Among the newer diet plans on the block is the "anti-inflammation diet" that promises to ease the pain of inflammation and help you feel better.
The anti-inflammation diet may have an imposing name but it goes down easy. Mediterranean and traditional Japanese foods lead the pack in inflammation-lowering eating plans. They provide plenty of tasty options for the culinary minded, the casual cook and the restaurant eater too.
Why focus on anti-inflammation?
Inflammation is a normal immune system response to infections or injuries. When you cut your finger, for example, the immune system kicks in to help heal the wound (causing redness, swelling). But problems arise when your immune system becomes chronic or overactive - rushing around inflaming things when there is no threat, causing harm instead of healing.
"Chronic inflammation has been attributed to degenerative conditions such as arthritis and degenerative joint disease," explained Dave Grotto, a spokesman for the American Dietetic Association. "Inflammation is also not good for general circulation and could potentially affect sexual performance."
An anti-inflammation diet has the potential to benefit anyone, proponents say, because the Western diet is out of balance, but it is thought to be especially beneficial for those with inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis and allergies.
Food should not be thought of as the only saving grace, Grotto said. Other lifestyle issues affect inflammation, for example, smoking and the lack of exercise.
But food choices play an important role because what you eat can trigger or temper inflammatory responses in your body.
Dr. Andrew Weil is among those who believe that diet influences inflammation. As he states in his book, "Healthy Aging," an imbalance of fats, elevated blood sugar, refined foods and lack of micronutrients pave the road to inflammation. In short, eat your fruits and veggies, avoid processed foods, add fish to your diet regularly and you could stave off the many problems caused by inflammation.
Two very important fats play pivotal roles in the immune system game: omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. Omega-6s are pro inflammatory; it is their job to trigger inflammation to occur. Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory - in essence it is their job to counterbalance omega-6s.
"Your body needs omega-3 and omega-6 fats," Grotto said. "It's not about demonizing one fat over another - it's about a proper ratio. We have way too many omega-6s (in the American diet)."
That excess comes from our over-reliance on processed and fast foods that often have plant-based oils (corn, safflower), animal fats and trans fats - all pro inflammatory.
Other no-nos include margarine, non-dairy creamers and, in general, fried foods in restaurants. Instead choose olive oil, butter in moderation or butter substitutes that are mechanically emulsified rather than chemically processed. And check labels for trans fats and processing methods.
Another easy change Grotto recommends is switching from corn oil (high in omega-6) to canola oil (high in omega-3). He said you won't taste the difference. More foods rich in omega-3 include wild game, grass-fed meats, flax seeds, omega-3 enriched eggs and cold-water fish.
No conversation about the anti-inflammatory diet would be complete without mentioning fish. Yes, much has been publicized about the problems with fish, particularly mercury and PCB levels in large fish like tuna and salmon. Smaller fish such as sardines and herring, however, are less vulnerable to those pollutants because the bigger the fish the higher the potential pollutant level.
Cold-water fish are among the best sources for omega-3 fatty acids. Experts like Grotto and Weil continue to advocate for eating fish. In his book, Weil says he eats wild Alaskan salmon, Alaskan black cod and sardines.
Eating fresh fruits and veggies also helps stave off inflammation. Eat them whole (i.e. a whole apple versus apple sauce). Produce is chock full of so many nutrients that scientists have barely scratched the surface on the numerous antioxidant properties and their role in maintaining good health.
And go for color diversity in vegetables. The more intense the pigment, the better. Think of all the colors - red, green, orange, purple, blue, yellow - and eat them to your heart's content.
ENGLISH BREAKFAST TOAST
(Makes 2 servings)
Before you turn up your nose at sardines, try them. You just might like them. They make for a nutrient-dense meal or snack anytime. This is a favorite recipe from Dave Grotto, a nutrition adviser and spokesman for the American Dietetic Association.
1 teaspoon canola-based mayonnaise
2 slices whole-grain toast
6 sardines, olive oil packed, drained
Wedge of fresh lemon
2 teaspoons capers, drained
Freshly ground pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
Heat a broiler or toaster oven. Spread mayonnaise on one side of each slice of toast. Mash 3 sardines onto each slice. Sprinkle capers over; squeeze lemon juice to taste over the fish. Add pepper and garlic to taste. Toast until browned under broiler or toaster oven.
Nutrition information per serving: 159 calories, 39 percent of calories from fat, 7 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 52 mg cholesterol, 13 g carbohydrates, 12 g protein, 407 mg sodium, 2 g fiber
SALMON WITH ROASTED
PEPPER AND ONION
(Makes 4 servings)
Use wild-caught salmon fillets in this recipe adapted from "The Inflammation-Free Diet Plan," by Monica Reinagel and Julius Torelli, who say that "farm-raised salmon is very high in inflammatory compounds." You could also make the compote on its own to accompany another dish.
4 bell peppers, a mix of colors, roasted, cut into thin strips, see note
2 medium red onions, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
4 salmon fillets, 5 ounces each
1/2 cup dry white wine
Juice of 1 medium lemon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Heat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread the roasted peppers, onions, garlic and thyme on the bottom of a lightly buttered 13-by-9-inch baking dish.
Place salmon fillets on top; add wine, lemon juice and pepper. Cover with foil. Bake until fish is just cooked through, about 18-20 minutes.
Allow to rest 5 minutes before serving.
Note: To roast peppers, place them on a foil-covered broiler pan under the broiler. Cook, turning as needed, until blackened on all sides. Or blacken them on the grill. Place the cooked peppers in a bowl; cover with plastic wrap until cool. Remove skin, stem and seeds.
Nutrition information per serving:301 calories, 32 percent of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 90 mg cholesterol, 15 g carbohydrates, 34 g protein, 76 mg sodium, 4 g fiber