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4 foods that help prevent chronic illness

In small doses, inflammation can be a good thing – it helps your body fight injury and infection. But when it continues for a long period of time because the body is fighting off constant irritants, a condition called chronic inflammation can occur. It has been linked to diseases, like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and autoimmune diseases.

Fortunately, many risk factors can be controlled. “Chronic inflammation is low-grade systemic inflammation,” says Shayna Komar, a licensed and registered dietitian at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont.

Causes of chronic inflammation

“When you are eating an American or Western diet, your body gets taxed with all of the extra fats, sugars and processed foods that we eat,” explains Komar. While you can get vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from these foods, the excess fats, oils and sugars can have a negative impact on your health by taxing your immune system. “They are making our bodies work in overdrive all the time,” she says.

Over time, this process leads to the slow-growing inflammation throughout the body, which may increase your risk for serious diseases. Unfortunately, “the big, red flag is when you get the disease,” says Komar. However, there are many things you can do to reduce your risk of chronic inflammation, starting with your diet.

Anti-inflammatory foods

“There is a lot of power in your kitchen,” says Komar.

1. Fresh produce.  “For anti-inflammation, you want to think red,” she explains. Food like berries, cherries, red cabbage, red onion and red apples contain quercetin, a flavonoid (plant pigment) that fights inflammation.

2. Herbs and spices.  Consider adding turmeric (a yellow Indian spice), thyme, oregano, basil and parsley to your dishes to boost flavor and inflammation-fighting properties. “If you use a lot of herbs and spices, you’ll be cutting down on the fats and oils in your food,” says Komar. “You’ll also be getting a lot of chlorophyll and other anti-inflammatory properties.”

3. Healthy fat.  Extra virgin olive oil is a healthy fat with an anti-inflammatory agent. When cooking with fat, avoid soybean and partially hydrogenated oils, as well as butter whenever possible.

4. Fish.  Eat fish rich in omega-three fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel and herring, on a regular basis.

Reduce inflammation triggers

There are four simple ways to reduce inflammation in your body:

  1. Get enough sleep. The average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
  2. Daily exercise. Try to be active 30 minutes a day most days of the week.
  3. Stress reduction. Manage your stress with meditation, yoga, journaling, exercise or another hobby that helps you unwind.
  4. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet that includes the foods previously mentioned.

“Anti-inflammatory foods are colorful foods,” says Komar. “I always say, 'eat from the rainbow' and that’s so important when you’re trying to reduce inflammation.”

For nutrition advice and healthy recipe ideas, visit Recipe Index.

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