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Reducing Inflammation, The 10 Best Foods?

I was recently asked what are the top 10 best foods to reduce inflammation in the body. That is a good question and a bad question at the same time. Good question because it recognizes the value of addressing the increased inflammation that stems from our modern diet. Bad question because it takes the “magic pill” viewpoint of modern medicine and applies it to general health. Medicine is always trying to find the perfect pharmaceutical that will cure a disease. The problem is that most modern noninfectious diseases stem from poor lifestyle. You can’t pop a pill and undo years of eating poorly and
not exercising. So instead, let’s look at general principles we can apply to our diet. Then after that find some, if not magic pills, at least low hanging fruit that we can pick.

1) We eat the wrong kinds of fats. I’m not talking about saturated fats which have been unfairly demonized. We eat too many of the types of fats that cause increased inflammation in our bodies. These are the omega-6 fatty acids.  They tend to come from
grains and their associated oils. At the same time, the omega-3 fatty acids have the effect of reducing inflammation of the body. These, in turn, come from seafood and other plant sources. Interestingly, the fat from grass fed meats has a much higher percentage of omega-3 fatty acids compared to grain fed meats. Historically, the ideal ratio of the two in the human diet was 1:1. The modern grain-based diet has resulted in humans having a 10:1 and sometimes as high as a 20:1 ratio.  The higher the ratio, the more negative the health effects. The practical thing to do is to avoid grains, avoid cooking with vegetable oils (best is coconut oil or olive oil) and eat seafood and grass fed meats.

2) Modern processed foods create an insulin rush when we consume them.  Insulin is a hormone which signals the body to push the calories we just consumed into our fat cells. It
is a process that raises systemic inflammation. Before the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago, grains were not part of the human diet. We ate vegetables, fruits (when in season), nuts, vegetables and animal protein. We are simply not designed eat grains, breads and pastas which spike our blood sugar.  And, as you can imagine, refined sugars are a disaster. The practical thing to do is to avoid those types of foods.

In summary, eat whole foods. Spinach has one ingredient: spinach. Bananas have one ingredient: banana. Avoid processed prepackaged foods. They tend to be loaded with sugar, the bad fats and salt. Interestingly, evidence is emerging that our high salt intake also increases inflammation. And the low hanging fruit I mentioned – while none of these
are magic bullets that will compensate for a poor diet, they can be an excellent addition to a healthy diet.

1) Take fish oil. The great thing about seafood is that the fish has kindly taken the good omega-3 fatty acids and converted them to EPA and DHA which are the forms our body uses. Unfortunately, our bodies make the conversion very inefficiently. So by taking fish oil we are taking in these forms directly. One thing to realize is that most people who take fish oil don’t take enough.  Studies show that that chronic pain responds best to taking between 2400-7200mg of EPA + DHA each day.  These are found on the fish oil label. While not everybody is in chronic pain, these are healthy levels to take.

2) Take vitamin D. As a result of being indoors, the vast majority of us do get enough. Vitamin D levels in the blood are traditionally considered normal if they range between 25-70 ng/ml.  In fact, 50-70 ng/ml is ideal.  It is associated with decreased inflammation.
Everyone is different, but a good guide is to supplement with 8000 IU of Vit. D each day. These amounts are conservative.  Some people require more.  While it is theoretically possible to take too much Vit. D, anything less than 10,000 IU will be fine.

And, for heaven’s sake, exercise.  It also reduces systemic inflammation.