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By Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., Lifescript Nutrition Expert
Published December 09, 2009
A fire roars inside you and you may not even know it. What’s worse: This out-of-control
inflammation may lead to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and more. But dietary changes can help
tame the flame. Read on for the top 10 foods to start eating today…
Low-level, chronic inflammation lies so far below the skin’s surface that you can’t see it or feel it.
It’s the result of an immune system in overdrive, damaging healthy tissue and leading to chronic
illnesses. Ongoing inflammation can trigger heart disease, cancer and diabetes, but it also can
exacerbate asthma, acne and obesity — even ruin your mood, says California-based registered
dietitian Evelyn Tribole, author of The Ultimate Omega-3 Diet (McGraw-Hill).
Within two decades, more than one-third of Americans will have an inflammatory disorder, Tribole
says. And most of it stems from an unhealthy diet.
Fight Fire with Food
The typical Western diet – high in processed foods, refined starches, added sugars and animal fats and
low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and omega-3 fatty acids – fuels inflammation, according to a
2006 paper in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
But people in Greece, Italy and France have better eating habits and less chronic disease. In those
Mediterranean countries, sweets, eggs and beef don’t star on the plate as often as in the U.S.
Their diet is naturally anti-inflammtory and includes low-fat and nonfat dairy foods, olive oil,
potatoes, nuts, poultry, legumes, olives and wine, says Demosthenes Panagiotakos, a leading
researcher on the Mediterranean diet and associate professor of Biostatistics & Epidemiology of
Nutrition at Harokopio University of Athens, Greece.
So what does this mean for us in the West? Eat like a French, Italian or Greek woman — lots of fruits,
veggies, green salads and fish — and drink red wine in moderation (up to 4 ounces daily for women
and 8 ounces for men).
But lettuce and green beans alone won’t do it. To get a wide variety of nutrients, including fiber,
antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, chow down on fruits and vegetables of all kinds and
And start at breakfast. If you wait until dinner to eat the 5-9 servings (a half cup each) recommended
by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, you’ll be at the table a long time.
To get started on an anti-inflammatory path, consume more foods straight from the farm, fewer
processed and fried foods or those loaded with butter, and use the 10 foods below in your meals:
1. Canola oil
We eat too little omega-3 and too much omega-6 fatty acids because of corn and soybean oils in
Top 10 Foods to Fight Inflammation
HEALTH | BODY | LIFE | SOUL
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margarine, candy, crackers and processed foods. That tips the balance of compounds involved in
inflammation for the worse, Tribole says.
The fatty acids compete in the body for enzymes: Omega-3 fats yield anti-inflammatory compounds;
omega-6 fats give us inflammation.
“It’s like a biological game of musical chairs, where there’s always a shortage,” Tribole explains. “In
the case of fatty acids, the dominant fats win the enzyme.”
Diet fix: Limit highly processed foods (always a good idea). Dress your salad and sauté your meats
and veggies in omega-3 rich canola oil. Eat other plant sources of omega-3 fats including walnuts and
2. Grass-fed beef
Humans are at the top of the food chain and the diet your food eats affects your inflammation levels.
Today, most cows are fed high-calorie corn and grain – high in inflammatory omega-6 – to fatten them
quickly. But the meat from leaner cattle grazing on grass have higher levels of vital nutrients —
vitamin E and omega-3s.
A 2004 study from California State University, Chico examined lipid composition of 36 cattle fed on
grain, grass and a combination of both. The beef from grass-fed bovines was lower in saturated fatty
acids and omega 6 and 40% higher in omega-3 fatty acids.
Diet fix: It may be more expensive, but worth it for your health to dine on grass-fed beef. The
American Institute for Cancer Research recommends no more that 18 ounces of lean beef weekly.
More than that raises your colon cancer risk. Less is probably better – maybe two portions per week –
because it frees your plate for even more disease-fighting foods.
3. Oily fish
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating omega-3 rich
oily fish at least twice weekly because they decrease the risk of sudden
cardiac death and slow growth of arterial plaque.
Diet fix: Choose salmon, tuna, trout, herring, sardines and mackerel for
the most potent, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. But pregnant
women should avoid King mackerel because of its high mercury content.
Nuts have long been linked with less coronary
heart disease than other high-calorie foods.
A 2005 study in the American Journal of
Epidemiology of more than 6,000 people found
those who ate the most nuts and seeds had the
lowest levels of inflammatory markers in their
The high content of the amino acid arginine
may be responsible for the inflammation-
soothing effect of nuts.
Diet fix: Snack on some walnuts, pistachios or almonds. But measure a one-ounce serving (about one-
fourth cup) to keep calories in check.
A number of studies have shown that cocoa can reduce the risk of heart disease.
When researchers in Spain gave 42 men and women skim milk mixed with cocoa powder twice daily
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for four weeks, participants had lower levels of inflammatory markers in their blood compared to the
four-week period in which they drank plain skim milk.
Another 2006 study from the University of California, Davis showed that drinking cocoa improved
blood flow and decreased lipid levels in 32 post-menopausal women.
The beneficial ingredient is flavanols, which reduce inflammation and blood clotting. Cocoa has a rich
concentration of them.
Diet fix: Enjoy a cup or two of steamy hot cocoa made with real
cocoa and skim or low-fat milk to hold down the calories and saturated
fats. And don’t think a chocolate bar carries the same health boost; the
candy is high in saturated fat.
Laboratory studies suggest that cranberries may inhibit growth and
proliferation of breast, colon, lung and prostate tumors. Researchers
suspect that one protective mechanism is the anti-inflammatory action of
this antioxidant-packed red berry. It’s also been shown to reduce the
oxidation of low-density lipo-proteins (LDL or "bad" cholesterol) levels.
Diet fix: Toss dried cranberries into a green salad or your morning bowl of oatmeal.
When healthy men and women supplemented their diets with sweet Bing cherries for 28 days, several
blood markers of inflammation decreased, according to a 2006 study in the Journal of Nutrition.
An earlier study also suggests that cherry consumption relieves arthritis symptoms.
Laboratory studies show the anti-inflammatory properties of anthocyanins – compounds responsible
for the cherry’s rich red color – but researchers suspect there are many more anti-inflammatory
chemicals in this juicy red fruit.
Diet fix: Enjoy a dessert or snack of fresh cherries in season and dried all year long.
The antioxidant resveratrol found in the skin of grapes (and red wine and
peanuts) also fights inflammation and cancer. Drinking Concord grape
juice may lower inflammatory markers in the blood of people with stable
coronary artery disease, according to a double-bind study published in
2004 in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.
Diet fix: Keep red grapes washed and at eye level in the refrigerator.
(Fruit is healthier than juice because it has more fiber and less sugar.) Put
them on the homework table when your kids come home from school.
If an apple a day really does keep the doctor
away, it might be because of its high
concentration of quercetin, a flavanoid also
present in onions and tea.
In a 2008 University of Michigan study of more
than 8,000 American adults, researchers found
a link between apples, flavanoids and
quercetin and decreased inflammation.
Diet fix: Toss diced apples into chicken salad
or warm your family with a baked apple and a pinch of cinnamon.
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This nutritional powerhouse contains many disease fighters, including beta-carotene, vitamin C and
the B vitamin folate. It also has kaempferol, another flavanoid linked to decreased inflammation.
Diet fix: Toss steamed broccoli with whole-wheat pasta and pine nuts. For even more kaempferol,
pick up some kale, green beans, leeks and tea.
A Daily Anti-Inflammation Eating Plan
Can’t figure out to get all these anti-inflammatory foods into your meals? Try the menu below:
Oatmeal sprinkled with dried cranberries and cinnamon•
Green salad loaded with fresh veggies, including broccoli, onions, a sprinkling of walnuts or
almonds and fresh-cracked pepper and an olive or canola oil dressing
Top your salad with grilled chicken•
Whole-grain bread or crackers•
Sliced fresh tomato drizzled with olive oil•
Grilled salmon with rosemary•
Sauteed spinach with leeks and ginger•
Apple, sliced and sprinkled with cinnamon, cooked in the microwave or baked in the oven.•
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common health concerns such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes and more. Do you have the
prescription for better health? Take this food quiz with facts from Bauer's book and find out.
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