The old adage, “You are what you eat,” couldn’t ring more true. Everything you put into your mouth has an effect on how you feel today, tomorrow and in the future. It’s never too early or too late to make good food choices.
Even though most people recognize the importance of healthy eating, it’s not easy to do. Eating is pleasurable, so it’s easy to overeat or indulge in the wrong foods. Plus, we are surrounded by convenient fast food restaurants and expertly engineered food products that keep us addicted.
For some people, an unhealthy and unbalanced diet catches up to them. In adulthood, they may notice that they are overweight, dealing with chronic pain or mental health problems and suffering vitamin deficiencies. The good news is that anti-inflammatory diets are incredibly helpful at getting people back on track with their mental and physical health.
In this post, we are going to cover how diet influences our health, why people are drawn to inflammatory foods and which foods to nix from your diet. We will then cover what an anti-inflammatory diet looks like, how it can benefit your health and the best foods to focus on. By the end of this article, you’ll be a pro on anti-inflammatory meal planning.
How Diet Influences Our Physical and Emotional Health
Good nutrition is part of leading a healthy lifestyle. When combined with regular exercise, you can maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk for certain diseases and promote your overall health and well-being.
The best diets consist of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, good fats and lean proteins. Here are the key benefits of nourishing your body with these types of foods.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Even though exercise is important, it’s what you eat that has the biggest impact on your weight. By eating smart, you can lose weight more quickly than if you exercised alone. Plus, maintaining a healthy weight reduces the risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, poor bone density and some cancers.
- Reduced cancer risk. An unhealthy diet can lead to obesity, which can increase your risk for certain cancers. Additionally, diets rich in fruits and vegetables may prevent some cancers thanks to the antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients.
- Prevent stroke and heart attack. Cardiovascular disease is extremely common in the United States, but that doesn’t make it any less serious. Clean eating keeps the blood vessels healthy, prevents blood clots and maintains a healthy blood pressure.
- Strong bones and teeth. A good diet with calcium and magnesium protects the teeth and bones. This helps prevent the onset of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis in later life.
- Improved mood and memory. What you eat affects your brain, too. Healthy diets are linked to better mood, more energy and a lower risk for dementia.
- Healthy gut. Your body contains bacteria that is essential for metabolism and digestion. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables produces healthy bacteria that promotes good digestion and a stronger immune response.
If Healthy Eating is So Important, Why is it Hard to Do?
When you look at all the benefits to eating a clean diet, why is it so difficult to eat healthy? Food is fuel, after all, and it’s designed to keep us alive and healthy. Unfortunately, we’re at a constant battle between the foods we’re supposed to eat and the foods we want to eat.
Humans are predisposed to prefer energy-rich foods like fats and sugars. Food scientists know this and create ingredients that are high in fat and sugar - much higher than what occurs in nature. Take high-fructose corn syrup, for example. This ingredient is naturally addictive and added to products like pasta sauce, salad dressings and ketchup.
Salt is also addictive and is often used as an ingredient to keep you hooked. The more salt you eat, the more you crave it. Food manufacturers know this, so they continue to add salt to their products. Salt has the same effect on the body whether it’s pink, white or crystallized. Getting too much salt causes the body to retain water, raising blood pressure and putting stress on the organs.
As you can see, processed foods are intrinsically addictive. This makes it hard to choose an apple over a bag of chips. Even with good impulse control, people are more likely to reach for the tasty chips. Sadly, the very foods that are being pushed on us are also making us sick, raising our risk for inflammatory conditions, chronic pain conditions and even mental illness.
Below we focus on the food ingredients that deserve the most attention, but remember, there are many more out there.
Food Ingredients that Cause Inflammation
We are constantly at war when it comes to healthy eating. On an average day, a person is bombarded with convenience foods, packaged meals, fast food restaurants and more. Making healthy choices is difficult, especially with misleading advertisements. Plus, food is present at so many events, it’s easy to overeat.
That said, some ingredients are more worrisome than others. For the purpose of this post, we are going to focus on eight ingredients that can cause inflammation in the body. If you suffer from chronic pain or inflammatory conditions like arthritis, you’ll want to be aware of these ingredients.
8 Ingredients to Avoid:
- Sugar. Sugar is present in desserts, pastries, sodas and fruit juices. However, processed sugars release inflammatory messengers that can raise the risk for chronic inflammation.
- Refined carbohydrates. Processed carbs are believed to be one of the leading causes of obesity and other chronic conditions in the U.S. White flour products like breads, pastas and rice stimulate the production of advanced glycation end (AGE) that causes widespread inflammation.
- Gluten. People who have joint pain are often sensitive to gluten and should try to avoid this ingredient. It’s believed that gluten triggers an autoimmune response that damages the small intestine, which is why people with celiac disease cannot eat gluten.
- Saturated fats. Studies show that saturated fats trigger fat tissue inflammation, which can worsen arthritis and increase the risk for heart disease. The worst culprits are pizza, red meats, pasta dishes and full-fat dairy products.
- Trans fats. Trans fats are commonly found in fast foods, frozen breakfast products, snack products and other processed foods. They’re known to trigger systemic inflammation. Avoid products that contain partially hydrogenated oils.
- MSG. MSG is a food additive that is used to enhance the flavor of soy sauce, prepared soups and mixes, fast food and others. Unfortunately, this additive is a chemical that can affect liver health and trigger inflammation.
- Aspartame. Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that is used to sweeten products without adding calories. However, some immune systems are sensitive to this chemical, setting off an inflammatory response.
- Omega 6s. The body needs the right balance of omega 6s, but too much can prompt the body to produce pro-inflammatory chemicals. Watch your intake of certain oils, such as grapeseed, safflower, sunflower and vegetable, as well as mayonnaise and some salad dressings.
Taking Control of Your Health: It’s Easier than You Think
When clients come to Awakenings Treatment Center for a mental health disorder, substance use disorder or eating disorder, we always start with the basics of healthy eating. Many of us have lost touch with what we should be eating to fuel our bodies.
Here are some simple tips to follow when starting a clean eating plan.
- Swap out soda for water and herbal tea.
- Eat meat no more than once a week.
- Eat more lean proteins, such as tofu and fish.
- Make produce more than half of each meal.
- Drink plant-based milk instead of cow’s milk.
- Eat whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juices.
- Avoid processed meats.
What are the Benefits of an Anti-inflammatory Diet?
There are many diets out there, and it’s difficult to know which one is right for you. We agree that there is no "one-size-fits-all" diet for everyone. You must find a diet that is easy to follow, meets your needs and allows you to feel your best.
For chronic pain patients, we do find success in anti-inflammatory diets. A diet of this sort encourages you to eat some foods and avoid others. The goal is to reduce inflammation in the body, decreasing symptoms of pain and swelling. In short, you’ll replace sugary, refined foods with nutrient-rich foods like dark leafy greens and berries.
Two of the best anti-inflammatory diets include Mediterranean and vegetarian diets. Both have been shown to reduce inflammation markers. These diets are also ranked high, as they are easy to follow and promote overall health and well-being.
Here are some benefits to expect from following an anti-inflammatory diet.
- Prevent obesity. Maintaining a heathy weight is one of the best things you can do for your body, as obesity causes inflammation. A balanced diet keeps your weight in check.
- Easy to follow. Mediterranean diets, in particular, are fairly easy to follow and stick to. There are many foods you can eat, including fruits, veggies and even some dairy, poultry and eggs.
- Reduce medications. With fewer side effects, you may be able to take less medication for chronic pain. This is a good thing, considering many of these medications have unfavorable side effects like brain fog and fatigue.
- Promote overall health. Eating a vegetarian or Mediterranean diet is good for your overall health. By following this plan, you’ll reduce inflammation as well as your risk for diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease and cancer.
Best Anti-inflammatory Foods to Eat
Some foods are especially effective at fighting inflammation, such as cherries, green tea and extra virgin olive oil. However, we want you to walk away with a good understanding of the types of foods you should eat, so we’ll cover the basics of what’s included in an anti-inflammatory diet.
Also, we want to point out that some vegetables should be avoided, at least at first. For example, some people find that foods from the nightshades family (white potatoes, eggplants and tomatoes) can trigger flare-ups. You may be able to eat these with no problem, but we recommend not including them in your diet right away.
Below is a breakdown of the types of foods to include in your diet.
- Vegetables. Most veggies are great, particularly dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, romaine) and nutrition-dense selection (broccoli, cauliflower).
- Fruits. Because fruit does contain sugar, focus on deeply colored fruits like cherries, blueberries and grapes.
- Healthy fats. Avocadoes, olives, extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil are all good options for healthy fats. Use these in place of dressings and marinades.
- Fatty fish. Fish is a great alternative to meat. It’s filling and packed with protein. Some of the best options include salmon, sardines and mackerel.
- Nuts. A handful of nuts makes an excellent snack because they are a good source of protein and fiber. Popular picks include almonds, pistachios, walnuts and cashews.
- Chocolate. Have a sweet tooth? Dark chocolate is a great compromise! Look for candy that has a high cacao content, a low sugar content and few additives.
- Spices. Season your food with herbs and spices, such as turmeric, fenugreek and cinnamon.
- Tea. Swap out fruit juices and sodas for water and teas, particularly green tea. Green tea fights inflammation thanks to the tannins in the tea bags.
Anti-inflammatory Sample Menu
Now for the finishing piece - a sample menu! It helps to have something to follow when you’re at home and cooking for yourself. Feel free to swap out other vegetables and proteins that you prefer.
- Omelet with kale and mushrooms. Use up to 3 eggs, and cook the omelet in olive oil.
- 1 cup of fresh fruit, such as cherries or blackberries.
- Green tea or water.
- Grilled salmon on a bed of mixed greens with olive oil and vinegar dressing.
- 1 cup of fresh fruit, topped with Greek yogurt and nuts.
- Unsweetened iced tea, water or green tea.
- Cold cut veggies with humus or guacamole.
- Grilled chicken breast, seasoned with garlic and lime.
- ½ cup of brown rice with chopped herbs.
- Roasted asparagus, drizzled with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.
- 1 ounce of dark chocolate
Our diet affects every aspect of our health. Whether you are recovering from substance abuse, an eating disorder, a mental health disorder or a chronic pain condition, adopting a healthy diet is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It will protect your health today, tomorrow and in the future. To start your journey to better health and wellness, contact Awakenings Treatment Center.