Have you ever noticed that your aches and pains seem to become more bothersome after eating certain foods? That’s because eating a lot of processed foods, or foods that contain higher levels of sugar and saturated fat – you know, like those foods we tend to eat around the holidays – actually can increase inflammation. Once the holidays are over, however, it's important to remember that there are foods you can turn to that have the opposite effect, and actually can help to reduce aches and pains caused by inflammation.
“Foods can do a lot of things for us, one of which is they can act as an anti-inflammatory,” said Blount Memorial registered dietitian Heather Pierce. “For instance, a study published in 2004 found that people who had more omega-3 fats in their diets had fewer inflammatory proteins. Eating fish is a great way to get more omega-3 fats, so try adding tuna, salmon, scallops, sardines, anchovies or other cold-water fish to your meals. Try to aim for two servings per week or more. You could consider talking with your physician about adding a fish oil supplement to your diet, as well,” she said. “Nuts, too, are high in monosaturated fats, which research shows have anti-inflammatory properties. Look to add around one and a half ounces each day of walnuts, almonds or pistachios to get that anti-inflammatory boost,” she added.
Of course, we all should be eating more fruits and vegetables anyway, but they, too, are rich in anti-inflammatory effects. “Fruits and veggies contain potent amounts of antioxidants,” Pierce said. “These aid in our bodies’ natural defense, so try aiming for nine servings a day, which is approximately one cup of raw vegetables or fruits, or half a cup of cooked or canned. Dark red items such as cherries or berries are high in anti-inflammatory properties, as are citrusy foods such as grapefruits, oranges or limes. On the veggie side, leafy greens such as spinach, broccoli and cabbage also are high in anti-inflammatory effects,” she explained. “The fiber contained in beans and whole grains has been shown to reduce a certain inflammatory protein, as well, so try working at least two cups of beans into your diet per week, and aim for whole grains that use the entire grain kernel such as brown rice, oatmeal or quinoa,” she added.
Finally, Pierce says, there are elements you can add to foods to help ease inflammation, as well. “Olive oil is loaded with heart healthy fats, as well as a compound called oleocanthal that has similar properties to ibuprofen,” she explained. “Choose extra virgin olive oil since it has less processing involved, and try to get two or three tablespoons per day. Avocado oil and walnut oil are suitable replacements, particularly walnut oil as it has 10 times the amount of omega 3 fats as the extra virgin olive oil,” she said. “You also can gain some anti-inflammatory effects from the spices you use since they have properties that can block our inflammation pathways. The main ones to consider are garlic, which contains a disulfide that can limit inflammation; turmeric and ginger, which each have chemicals that can block two separate inflammation pathways on their own; cayenne pepper, though a little goes a long way; and cinnamon, which is versatile, easy to work with and contains an antioxidant that can help inhibit cell damage,” Pierce said. “You can even combine certain spices and piggyback their anti-inflammatory effects off one another. The main takeaway is that sometimes what we’re eating can make inflammation worse, but with some small adjustments, our foods actually can work on that problem for us,” she added.