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Inflammation, Diet, and Health: What You Need to Know

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Inflammation is a hot topic in the medical community. It has been shown to increase the risk of thrombosis and cardiovascular disease. 

With this knowledge, you can be empowered to take control of your health. By understanding how your behavior contributes to inflammation, you can use this new information to reduce your own risk of developing health issues.

One way you can do that is by monitoring your diet.

The Connection Between Diet and Inflammation

There are many different theories about the connection between different foods and inflammation. While many scientists know there is a connection, the details of the connection have not been discovered yet. Inflammation can be caused by many different factors.

“Inflammation is complicated and there are multiple pathways that are relevant,” explained Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, Dean of Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. “I think that a lot of this is still in the area that I would call emerging research. There’s not a lot that is definitive.”

What scientists do know is that inflammation can be triggered by diseases that arise from unhealthy eating habits. According to Dr. Mozaffarian, that knowledge is the most direct and well-established connection between diet and inflammation.

“We know poor nutrition overall causes metabolic dysfunction, in particular insulin resistance and ultimately obesity. Those are major pathways for active inflammation,” Dr. Mozaffarian said. “Similarly, a good diet can improve metabolic risk and separately lead to weight loss, which can dramatically improve inflammation.”

“Independent of insulin and weight-related pathways, I think there’s a lot of theories of possible inflammatory effects of different types of foods,” Dr. Mozaffarian remarked, explaining some of the additional nutrients believed to be involved in controlling inflammation. “Probably the most studied are Omega 3 fatty-acids, antioxidant vitamins, and newer bioactive flavonoids that are found in cocoa and teas. All of those in experimental models have anti-inflammatory or antioxidant effects and clearly that’s important. But, I think we’re still trying to understand how that interaction [works]” 

Mediterranean Diet

So what type of diet can help you battle inflammation? Dr. Mozaffarian suggests the Mediterranean diet.

“For general health, I think that the most important thing is to focus on eating healthy foods,” he explained. “My simple rule is a high healthy fat Mediterranean diet. This involves a lot of healthy fats from fish, oils, nuts, and plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Then not a lot of packaged or fast foods.”

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The “Mediterranean diet” mimics the natural diets of people who live along the Mediterranean Sea.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the Mediterranean diet involves:

  • “Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts
  • Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
  • Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week”

The diet also involves lifestyle changes, such as getting lots of exercise, eating meals with family and friends, and, surprisingly, drinking red wine.

A 2013 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine tested the power of this Mediterranean diet. Participants were divided into three groups. One group was assigned to eat a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil. The second group was assigned to eat a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts. Finally, the third group was assigned to a control diet. All of the study participants had no cardiovascular disease at enrollment but had either type 2 diabetes or at least three major risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

The study found that the Mediterranean diet lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease by 30 percent in trial participants. It also lowered participants’ risk of stroke.

Researchers concluded, “in this primary prevention trial, we observed that an energy-unrestricted Mediterranean diet, supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts, resulted in a substantial reduction in the risk of major cardiovascular events among high-risk persons. The results support the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.”

Foods to Avoid

By avoiding unhealthy foods, you can stop inflammation before it begins. 

“The main things to avoid in the food system are starch, sugar and salt,” said Dr. Mozaffarian.

Trying to reduce these things can be difficult because they are found in many different food products. It can help to avoid buying pre-packaged, overly processed foods. When shopping, you should also avoid buying white bread, white rice, and certain pastas, as they all contain high levels of starch.

The worst foods you could have? Soda and candy, according to Dr. Mozaffarian.

“There’s no reason ever to have soda,” he remarked. “If people want a sweet, have a little bit of ice cream or dark chocolate, have nuts covered in honey, have something that actually has food in it and has other nutrients.”

Dark chocolate, he explained, is made from cocoa beans and ice cream has milk in it. Candies, such as Skittles and gummy bears, have no such natural bases.

Take Control of Your Health

By eating healthy, you can reduce your risk of developing inflammatory-risk factors, such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome. You also reduce your risk of developing bad cholesterol.

Choosing a healthy life will allow you to lay a solid foundation for your future. It’s never too late to get started. Take control of your health by embracing nutritious foods and regular exercise. It will help you stay healthy and blood clot-free. 

 

 

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