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Diet & Inflammation

Katie Mazzia MS RD CDE | Vail Valley Medical Center

Author Katie Mazzia MS RD CDE is a nutritionist at Vail Valley Medical Center.

Inflammation is an important part of the healing process following an injury. It's easy to see inflammation taking place when we have an injury with the area becoming noticeably red warm and swollen although some inflammation is not noticeable. It can occur during infection immunologic reactions obesity poor diet and is sometimes a part of our genetic predisposition. Acute inflammation leads to repair of the tissue but chronic inflammation does not allow for this repair and healing.

Medical Tests
The most popular laboratory test used to confirm inflammation is the C-reactive protein test (CRP). CRP is produced from a protein known as interleukin-6. Interleukin-6 is increased during inflammation and signals the immune system.  However the CRP test can not diagnose where in the body or why the inflammation is occurring.

Prevent Inflammation
The first step is to make sure that you get enough sleep. Researchers have found that skimping on your shut-eye can increase the level of stress hormones and CRP in our blood. Frequent exercise and smoking cessation also appear to help as does practicing stress reduction techniques such as mediation or yoga. In addition it appears crucial to maintain a normal body weight.

A Healthy Diet
Eat the following every week:

  • 2-3 servings of fatty fish such as tuna (wild-caught) salmon or Barramundi mackerel trout or sardines
  • Daily servings of green leafy vegetables flaxseed (ground) olive or avocado oil

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The omega-3 fatty acids in these foods appear to lower the production of inflammatory proteins. Research has shown that a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids may decrease inflammation to the same extent that aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications do. Some experts hypothesize that omega-6 fat found in chicken beef corn oil and safflower oil actually leads to inflammation.

Selenium and Zinc
Foods rich in selenium and zinc may help as well. Selenium is found in whole grains onions meat and Brazil nuts. Zinc is found in oysters shellfish herring liver legumes wheat germ roasted pumpkin seeds
Vitamins C E and A
Vitamins C E and A also are useful antioxidants in the fight against inflammation. Vitamin C is found in yellow peppers citrus fruits and juices broccoli brussel sprouts strawberries cantaloupe and tomatoes.

The highest content of vitamin E is found in plant products such as greens (spinach mustard greens swiss chard kale) whole grains nuts and oils. Good food sources of vitamin A are dark green leafy and yellow-orange fruits and vegetables.  Especially rich sources include carrots sweet potato cantaloupe dark greens apricots.

Fiber and Antioxidants
These foods are high in fiber (naturally occurring vs. foods fortified with fiber) which helps to normalize the inflammatory response that often occurs following a rapid increase or decrease in blood sugar levels. They also are high in antioxidants which is good for people with inflammation. It is believed that supplement usage can not replicate the benefits garnered from eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. As many as seven servings of fruits and vegetables a day often is recommended. Dark chocolate fresh herbs and tea also are high in antioxidants and recommended.

Foods to Limit or Avoid

  • Eat chicken lean meats and omega-3 eggs in moderation (6-8 ounces a day) even though they are good sources of protein (choose grass-fed meat and organic eggs when possible).
  • Use caution when consuming added sugars which have a possible connection to inflammation. Natural sugar from milk fruit etc. is better than “sweet treat” or sugars from sports drinks vitamin waters or sodas.
  • Avoid enriched grains and choose whole grains instead like brown rice quinoa whole wheat pasta faro whole wheat couscous etc. (according to some sources).

In general avoid any diet that recommends foregoing an entire food group. Remember no definitive research exists to show that all grains are detrimental to our inflammatory response. In addition many people are selling supplements that claim they will end your problems with inflammation. Evaluate these advertisements carefully. Whole foods are always the best choice.

References and Recommended Readings
Grundy SM. Circulation [serial online]. 2003108:126-128. Inflammation metabolic syndrome and diet responsiveness. Available at: Accessed June 20 2008.

Seaman DR. The diet-induced proinflammatory state: a cause of chronic pain and other degenerative diseases? J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 200225:168-179.

Review Date 7/08 Modified 8/13
G-0684 Original Source: RD 411 modified by Katie Mazzia MS RD CDE