It is clear now that most chronic illnesses, including heart disease, many cancers, several bowel disorders, and Alzheimer's disease are caused in large part by chronic inflammation.
Stress, lack of exercise, genetic predisposition, and other lifestyle factors can all promote inflammation, but poor diet is perhaps the main contributor, and as such is the ideal place to begin addressing inflammation.
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet is not intended as a weight-loss programme (though people may lose weight on it), nor is it a diet to follow for the short term. Rather, it is way of selecting and preparing foods to down-regulate inflammation. This is achieved in part by taking:
- Low-glycaemic foods to provide steady energy
- Higher levels of omega-3 essential fatty acids from fish oils
- Lower levels of saturated fats (from animal fat)
- Ample anti-oxidant foods and vitamins
- Ample dietary fibre
You can also adapt your existing recipes and diet according to this list of anti-inflammatory diet principles:
- Include as much "real food" as possible
- Minimize consumption of processed foods, red meats, and fast food
- Eat an abundance fresh produce — lots of fruits and vegetables
- Omega-3 fish or flax seed oils are the most essential part of the diet
- Fresh raw veggie juices are great extras
The following chart details the quantities and types of different food groups that should be consumed daily while following an anti-inflammatory diet.
Anti-Inflammatory Diet Pyramid
- Most adults need to consume between 2,000 and 3,000 calories a day.
- Women and smaller and less active people need fewer calories.
- Men and larger and more active people need more calories.
- If you are eating the appropriate number of calories for your level of activity, your weight should not fluctuate greatly.
- The distribution of calories you take in should be as follows: 40 to 50 percent from carbohydrates, 30 percent from fat, and 20 to 30 percent from protein.
- Try to include carbohydrates, fat, and protein at each meal.
- The majority of carbohydrates should be in the form of less-refined, less-processed foods with a low glycaemic index (GI). See the chart at the end of this article for a list of low-glycaemic foods; keep to foods with a GI below 55.
- Reduce your consumption of foods made with wheat flour and sugar, especially bread and most packaged snack foods, including crisps and pretzels.
- Eat more whole grains such as brown rice and bulgur wheat, in which the grain is intact or in a few large pieces. These are preferable to whole wheat flour products, which have roughly the same glycaemic index as white flour products.
- Eat more beans, legumes, and sweet potatoes.
- Cook pasta, and have it al dente — but in moderation.
- Avoid products made with high fructose corn syrup, as well as sugar; limit fruit juice.
- Honey is an exceptional sweet food. It is powerfully anti-inflammatory, so much so that a spoonful a day is medicinal! Honey significantly lowers levels of the marker for chronic inflammation, ultra-sensitive C-reactive protein (US-CRP).
- Reduce your intake of saturated fat by eating less butter, cream, cheese, and other full-fat dairy products; unskinned chicken and fatty meats; and products made with coconut and palm kernel oils.
- Use extra-virgin olive oil as a main salad oil.
- For a neutral-tasting cooking oil, use expeller-pressed grape seed oil, which is best, or the more easily obtained canola oil or soy oil. Only buy oils packed in glass containers.
- Avoid regular safflower, peanut, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, and mixed vegetable oils.
- Strictly avoid margarine, vegetable shortening, and all products listing them as ingredients.
- Strictly avoid all products made with partially hydrogenated oils of any kind.
- Include in your diet avocados and nuts, especially walnuts, cashews, almonds, and nut butters made from these nuts.
- For omega-3 fatty acids, eat salmon (preferably fresh or frozen wild or canned sockeye), sardines packed in water or olive oil, herring, and black cod (sablefish, butterfish); omega-3 fortified eggs; hemp seeds and flaxseeds (preferably freshly ground); or take a fish oil supplement (see below).
- Red meats are more inflammatory than white meats, as saturated fat is pro-inflammatory. So decrease your consumption of animal protein except for fish and take reduced-fat dairy products.
- On a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, your daily intake of protein should be between 80 and 100 grams. Eat less protein if you have liver or kidney problems, allergies, or autoimmune disease.
- Eat more vegetable protein, especially from beans in general and soybeans in particular. Become familiar with the range of soy foods available and find ones you like.
- The ideal goal of 40 grams of fibre a day is quite a high level to achieve. You can eventually achieve this by increasing your consumption of fruit (especially berries), vegetables (especially beans), and whole grains.
- Oats have a strong anti-inflammatory effect and are also high in fibre.
- Take 6 to 8 glasses of pure water a day, or drinks that are mostly water, such as tea, very diluted fruit juice, or sparkling water with lemon.
- Use bottled water or get a home water purifier if your tap water tastes of chlorine or other contaminants.
- To get maximum natural protection against age-related diseases (including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disease), as well as against environmental toxicity, eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and mushrooms. The rule of five-fruits-and-veggies-a-day is the basic goal. Most people only manage two servings, so generally it means doubling your average intake! Eating more vegetables also reduces the carbohydrates consumed, as veggies are filling.
- The more colourful a fruit is, the better its antioxidant levels.
- Choose organic produce whenever possible. Conventionally-grown crops have 80% less antioxidant levels. Apples, grapes, strawberries, peaches, and cherries are the most-sprayed of the fruits, while celery, bell peppers, and spinach are the most-sprayed vegetables. All these are best when organically grown.
- Eat cruciferous (cabbage-family) vegetables regularly, especially broccoli.
- Include soy foods in your diet.
- Drink tea instead of coffee, especially good quality white, green, or oolong tea.
- If you drink alcohol, drink red wine, and limit yourself to two glasses.
- Enjoy plain dark chocolate containing at least 70 percent cocoa –- not milk chocolate.
Recommended Dietary Nutritional Supplements
Omega-3 provides protection against many health conditions, including: many cancers, depressive and aggressive tendencies, early brain ageing and Alzheimer's disease, joint pain, and arthritis. This is the most essential supplement to take throughout life! Fish oil is the main element that contributes to the longevity of the Japanese, who top the long-life list.
If you are not taking oily fish such as salmon two to three times a week, take:
- Supplemental fish oil as liquid or capsules. "Molecularly Distilled" fish oil is necessary to avoid contaminants.
- The active anti-inflammatory component of fish oil is eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which protects against heart disease. The daily dose of EPA needs to be around 1,000 mg.
- Krill oil and green-lipped mussel oil (Lyprinol®) are more potent at controlling inflammation, so lower doses may be used.
Vitamins and Minerals
The best way to obtain all of your daily vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients is by eating a diet high in fresh organic foods with an abundance of fruits and vegetables. In addition, supplement your diet with the following antioxidant cocktail:
- Vitamin C, 400 to 1000 mg a day.
- Vitamin E, 400 IU of natural mixed tocopherols (d-alpha-tocopherol with other tocopherols, or, ideally a minimum of 80 IU of natural mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols).
- Selenium, 200 mcg of an organic (food-yeast-bound) form.
- Mixed carotenoids, 10,000-15,000 IU daily.
NOTE: All the above can be taken in Innate Response's Antioxidants product, which also contains zinc and food-based antioxidants.
- Take daily multivitamin/multimineral supplements that provide at least 400 mcg of folic acid. The multivitamin should contain no iron and no preformed Vitamin A (retinol or retinyl palmitate); instead, use mixed carotenoids.
- Add CoQ10, 60 to 120 mg taken with your largest meal.
- Vitamin D, 4000 IU, ideally taken at night.
Other Dietary Supplements
- Women should take calcium citrate at night with Vitamin D. Supplement with 600 mg daily, for a total daily intake of 1,000 to 1,200 mg from all sources.
- Men probably do not need a zinc supplement, but may add 30 mg if it is not in their multivitamin or antioxidant supplements.
- Talk to your doctor about going on low-dose aspirin therapy: one or two baby aspirin tablets a day (81 or 162 mg). Or, use Ginkgo biloba, but not both.
- If you are not regularly eating ginger and turmeric, consider taking these in supplemental form. Ideally, the turmeric should be in the form of curcumin, the active ingredient.
- If you are prone to metabolic syndrome or diabetes, take alpha-lipoic acid, 100 to 200 mg a day.
Herbal anti-inflammatory supplements
- Curcumin, good for everyday use.
- Boswellia, ideal for chronic arthritis, auto-immune issues, asthma, and inflammatory bowel diseases.
- Zyflammend®, a formula recommended for joint and rheumatic issues, and may also have protective effects from some cancers.
Acknowledgements to Dr Andrew Weil and his website, www.drweil.com, for much of the material in this article.