Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Anti-Inflammatory Diet

It's common sense that eating healthfully will make one feel more physically fit, but did you know that avoiding certain foods and increasing others can actually reduce joint pain and inflammation? As a professional dancer who has a family history of arthritis, keeping my inflammation down is always a priority. Once I was turned on to certain foods which would reduce inflammation, I actually noticed a marked improvement in my soreness and stiffness after a strenuous dance season.

There are several books and websites with advice on the anti-inflammatory diet, but the one I like the best comes from Rebecca Dietzel, who is an anatomist specializing in dancer health, and also has a background in holistic Ayurvedic nutrition. The full list of her suggestions can be found here. In summary, it encourages eating plenty of foods high in Omega 3s (almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, and certain kinds of fish), discourages sugar, hydrogenated oils, and foods high in Omega 6s (corn oil, soybean oil, peanut oil), and suggests a plethora of foods high in antioxidants (most richly colored fruits, veggies, and legumes) as well as certain herbs and spices (ginger and turmeric, to name a few) which reduce inflammation.

I don't necessarily follow all of the advice on this list. For starters, I don't eat fish, and find that I get plenty of Omega 3 fatty acids from my hearty intake of almond milk and flax. Also, I do eat my fair share of peanut butter and tomatoes. However, I think the most important aspect of this diet is in its emphasis on green vegetables, brightly colored fruits, nuts and seeds, and an avoidance of sugar and refined oils. The health benefits from that diet are clearly going to go beyond just reducing inflammation. If you find inflammation is a big problem for you, avoiding the nightshade veggies and the peanuts might be a good extra measure, but if you simply want to maintain good joint health it's probably not going to hurt you to have a tomato once in a while.

I do find that the emphasis on certain herbs and spices (cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, turmeric, garlic, and cayenne pepper) has DEFINITELY made a difference in my overall joint health. If you are already eating a plant-based, natural diet and want to increase its anti-inflammatory impact, utilizing those seasonings in your cooking can definitely be helpful.

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