Recently, scientists proudly announced their creation of an index to rank how particular foods encourage or discourage inflammation — a well-known contributor to chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and dementia. This is great in theory, but scientists being scientists, it’s all obscure algorithms and formulas — hardly a useful list to take to the grocery store. So I asked contributing medical editor and nutrition expert Andrew L. Rubman, ND, to give us his easy-to-follow list of foods that reduce inflammation — making us healthier — along with the most inflammatory foods that should be avoided. But first, the latest findings by researchers. ..
How Do Foods Spark Inflammation?
Philip P. Cavicchia, MSPH, a PhD student in the department of epidemiology at the Norman J. Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina, helped design this new inflammatory index. He and his colleagues scored 41 foods and food components thought to positively or negatively affect levels of inflammation, based on a review of all the English language, peer-reviewed studies relating to diet and inflammation that were published between 1950 and 2007.
Carbohydrates, fat and cholesterol were among the food components most likely to encourage inflammation, while magnesium, beta-carotene, vitamins A, B-6, C, D and E, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, flavonoids, turmeric and tea were the strongest anti-inflammatories .
Next, using data from the Seasonal Variation of Cholesterol Levels Study (SEASONS), they examined the records of 494 men and women (average age 48), looking specifically at the relationship between the inflammatory index (what they ate) and their blood levels of C-reactive protein (typically called CRP). Manufactured by the liver, CRP predicts vulnerability to inflammation and is also elevated in people with obesity, allergies and immune disorders — a lower CRP is thought to translate to reduced risk for heart disease, cancer and other inflammation- related chronic health conditions.
After factoring in variables such as age, weight and smoking status, Cavicchia and his team found that there is indeed a relationship between an anti-inflammatory diet based on the inflammatory index and a reduced level of CRP.
These findings appeared in the December 2009 issue of The Journal of Nutrition.
Now, here are Dr. Rubman’s picks of the best and worst foods if you want to reduce inflammation in your body…
10 BEST ANTI-INFLAMMATORY FOODS
* Wild salmon, mackerel and other omega-3-fatty- acid-rich fish.
* Green, leafy vegetables (e.g., spinach and kale).
* Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, etc.).
* Deeply pigmented produce, such as sweet potatoes, eggplant and pomegranate. .. along with carrots, plums, oranges, peppers, peas and red grapes.
* Whole grains.
* Tea — specifically black, green and white teas.
* Cold-pressed fresh oils, including avocado, flaxseed and olive oils in particular.
* Spices (specifically, garlic, ginger, turmeric, saffron).
10 WORST INFLAMMATORY FOODS
* Desserts made with lots of sugar (cookies, candy, ice cream and so on).
* Sweetened cereals.
* “White” carbohydrates (white bread, white rice, white potatoes, English muffins, etc.).
* Non-diet soft drinks.
* Anything containing high-fructose corn syrup.
* Processed meats (bologna, salami, hotdogs, sausage and others made with preservatives and additives).
* French fries, potato chips and other fried snack foods.
* Fast foods, most specifically the ones that are high-fat, high-calorie, high simple carbohydrate — which describes most of the inexpensive offerings at quick-serve restaurants.
* Margarine, because it contains processed sterols called stanols that have been implicated in both atherosclerosis and various fatty-deposit diseases.
* Organ meats such as liver, because these often contain undesirable products including antibiotics, fertilizer and other unwanted residues.
How to Feel Better Fast
While on the topic, Dr. Rubman urged me to add one more bit of information to this “highly inflammatory” list. “It should also include almost any food eaten quickly, especially if you drink a lot of liquid while eating,” he said, noting that this is all the more true for people who then end up soothing their predictable digestive distress by taking anti-heartburn medication. His advice is to eat slowly… chew thoroughly.. . avoid liquids during a meal so that you don’t dilute the stomach acid and reduce its ability to help digest food… and include items from the “best” list in every meal, every day, while eliminating those from the “worst” list or at least reserving them for an occasional treat. “Within weeks, you will decrease your risk for disease, improve your digestion, enjoy more energy and feel better overall,” he promised.
Philip P. Cavicchia, MSPH, student in the department of epidemiology, Norman J. Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.
Andrew L. Rubman, ND, director, Southbury Clinic for Traditional Medicines, Southbury, Connecticut.