DEAR DOCTOR K: You’ve written that chronic inflammation has been linked to diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Is there anything I can do to fight inflammation without using medications?
DEAR READER: Inflammation in the body is a double-edged sword. Short-lived inflammation, directed by your immune system at invaders like bacteria or viruses, protects your health.
But sometimes inflammation persists, even when there is no health threat. That’s when it can become your enemy. Many major diseases have been linked to chronic (ongoing) inflammation, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression and Alzheimer’s.
The good news is that powerful tools to combat inflammation can be found in the grocery store. I spoke to Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. He explained that components of many common foods have anti-inflammatory effects.
To reduce inflammation, avoid or limit:
• Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries;
• Fried foods such as french fries;
• Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages;
• Red meat, processed meat
• Margarine, shortening and lard.
On the flip side are foods and beverages that reduce the risk of inflammation and chronic disease. Fruits and vegetables are particularly effective. Good choices are blueberries, apples and leafy greens, which are high in natural antioxidants and polyphenols. These are protective compounds found in plants. Nuts and coffee may also be protective.
Include plenty of these anti-inflammatory foods in your diet:
• Olive oil
• Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale and collards
• Nuts, such as almonds and walnuts
• Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines
• Fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, apples, cherries and oranges
• Spices, particularly ginger and turmeric
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