The foods you eat can make such a difference in your overall health and long-term well-being. Take, for instance, the anti-inflammatory diet.
As I mentioned in my last sharepost, Alzheimer’s disease is increasingly be linked to the body’s response to inflammation. Two large studies that discovered five new genes that increase the likelihood of the disease in the elderly and "provide tantalizing clues about what might start Alzheimer’s and fuel its progress in a person’s brain," New York Times reporter Gina Kolata wrote. The studies found that these genes tend to be involved with both cholesterol and inflammation. "For years, there have been unproven but persistent hints that cholesterol and inflammation are part of the disease process. People with high cholesterol were more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, strokes and head injuries, which make Alzheimer’s more likely, also cause brain inflammation," Kolata explained.
Dr. Andrew Weil, who is the clinical professor of medicine and director of the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, also pointed out that inflammation also has been linked to diseases that crop up after the age of 60, such as heart disease, cancer, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, and Parkinson’s diseases. "We all know inflammation on the surface of the body as local redness, heat, swelling and pain. It is the cornerstone of the body’s healing response, bringing more nourishment and more immune activity to a site of injury or infection. But when inflammation persists or serves no purpose, it damages the body and causes illness," Weil’s website stated. Other factors besides diet can contribute to chronic inflammation; these include stress, lack of exercise, genetic predisposition, and exposure to toxins such as secondhand tobacco smoke.
So what is an anti-inflammatory diet? This type of diet, according to Weil’s website, “gives you a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Most people consume an excess of omega-6 fatty acids from which the body synthesizes hormones that promote inflammation. These fats are found in oil-rich seeds and the oils extracted from them, which are used in almost all snack foods and fast foods. Omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect and are found in oily fish, walnuts, flax, hemp, and to a smaller degree in soy and canola oils and sea vegetables.” The anti-inflammatory diet also eliminates margarine, vegetable shortening and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils from diets since these tend to promote inflammation.
The types of carbohydrates you eat also can make a difference. "In the body, chemical reactions between the sugars and protein produce pro-inflammatory compounds called AGEs (advanced glycation end products). You can moderate this process by keeping blood sugar low and stable," Weil’s website explained. That means avoiding bread, white potatoes, crackers, chips, snack foods, pastries a, sweetened drinks, refined and processed foods, fast foods and products made with high fructose corn syrup. Weil recommends that you opt for whole grains, beans, sweet potatoes, winter squashes, vegetables, berries, cherries, apples, mushrooms, and pears. He recommends eating a fruits and vegetables from all parts of the color spectrum (which have phytonutrients), especially berries, tomatoes, orange and yellow fruits, and dark leafy greens.
Additionally, Weil recommends limiting intake of proteins such as meat and poultry, since they contain pro-inflammatory fats. Opt for oily varieties of fish that are high in omega-3s, such as wild Alaska salmon, sardines, herring and black cod. He also suggests adding vegetable proteins such as soy foods, beans, lentils and other legumes, as well as whole grains, seeds and nuts to your diet.
Making better dietary choices continually through each stage of our lives may help us enjoy a longer and healthier journey. I hope you’ll join me in making these choices an integral part of each meal.
Dorian Martin writes about various topics for HealthCentral, including Alzheimer’s disease, diet/exercise, menopause and lung cancer. Dorian is a health and caregiving advocate living in College Station, TX. She has a Ph.D. in educational human resource development. Dorian also founded I Start Wondering, which encourages people to embrace a life-long learning approach to aging. She teaches Sheng Zhen Gong, a form of Qigong. Follow Dorian on Twitter at @dorianmartin, Facebook or Instagram at @doriannmartin.