There are many different diets and trends that saturate the Internet nowadays, and sometimes we don’t know what is good to follow and what is not. The CDC has wording that states, “It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle.” Take-home point is that one should look at the long haul and ask “can I eat this until I am 80? 90? 100?” The anti-inflammatory lifestyle is definitely something that is good for you as you age. Inflammation in the body is known to contribute to chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma, inflammatory gut disorders, arthritis, obesity, cancer and dementia.
Using food as medicine can be powerful! Here are some guidelines that may help you out:
Basic rule of thumb for shopping: read the ingredients labels. It’s similar to what Michael Pollan says, If your great-great-grandmother could not pronounce it or didn’t know what it was, don’t eat it.
- Healthy fats. Remember fat is good. (Fat is good.) These are fats high in omega-3s.
- Stick to extra virgin olive oil when you can. (Note: there are other suitable vegetable oil options available, please contact me if you would like to discuss this point further)
- Eat 4 oz of fatty SMASH fish twice a week. (SMASH: salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines or herring) Try to eat wild caught. Other larger fish have mercury, so leave that to once a month and none if you are a child and are of childbearing age.
- Some plant sources of omega-3s include flax seeds, flax oil, chia seeds or hemp seeds.
- Vegans should consider using an algal-based omega-3 supplement.
- Others to note: avocados, walnuts, other nuts and nut butters, if the ingredients are clean and don’t have other preservatives or sugars.
- By the way, butter is not bad. Eat the real stuff. It’s more satisfying and you are not going to have cravings, like if you eat the fake stuff.
- Reduce omega-6 fats such as those found in hydrogenated vegetable oils.
- Eat lots of vegetables and fruit. But more vegetables!
- Eat the rainbow! Deep colored fruits and veggies have higher phytochemicals: dark greens like spinach, kale, arugula, broccoli, and sweet potatoes. Deep colored fruit: melons, berries, and citrus.
- 5 or more servings a day. The more veggies more the merrier.
- Eat more veggies than the portion size. You won’t go wrong; you’ll just poop it out!
- Eat whole grain. The more work it takes to chew the better!
- Limit it to portion size.
- Read the ingredients. Make sure it doesn’t have any additives, many gluten free options will have loads of extra additives in there that you don’t need to eat.
- Protein from plants. Examples are legumes, lentils, nuts and seeds, quinoa, and beans. Eat more of a plant-based diet, meats only occasionally. Look for things such as organic or grass-fed or free-range meat when you can.
- Spice it up! Anti-inflammatory spices include turmeric, ginger, rosemary, oregano, and cayenne. A great one that I have found is Simply Organic’s Adobo. It is an easy, no brainer spice mix. And a great place to start, if you have no idea what to use. There are so many spices out there, again stick to real spices in the ingredients. Many spice mixes will have unwanted additives to increase shelf life. You don’t want to eat that!
- Mindful mouth!
- Mindfulness just means awareness. Don’t overthink it. Put the phone down, turn the TV off and look at your food. This helps with portioning your plate. Regardless of the quality, if you eat too much, this leads to increased calories. Excess calories from any source can increase inflammation and obesity.
- Chew slowly.
- Savor your food.
- “Hara hachi bu.” (腹八分目/はらはちぶんめ)
- Adopt the Okinawan philosophy of stopping when nearly 8/10. It literally translates to “Eat until you are eight parts full.”
- Eat fermented food. Our gut has more neurons than our brain. The beneficial bacteria in fermented foods helps aid in digestion of food, reduces inflammation, and even makes us feel happy. A daily dose of fermented food keeps the gut flora replenished. Some examples are kombucha, kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, mead, and beer. (My husband’s favorite St. Louis brewery is Urban Chestnut ) You have to ingredient watch! If you want to make your own, I would recommend Sandor Katz’s book “Wild Fermentation”.
- Eat traditional foods (if you want). Everyone comes from different a heritage or background. If you have recipes from your own cultural heritage that is a great place to start. If want to adopt cultural recipes, you can do that too. My personal heritage is Nepali, thus we eat daal-bhat-tarkari, a staple of our country that translates to basmati rice, seasonal vegetables and a lentil soup. This is eaten with achar, a pickle, either fermented or fresh. On special occasions we eat meat, specifically goat or chicken.
- Lifestyle is not just food.
- Incorporate exercise. Walking is the easiest form of exercise start and to sustain when you are older. Recommended is 30 minutes daily five days a week. If you are in the St. Louis area you can join me for a walk!
- Reduce stress. Try and incorporate meditation if you can. I would start with Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction by Jon Kabat Zinn.
- Turn lights off around sunset. Light natural candles if you can, the intensity of light is more soothing to your brain. Stop all screen time around this same time. You’ll sleep like a baby.
- Reduce caffeine. Limit it and try to abstain past noon. Try brewed green tea instead of iced tea at restaurants; there are too many additives in tea and coffee. Drink cacao based drink instead of coffee as an alternative. I prefer an organic natural cacao that does not have extraneous ingredients. It is a great antioxidant that is packed with nutrients and it is a form of fiber too!
- Treat yourself to chocolate! 1-2 oz of chocolate (>70%) as an occasional treat. There are many brands, but a Missouri company is Askinosie! The best! Other sweets to indulge in occasionally are ones that are made from scratch. You are not going eat a pecan pie everyday if you have to hand roast pecans and make the crust from scratch!
There are many more ways to improve your health with the food you eat. Many of these strategies may also help you lose weight. I think that the best approach is to custom-tailor the food consumed by the patient. Baseline lab values are also important when recommending specific foods for a patient.
Want to learn how to have an anti-inflammatory lifestyle? If you are in the St. Louis area come see me, Dr. Strong, and we can learn about your health together! Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any of this material in more detail.
Rakel, D. (2007). Integrative medicine. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier.
Willcox BJ; Willcox DC; Suzuki M (2002). The Okinawa Program : How the World’s Longest-Lived People Achieve Everlasting Health And How You Can Too.