – such as proteins – may promote inflammation and force the body to work harder to maintain its optimal pH of 7.4. Avoid low carb, high animal protein diets: limit animal protein consumption to 4-ounce servings 2-3 times daily. Opt for plant-based protein sources like legumes instead of meat regularly. Choose intact whole grains and starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes and hard winter squashes) instead of processed carbs. Fruits and vegetables (especially those that grow in the soil, like root vegetables and leafy greens) are high in minerals, making them generally high-alkaline foods.

Keep it whole, keep it healthy 
The bottom line is that the guidelines for an anti-inflammatory diet are the same as those we’ve all heard over and over again: fill your plate with brightly colored fruits and veggies and unprocessed carbs, and pass on the processed and junk foods, unhealthy fats, and too much meat. In the words of nutrition and food journalist Michael Pollan, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

For more information or personalized nutrition support, email Liz at lizc@lakeshoresf.com.

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