Aging gracefully, to me, means being as healthy as possible for as long as possible. Diet and lifestyle choices are a major part of that. Even though I already make the effort to eat right and exercise, I'm always looking for ways to refine my diet and anti-aging strategies.
But if you're anything like me, all of the products, promises and philosophies out there can be overwhelming. When I came across something called "The Anti-Inflammatory Diet," I was intrigued. Was inflammation something I should be concerned about? Upon further investigation, I found that inflammation might be accelerating my body's aging process more than I even knew!
I consulted a doctor and a nutritionist to find out more:
What is inflammation and how can it affect the body?
The immune system responds to injury or disease with inflammation. This is a normal, reparative reaction that is necessary for healing. But not all inflammation is good.
"When inflammation persists beyond its intended borders and purpose, however, the immune system mistakenly attacks normal cells, and the process that ordinarily heals becomes destructive. It is now widely accepted that chronic inflammation is the root cause of many serious illnesses, especially those related to aging," says Dr. Andrew Weil, Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.
According to Weil, persistent stress, poor diet, and over-exposure to environmental toxins can contribute to this type of unhealthy inflammation.
Can anything be done about it?
"The good news is that lifestyle choices can help," says Weil. "Following an anti-inflammatory diet is the single best way to reduce chronic inflammation and optimize health." Sounds great, but be forewarned: This isn't another diet du jour. The Anti-Inflammatory Diet is a life-long eating plan that emphasizes specific foods aimed at reducing harmful inflammation to ultimately lower your risk for diseases down the line. It is not geared toward weight-loss, but rather aims to improve overall long-term health.
What is the Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
In a nutshell, it focuses on whole foods (those that are unrefined and unprocessed), omega 3s, healthy fats and anti-inflammatory spices. Here are some examples:
- Whole grains such as brown rice, barley, and quinoa.
- Fatty cold water fish, like salmon, for their omega 3s.
- Brightly colored fresh vegetables and fruits, particularly dark berries.
- Healthy fats found in high-quality extra virgin olive oil, beans, nuts, seeds and avocados.
- Soy foods like tofu, tempeh, edamame and soy milk.
- Spices known for their anti-inflammatory properties namely, ginger, turmeric and cinnamon.
- Clean water and green tea for beverages.
What's off limits?
"Lessening consumption of foods that promote inflammation is also important," says Weil. "I recommend significantly reducing the intake of highly processed foods and rapidly digesting carbohydrates, avoiding fast food and products containing partially hydrogenated oils or vegetable shortening, and minimizing the use of polyunsaturated oils such as sunflower, safflower, soy and corn."
It might be tough to know if you are eating some of these ingredients, particularly the oils, so always check labels and research the foods you eat to learn more about what they are made of. When in doubt, choose fresh, unprocessed foods and look for labels like organic and raw.
Does it work?
According to registered dietician Marlene Carneiro, there's solid research that omega 3s and mono-unsaturated oils can counteract inflammation. However, she claims some of the information isn't concrete and says when it comes to developing certain diseases, heredity should be taken into account.
"Genetics do play a role, but diet is an integral part of that. You can greatly reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases and certainly off-set them if they are hereditary."
Carneiro recommends not overhauling your entire diet all at once. "Gradual changes are sustainable," she says. "Find what works for you and little by little you start to revamp your pantry and the choices you make outside."
Are there any risks?
According to both experts, there are no known risks associated with this diet. However, always take precautions if you have any food allergies and discuss any changes, risks and benefits of an Anti-Inflammatory Diet, or any other diet with your doctor.
It's never a bad idea to add another weapon to the arsenal against conditions that come with aging, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Though more research is needed, this diet shows promise. If it works for you, consider it anti-aging from the inside out!
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