If you want to eat for long-term health, lowering inflammation is crucial.
Inflammation in the body causes or contributes to many debilitating, chronic illnesses — including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease,Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and even cancer.
That’s why, as a doctor and founder of the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine, I recommend my patients eat a diet focused on anti-inflammatory principles.
Recent research finds that eating this way not only helps protect against certain diseases, but it also slows the aging process by stabilizing blood sugar and increasing metabolism.
Plus, although the goal is to optimize health, many people find they also lose weight by following an anti-inflammatory eating pattern.
Here, I’m sharing the 11 principles I recommend everyone incorporate into their diet for optimal health:
1. Consume at least 25 grams of fiber every day.
A fiber-rich diet helps reduce inflammation by supplying naturally occurring anti-inflammatory phytonutrients found in fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods.
To get your fill of fiber, seek out whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. The best sources include whole grains such as barley and oatmeal; vegetables like okra, eggplant, and onions; and a variety of fruits like bananas (3 grams of fiber per banana) and blueberries (3.5 grams of fiber per cup).
2. Eat a minimum of nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
One “serving” is half a cup of a cooked fruit or vegetable, or one cup of a raw leafy vegetable.
For an extra punch, add anti-inflammatory herbs and spices — such asturmeric and ginger — to your cooked fruits and vegetables to increase their antioxidant capacity.
3. Eat four servings of both alliums and crucifers every week.
Alliums include garlic, scallions, onions, and leek, while crucifers refer to vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, mustard greens, and Brussels sprouts.
Because of their powerful antioxidant properties, consuming a weekly average of four servings of each can help lower your risk of cancer.
If you like the taste, I recommend eating a clove of garlic a day!
4. Limit saturated fat to 10 percent of your daily calories.
By keeping saturated fat low (that’s about 20 grams per 2,000 calories), you’ll help reduce the risk of heart disease.
You should also limit red meat to once per week and marinate it with herbs, spices, and tart, unsweetened fruit juices to reduce the toxic compoundsformed during cooking.
5. Consume foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and may help lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis — conditions that often have a high inflammatory process at their root.
Aim to eat lots of foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like flax meal, walnuts, and beans such as navy, kidney and soy. I also recommend taking a good-quality omega-3 supplement.
And of course, consume cold-water fish such as salmon, oysters, herring, mackerel, trout, sardines, and anchovies. Speaking of which:
6. Eat fish at least three times a week.
Choose both low-fat fish such as sole and flounder, and cold-water fish that contain healthy fats, like the ones mentioned above.
7. Use oils that contain healthy fats.
The body requires fat, but choose the fats that provide you with benefits.
Virgin and extra-virgin olive oil and expeller-pressed canola are the best bets for anti-inflammatory benefits. Other options include high-oleic, expeller-pressed versions of sunflower and safflower oil.
8. Eat healthy snacks twice a day.
If you’re a snacker, aim for fruit, plain or unsweetened Greek-style yogurt (it contains more protein per serving), celery sticks, carrots, or nuts like pistachios, almonds, and walnuts.
9. Avoid processed foods and refined sugars.
This includes any food that contains high-fructose corn syrup or is high in sodium, which contribute to inflammation throughout the body.
Avoid refined sugars whenever possible and artificial sweeteners altogether. The dangers of excess fructose have been widely cited and include increased insulin resistance (which can lead to type-2 diabetes), raised uric acid levels,raised blood pressure, increased risk of fatty liver disease, and more.
10. Cut out trans fats.
In 2006, the FDA required food manufacturers to identify trans fats on nutrition labels, and for good reason — studies show that people who eat foods high in trans fats have higher levels of C-reactive protein, a biomarker for inflammation in the body.
A good rule of thumb is to always read labels and steer clear of products that contain the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated oils.” Vegetable shortenings, select margarines, crackers, and cookies are just a few examples of foods that might contain trans fats.
11. Sweeten meals with phytonutrient-rich fruits, and flavor foods with spices.
Most fruits and vegetables are loaded with important phytonutrients. In order to naturally sweeten your meals, try adding apples, apricots, berries, and even carrots.
And for flavoring savory meals, go for spices that are known for their anti-inflammatory properties, including cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, rosemary, ginger, sage, and thyme.
40 Quick Healthy Snacks
- Trail mix: Mix dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and a handful of real dark chocolate chips
- Fresh fruit: Whatever deliciousness is in season – our selection this week is apples, oranges, and strawberries
- Dried Fruit: Raisins, dried berries, dried apple slices
- Salad: If your veggies are pre-washed you can put this together very quickly. As well, salad can be preassembled. Simply add protein and dressing at serving time.
- Veggies: carrots, radishes, sugar snap peas, celery, peppers, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes
- Steamed veggies: Top them with cheese or chopped hard-boiled eggs
- Eggs: Nature’s fastest protein – boil, scramble, poach or fry – eggs make a great topper for other “fast foods”
- Yogurt Parfait: Top your homemade yogurt with fruit and granola
- Cheese: Opt for a healthy version without additives and artificial colors
- Smoothies: Throw fruits, veggies, yogurt and your milk of choice into the blender. Add a little pure vanilla and some honey. We like to freeze fruit for this purpose to make a rich thick shake.
- Homemade granola cookies
- No-bake haystack cookies
- Hummus: Serve the dip with veggie sticks, homemade crackers, or tortillas
- Applesauce: Try topping it with homemade granola and vanilla yogurt for a quick no-cook “apple crisp”
- Chocolate Milk
- Apples with natural peanut butter
- Frozen Yogurt Berries: Toss well-washed berries in homemade vanilla yogurt. Place them on a baking sheet in the freezer for at least 2 hours for a cold, healthy treat
- Pancakes or Waffles: Top with fruit for a nutrition boost
- Couscous: This speedy grain only requires the addition of boiling water or broth. Let it sit for 5 minutes, covered, and you have an instant hearty side dish. Add some steamed veggies and lean protein to turn it into a one dish meal
- Cottage cheese: Top homemade cottage cheese with fresh fruit
- Home-canned food: Meals like chili, soup, and spaghetti sauce can be pressure canned at home for a delicious healthy “fast food meal”
- Fruit Salad: Top it with nuts and a honey-sweetened yogurt for a protein boost
- Dill Pickles: Home-canned, of course
- Ants-on-a-log: Celery sticks stuffed with natural peanut butter then topped with raisins
- Quick Greek Salad: Chopped cucumber, peppers and cherry tomatoes with feta cheese and vinaigrette
- Homemade Fruitsicles: Puree fruit that is overripe, then freeze it in popsicle forms – strawberry-banana is a favorite combo here
- Savory snack mix: Popcorn and nuts sprinkled with parmesan cheese and spices
- Tzatziki: This yummy Greek garlic and yogurt dip is a satisfying snack with homemade crackers or veggies
- Medjool dates and almonds
- Frozen grapes
- Homemade gazpacho: Puree tomatoes, peppers, onions, jalapenos, and other seasonal veggies. Keep in the fridge and serve cold.
- Quick Banana Nut Cookies: Mash 2 overripe bananas well. Stir in 1 cup of steel-cut oats and 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts or pecans. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.
- Latte: Make a delicious latte with a homemade creamer
- Mexican Black Bean Salad: (you can use a can of rinsed organic black beans or beans that you cooked yourself previously) 1 cup of black beans, 1/2 cup of diced tomatoes, 1/2 cup of chopped bell peppers, some fresh cilantro, and lemon juice
- Green Apple Salad: Chopped green apple, red grapes, and walnuts sprinkled with a dressing made from honey, lemon juice and cinnamon