There are so many ailments that afflict us, the names and characteristics of each are dizzying and frightening to most. Even as a physician, I am amazed at the number of different "problems" that are listed on the problem lists of my patients' charts. How can there be so many? Over time I have begun to look at this situation differently. They aren't as different as they seem, if you start to look at root causes.
Most chronic disease shares a common denominator, and that is inflammation.
A most powerful and sophisticated means of defense, and often required to start the repair and healing process. However when inflammation becomes insidious, chronic and smolders, as is the case with autoimmune diseases, diabetes, heart disease, inflammatory bowel conditions to name a few, it needs to be looked at closely.
If most diseases share a common process, than it follows that we can treat them with a similar primary strategy. That's where food comes in. If we can eat in a manner that decreases inflammation, we can make a significant impact on our disease. There are other ways we can live an anti inflammatory lifestyle- decreasing exposures to environmental toxins, supporting spiritual and psychologic health through meditation, yoga and other mind body practices, exercising – but food is the one exposure we have everyday, many times a day, and the one that I think can make a huge impact rather quickly.
Some foods fuel inflammation. Instead of feeling better, the food we eat makes us feel worse. The anti-inflammatory diet is a way of making ourselves healthier from the inside out. When combined with exercise, it becomes a lifestyle that makes you feel better every day.
The AI diet strives to reduce or eliminate processed foods by replacing them with fresh, whole foods. The diet is similar to the traditional Mediterranean or Asian diets that serve primarily a variety of fruits and vegetables and whole grains, and is at its heart , a plant based diet.
Here are some of the simple maxims that have helped my patients begin the journey of changing the way they eat :
- Foods made with wheat flour and sugar, especially bread, chips, pretzels, cookies and other highly processed foods.
- Butter, cream, cheese, full-fat dairy products, unskinned chicken and fatty meats, and products made with coconut and palm kernel oils
- Margarine, vegetable shortening, partially hydrogenated oils, and all products made with those ingredients
- Animal protein
- Processed, low-fiber, high-sodium foods
- High fructose corn syrup
- Pasta (cook it al dente)
- Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, farro, and bulgur wheat which are better than whole wheat flour (it has nearly the same glycemic index as white flour)
- Omega-3 fatty acids found in wild salmon, sardines, black cod, omega-3 fortified eggs, hemp seeds and freshly ground flaxseeds. A fish oil supplement is another possibility
- Extra-virgin olive oil. (Use expeller-pressed organic safflower oil for a neutral tasting cooking oil.)
- Avocados, nut butters, and nuts (especially walnuts, cashews, and almonds)
- Vegetable protein, such as beans and soybeans- tofu , miso, edamame (organic, non-GMO)
- Fruits and vegetables of many colors (especially berries), beans,
Here are some other ideas to help you make some improvements in your diet that will reduce inflammation:
- Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and mushrooms for natural protection against age-related cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disease.
- Choose fruits and vegetables of all colors, especially berries, tomatoes, orange and yellow fruits, and dark leafy greens. The colors come from phytopigments...all of which are antioxidants and help the body fight disease and
- Choose organic produce whenever possible to avoid crops that might carry pesticide residue.
- Eat cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, regularly.
- Add whole soy (tofu, tempeh, miso) to your diet. Avoid eating processed soy multiple times a day.
- Drink tea, such as white, green or oolong, instead of coffee.
- Drink red wine (if you imbibe).
- Plain dark chocolate (70% cocoa minimum) in moderation is a great option for a sweet craving
- Filter drinking water if your tap water tastes of chlorine or if you suspect the water is contaminated. Better yet, get the water report from your municipality and take a look at what's in your water!