Recovery Diet and Inflammation

Katie Mazzia MS, RD, CDE

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. 

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 above 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 non-steroidal 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 and Brazil nuts. Zinc is found in animal protein, oysters, shellfish, herring, liver, legumes, wheat germ and 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 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 greens and yellow-orange fruits and vegetables.  Especially rich sources include carrots, sweet potato, cantaloupe, dark greens, and apricots.

Fiber and Antioxidants

Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are naturally high in fiber which help 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 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

▪ Even though they are good sources of protein, eat chicken, lean meats and omega-3 eggs in moderation (6-8 ounces a day);

Choose grass-fed meat and organic eggs or pasture when possible.

▪ Use caution when consuming added sugars, which has a possible connection to inflammation. Natural sugar from milk, yogurt and fruit etc. is better than a “sweet treat” or sugars from sports drinks, cookies, vitamin waters or sodas.

▪ Avoid enriched grains and choose natural whole grains instead like brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, groats, whole wheat pasta, faro, whole wheat couscous or barley.

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]. 2003;108:126-128. Inflammation, metabolic syndrome, and diet responsiveness. Available at: http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/full/108/2/126. Accessed June 20, 2008. 

Seaman DR. The diet-induced proinflammatory state: a cause of chronic pain and other degenerative diseases? J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2002;25:168-179.

Review Date 7/08, Modified 8/13

G-0684 Original Source: RD 411, modified by Katie Mazzia MS, RD, CDE

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