Nutrition and Inflammation

By Jeannie Versagli, Registered Dietitian

Nutrition has a direct impact on the wellness of an individual.  Today as we face the COVID-19 outbreak, it is vital that you understand and know how healthy eating keeps you well.

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What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is known as an acute- or chronic-state in which the body is trying to maintain homeostasis.

Research indicates that there is a link between inflammation and an increase in diseases such as diabetes, cardiac, Alzheimer’s and obesity, not to mention a decrease in the ability of the body to ward off illnesses.

A growing amount of evidence is linking foods and eating patterns to inflammation. In the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, scientists discovered that diets high in refined starches, sugars, saturated fats combined with low-intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids increased the inflammatory responses in the body. Scientist Burton-Freeman explains that phytonutrients in plant foods reduce inflammation through multiple pathways in the body.

This means that one of the most powerful tools to combat inflammation comes not from the pharmacy, but from the grocery store. “Many research studies show that components of certain foods may have anti-inflammatory effects,” states a professor of nutrition and epidemiology, Dr. Frank Hu, from the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. By choosing the right anti-inflammatory foods, you may be able to reduce your risk of illness. Choosing the wrong foods can accelerate the inflammatory disease process.

Research indicates that you should do the following to maximize your immune system:

  • Look to fruits and vegetables that provide a rainbow of colors.  Servings of these foods should be half of your plate.  You can choose fresh, frozen, and/or canned items, but make sure canned items have no added sugars and are low in sodium.
  • Be smart about protein choices – don’t over-consume meats and other proteins. Look to consume 5 to 6 ounces of meat throughout the day, and try to eat fish containing high amounts of omega 3 fatty acids (cold water fish) twice a week.  Enjoy meatless meals using legumes, lentils, beans and peas. Be sure to avoid highly processed meats such as deli meats, bacon and sausages. Limit red meats (beef and pork) to a few times per month.  Poultry is encouraged more frequently. 
  • Fats are part of a healthy diet but focus on healthy sources such as walnuts, seeds (chia, flax, and hemp) and oils, (olive, sunflower and safflower). 
  • Consume whole grain carbohydrates that provide excellent sources of fiber.  Examples are brown rice, quinoa, millet, and oats.  Try to include 30 grams of fiber for males and 25 grams of fiber for females each day.
  • Avoid refined foods, these proved low nutrient content and encourage inflammatory responses in the body. Candy, cakes, cookies, chips, and fried foods are a few of the most popular.
  • While many foods are good for you, some can be calorie dense, like oils or nuts. Balance your caloric intake to promote a healthy weight.
  • Use fresh herbs and spices to boost the immunity properties (and flavor profile!) of your foods by incorporating these into your cooking routine daily: cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, rosemary, thyme, garlic, basil, and parsley. 
  • Sambucus Elderberry extract activates the immune system by increasing the inflammatory cytokine production.
  • Dark Chocolate and green tea provide rich resources of Polyphenols that provide many anti-inflammatory properties by preventing free radical formation. One ounce of dark chocolate each day can provide anti-inflammatory properties. 
  • Pre- and probiotics studies have shown that these microbiota can decrease the activity of pro-inflammatory cytokines, thus blocking pathogens from entering the body, preventing inflammation.
  • Know your Vitamin D levels.  Studies indicate that low levels of this vitamin increase susceptibility to infections. Often supplementation is necessary – check with your doctor to find out if you should be taking a supplement.

There is currently a nutritional regime that includes all the above-mentioned nutrients, enhancing the exposure to the anti-inflammatory nutrients – The Mediterranean Diet

This diet advocates consuming generous amounts of ….

  • fruits and vegetables to include a variety of colors…red, green and yellow
  • whole grains high in fiber content
  • legumes
  • nuts
  • minimal intake of red meats – increased fish consumption 
  • moderate consumption of red wine; 5 ounces a day for females and 10 ounces a day for males  
  • use of olive oils

Embracing these nutritional recommendations along with proper sleep (7 to 8 hours each night), maintaining a stable weight, and including 30 to 60 minutes of moderate – intense exercise most days of the week will provide the body’s ability to combat inflammation to its maximum capabilities.  Learning and knowing how nutrition influences our health outcomes set us on a path to wellness.


Hockessin Athletic Club opened its doors on June 10 2007. Boasting over 100,000 sq. ft., a 5-pool aquatics complex, and over 200+ weekly group and aqua fitness classes, it is Delaware's premier fitness destination. 100 Fitness Way, Hockessin, DE ·

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