By Erin Stokes, ND
Inflammation has become a buzzword in the media. In fact, over a decade ago, inflammation appeared on the cover of TIME magazine, a sign that it has definitively found its way into the mainstream lexicon. As practitioners, we understand the supreme importance of addressing healthy inflammation with all of our patients. The widespread attention is not only well warranted, it’s long overdue. And, while we know more about why chronic inflammation is a health concern, it is important for patients to better understand just how easy it is to consume anti-inflammatory foods in their daily diet.
Along with the increased focus on inflammation, science has concurrently made great strides in understanding both what can trigger chronic inflammation and what ideally maintains a healthy inflammatory response in our patients. We know that daily dietary decisions form the foundation.
The broad emerging picture is that a traditional Mediterranean diet has been clearly shown to be favorable for supporting healthy inflammation when compared with typical North American and Northern European diets. This is largely connected to healthy omega-3 fats in the diet and an abundance of phytonutrients from a wide array of vegetables and fruits.
What does that look like in your patient’s grocery cart, kitchen or on their dinner plate? It’s important to understand that a Mediterranean diet isn’t all that foreign to our American taste buds. For instance, here are some easy ways to adjust one’s food choices to lean toward a diet that will reduce inflammation. This is based on the core principles of the Mediterranean diet, but with Americans in mind.
- Meat as a condiment. For example, instead of a slab of steak, thinly slice lean flank steak and saute it with peppers, onions and summer squash.
- Consider going meatless on certain days to inspire increased intake of plant proteins. At least one day a week go vegetarian and replace meat with beans, nuts and other plant proteins.
- Pasta is a side dish. In Italy, Italians eat pasta as a first course or a small plate. Substitute white pasta with whole grain or rice pasta, and serve as a side.
- Reserve half of the plate for vegetables. Fill up half the space with salads, raw vegetables and cooked vegetables first, then add protein, and, if appropriate, healthy whole grains.
- Switch oils. Instead of always using butter, try extra-virgin olive oil or avocado oil to drizzle on salads and cooked vegetables.
- Spice up food dishes. Extensive research in the last decade on prominent botanicals points to turmeric, and especially its major constituent, curcumin, as an important spice for maintaining healthy inflammation*. Ginger root has also been the subject of ongoing research for its role in maintaining already healthy inflammation.* Neither of these herbs are associated with the Mediterranean diet, but they do play an important role in health. Start with a Mediterranean framework, and then broaden your horizons when planning a healthy menu.
The word inflammation comes from the Latin word “inflammo”, meaning “ignite,” or “set alight.” As practitioners, we have unprecedented number of therapeutic tools available to maintain healthy inflammation for our patients. It is important for patients to understand that small changes in diet can play a significant role. Read more in Part 2 of this article – “3 Top Botanicals for Maintaining Healthy Inflammation.”
* This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease
 TIME Magazine. Inflammation: The Secret Killer. Feb. 23, 2004
 Galland L. Diet and Inflammation. Nutr Clin Pract. 2010 Dec;25(6):634-40.
 Jurenka JS. Anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin, a major constituent of Curcuma longa: a review of preclinical and clinical research. Altern Med Rev. 2009 Jun;14(2):141-53.