By Charlyn Fargo
My daughter recently had my first grandchild (pretty exciting, right?). She’s on a journey to getting back to her prepregnancy weight and lowering her blood pressure and the accompanying swelling that she struggled with. She’s cut out processed and salty foods, and she’s exploring an anti-inflammatory diet.
Just what is an anti-inflammatory diet?
In a nutshell, anti-inflammatory foods are those that most of us know are healthy — lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, plant-based proteins (like beans and nuts), fatty fish, and fresh herbs and spices.
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What may be surprising is that foods with saturated fat are inflammatory. That means high-fat dairy is considered inflammatory, but low-fat dairy is not. Skim milk, for example, isn’t inflammatory; whole milk is. Choose baked chicken over fried chicken, a filet over a rib-eye.
In addition, you want to avoid highly processed, overly greasy or super sweet foods. Limit the cakes, cookies and ice cream, as well as the processed meats, butter, whole milk and cheese.
Weight gain, high blood sugar and high cholesterol are all related to inflammation. Sugar causes the body to release inflammatory messengers called cytokines. Cut out added sugars as much as you can. Natural sugars, found in fruits and vegetables, are processed differently by the body.
Just what should you eat?
When it comes to fruits and veggies, go for variety and lots of color. Research has shown that vitamin K-rich leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, curb inflammation, as do broccoli and cabbage. And the substance that gives fruits such as cherries, raspberries and blackberries their color is a type of pigment that also helps fight inflammation.
High-fiber foods also help with inflammation, so it’s best to choose whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice and whole-wheat bread, as well as beans.
Fat seems to play a big role in inflammation. For example, monounsaturated fats (like the kind in olive and canola oils) are helpful; saturated fats are not. Omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, tuna, sardines and walnuts reduce inflammation.
It’s also important to add herbs and spices to foods we cook. They add antioxidants (along with flavor) to food. Turmeric, found in curry powder, has a strong substance called curcumin. Garlic curbs the body’s ability to make things that boost inflammation.
The bottom line? You can’t go wrong with a healthy diet — fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein and lean dairy. It’s time-tested, and it still works.
Q and A
Q: I’m trying to eat healthy — but I’m on a strict budget. Any suggestions?
A: Let’s all try to stop throwing away food. The average family of four throws away nearly $2,000 worth of food each year, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Think about what’s in your refrigerator now. Those carrots, celery stalks and asparagus spears might not look as good as they did when you bought them a few days ago, but if they’re not slimy or moldy, they are safe to eat. Use whatever odds and ends you have in the fridge in stir-fries, omelets, soups and fried rice, or roast them to use in salads and pasta. Another great way to save is to inventory your freezer and use up what’s in there. It’s food you’ve already purchased. Frozen foods can also help cut your budget, whether it’s produce or fish. Often, frozen foods are much cheaper than fresh, especially if they’re out of season. Buy foods, such as roast chicken, that you can use in multiple meals — chicken salad, white chicken chili and chicken quesadillas.
Here’s a healthy recipe from Eating Well magazine. It uses whole-wheat pasta and colorful vegetables, a winning combination.
WALNUT-PESTO PASTA SALAD
1 pound whole-wheat penne or rotini pasta
2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup lightly packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, grated
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium tomato, chopped
1/2 cup chopped, jarred roasted red peppers, rinsed
Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, and rinse with cold water. Meanwhile, combine basil, parsley, walnuts, Parmesan, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a food processor. Pulse, scraping down the sides as necessary, until finely chopped. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in oil. Transfer the pesto to a large bowl, and add the pasta, tomato and peppers. Toss to coat. Top with more basil, if desired. Serves 8 (1 cup each).
Per serving: 417 calories; 11 grams protein; 47 grams carbohydrates; 22 grams fat (3 grams saturated); 2 grams total sugars (0 added); 6 grams fiber; 472 milligrams sodium.
Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com
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