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Bodily Inflammation and Your Cardiac Health

February 26, 2016

When you bite a hangnail or stub your toe, the area in pain may swell up or become inflamed. Inflammation is part of the body’s immune response to injury or assault. While acute or short-term inflammation is healing, long-term inflammation can promote disease and may be a symptom of chronic problems like diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Similarly, being overweight is an inflammatory state, which has health risks of its own.

Lifestyle changes may help reverse inflammation. A primary way to reduce inflammation is through weight loss by increasing activity and reducing calories from sugars, refined grains, fatty meats, cheeses and whole milk dairy products. Quelling the chronic inflammatory response that promotes heart disease may lie within our food choices. Here are suggestions that may help you reduce inflammation.

Increase fruit and vegetables

Choose deeply-colored fruits and vegetables like green, orange, yellow and purple. Include foods like spinach, sweet potatoes, broccoli, oranges and blueberries. Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that fight inflammation at the cellular level. Eat 4-5 servings each day to gain the most nutrients and to help you feel full.

Incorporate healthy fats

Use extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados. Limit inflammation-causing saturated and trans fats found in whole milk dairy products, fatty and processed meats, creamy sauces and dressings, shelved bakery items, fast foods and fried foods. Include omega-3 fats by eating fatty fish such as salmon 2-3 times per week.  Add plant sources of omega-3’s including walnuts, omega 3 fortified eggs, chia and flaxseed. 

Choose whole grains

Refined grains and sugars promote inflammation. Include whole grains such as brown rice, oats, barley, wild rice, quinoa, whole wheat breads, pastas and oatmeal. 

Minimize processed foods and sugary drinks

Reduce juices, soda and punch.  If you feel you need to sweeten the taste of water, you can add small amounts of juice or fruit for flavor. Drink unsweetened green, white or black tea. Eat less processed foods and junk foods, including chips and pretzels. 

Choose plant proteins

Replace meats with lentils, beans or soy. Incorporate meatless meals to include beans, peas, soy foods and nuts.

Season with spices

Flavor foods with herbs and spices rich in antioxidants. Choose garlic, green herbs, ginger and turmeric. Dark chocolate is antioxidant-rich.  Enjoy chocolate that is 70% cocoa in small amounts. 

Prebiotics and Probiotics

Prebiotics are a type of indigestible fiber. They promote the growth of desirable bacteria in the gut.  Foods containing prebiotics include chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, garlic, leeks, soybeans and whole grains. Probiotics are the helpful bacteria found in the gut.  They can be obtained by eating fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso and tempeh. 

Mediterranean Diet

Researchers emphasize that relying on individual foods is not the answer, but the synergistic effects of a combination of foods that is most healthful—or the pattern of eating.  The Mediterranean diet is an example of an eating pattern that has anti-inflammatory properties.  It is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds.  The diet emphasizes minimally processed, locally sourced foods with olive oil as the main source of fat.  Low to moderate consumption of low fat cheese and yogurt, fish, chicken and eggs is encouraged.  Red meat is limited to a few times per month and daily wine is optional.