Reducing Inflammation with Immune-boosting Nutrition

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by Jeannie Versagli, RDN, CN

Inflammation is a natural response that occurs in the body when there is a need to heal.  When this process becomes chronic or ongoing, it creates negative consequences.  Chronic inflammation can lead to autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and even skin conditions such as psoriasis.  Underlying chronic inflammation may play a role in heart disease, diabetes, abnormal cell development, cancers, allergies, and Alzheimer’s disease.  Current science advocates overall good nutrition to help enhance the body’s immune system and provide antioxidants to reduce inflammatory stresses.

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Anti-inflammatory nutrients

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids

Incorporate these into your diet to reduce levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines (a type of protein secreted by the immune system to fight things like inflammation, infection, and more).  Look to consume at least 3 ounces twice a week of salmon, tuna, herring, halibut, trout, and mackerel. Plant-based sources of omega-3s are walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseed, and canola oil.

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Head out for some sushi for a dose of omega-3s

Vitamin C

Vitamin C protects you from infections by stimulating the formation of antibodies and boosting immunity. Focus on adding citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, papaya, strawberries, tomato juice, and whole-grain cereals fortified with vitamin c daily.

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Smoothie bowls are a great way to pack in lots of fruits for your dose of Vitamin C (click here for smoothie bowl recipes to try)

Vitamin A

Vitamin A helps regulate the immune system protecting the body from infections by keeping skin and tissues in the mouth, stomach, intestines, and respiratory system healthy. Foods high in this vitamin are sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, red bell peppers, apricots, eggs, and fortified foods such as milk and whole-grain cereals.

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Sweet potato hash with sunny-side-up eggs (Click here for a recipe)

Vitamin E

Vitamin E works as an antioxidant, neutralizing free radicals (unstable atoms that can damage cells in the body) and thereby improving immune function.  Include sunflower seeds, almonds, sunflower and safflower oils, hazelnuts, and peanut butter to your diet.

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Try peanut butter on whole-grain toast for a good dose of Vitamin E and polyphenol

Polyphenol

Studies suggest that these compounds prevent free radical formation and decrease pro-inflammatory cytokine production.  These nutrients provide good sources of the thousands of polyphenols that have been identified: citrus, apples, onions, celery, berries, garlic, olive oil, grains, peanuts, red wine, coffee, and green and black teas.

red wine and oranges
In the summer, Sangria with apples, berries, and oranges is a great polyphenol-rich option, and in the winter, go with mulled wine infused with spices like clove and cinnamon

Pre-and Pro-Biotics

These microbiomes have shown to decrease the activity of pro-inflammatory cytokines and increase levels of anti-inflammatory mucosa in the gut.  Both pre-and pro-biotics work to block pathogens from entering the gut epithelium cells and therefore support the immune system.  Add high-fiber foods along with yogurt and kefir, along with fermented foods (sauerkraut, pickles, kombucha, tempeh, and kimchi) daily.

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Spaghetti noodles with spinach and tempeh

Flavonoids

Dark chocolate with 70% cocoa contains the highest amounts of flavonoids and aids the body in fighting inflammation.

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Dark chocolate and fresh raspberries is a great (and delicious) source of flavonoids

Herbs and Spices

These have been used for their health benefits for many years.  The following are identified for their anti-inflammatory benefits: turmeric, ginger, hops, rosemary, anise, fennel, cloves, curcumin, curry, celery seed, and red chilis.  Work to incorporate these powerful herbs and spices into your daily menu planning.

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For everything you need to know about fennel, check out this guide by Cooking Light

Daily Nutrition Program

We have identified individual nutrients that aid in boosting your immune system; let’s look at how that breaks down into your daily meals and snacks.

  1. Aim to eat four to five servings each of fruits and vegetables daily. Choose fruits and vegetables that are deep green, orange, yellow, and purple in color. Recommended serving sizes are one medium fruit, 1/2 cup canned or frozen fruit, ½ cup of cooked vegetables, ½ cup fruit juice, and 1 cup leafy raw greens.
  2. Replace current oils with extra virgin olive oil, as this oil contains more inflammatory-fighting antioxidants.
  3. For women, take in at least 25 grams of fiber, and for men, 30 to 38 grams. Fiber aids in the digestion and is the food for probiotics.
  4. Eat more lentils and beans; these foods are excellent sources of protein. By adding the anti-inflammatory herbs/spices, you increase the anti-inflammatory properties of your food.
  5. Add 1 ounce of dark chocolate and fresh raspberries daily for dessert as they both are loaded with antioxidants.

Managing Inflammation and Improving Outcomes for Specific Diseases

Cardiovascular Disease: Reduce saturated fats, sugars (less than 10% daily), and sodium (2,300 mg. daily). Also, increase fiber intake (to recommended amounts), potassium intake, and magnesium intake. Add omega-3 fatty acids and plant sterols, which can be found naturally in things like grains, veggies, legumes, fruits, nuts, and seeds.

Osteoarthritis: Incorporate omega-3 fatty acids per recommendations and curcumin into your diet daily.

Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia: Limit sugar intake to less than 10% total for the day; consume 25 to 38 grams of fiber; use olive oil; and limit caffeine. Also consider using these herbs and spices daily when preparing your food: cloves, celery seed, curry, rosemary, anise, fennel, basil, hops, ginger, garlic.

Gout: Incorporate 20 Cherries and/or 8 ounces cherry juice two times a day; take 500 mg. of Vitamin C daily; consume magnesium-rich foods (yogurt, kale, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and black beans); increase fluids; and avoid sugar.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): Take enteric-coated peppermint capsules; consume foods high pre and probiotics, and incorporate 25 to 38 grams of fiber daily.

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Rheumatoid Arthritis: Add turmeric, ginger, omega-3 fatty acids, and pre-and probiotics to your diet, while also avoiding gluten.


A healthy diet greatly influences the management of inflammation in the body.  To maximize nutritional interventions, it’s important to focus on maintaining and or achieving a healthy body weight, staying physically active (200 to 300 minutes of physical activity per week) and getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night all influence the inflammatory response of your body.

As you put together you daily menu, remember these anti- inflammatory foods and the immense health benefits they provide for your wellness.

 

 

 


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