Fighting Inflammation — Deliciously

August 15, 2016

Performance Nutrition Specialist Lee Hyrkas tells us about some delicious ways to fight inflammation in our bodies

Anti-inflammatory foods are becoming a trendy topic these days. There are two main types of inflammation that occur within our body — acute inflammation and chronic inflammation.

Acute inflammation is the body’s response to an infection, injury or exposure to toxins or chemicals. Acute inflammation allows our body to heal, which is important for overall health. In comparison, chronic inflammation is typically characterized by long periods of low-grade inflammation within the body. Chronic inflammation has been linked to several diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and many more. Today, we will focus on how to choose more anti-inflammatory foods to help reduce chronic inflammation. Following these tips may also help you recovery more quickly from exercise and improve your performance.

Anti-inflammatory Foods

Fruits, vegetables and beans are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals. The phytochemicals and antioxidants found within these foods appear to have anti-inflammatory properties.

Popular anti-inflammatory choices include: berries (all types), tart cherries, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, black beans, lentils and peppers. Individuals should aim to eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables each week. The varying colors signify the different types of antioxidants and phytochemicals found within these foods. Challenge yourself to eat at least two to three different colored fruits and vegetables daily. Strive to choose more non-GMO and organic produce when possible. Visiting local farmers markets or growing your own garden are great ways to incorporate more organic produce while staying on budget. 

Fruits & Vegetables by Color
Red fruits: Red apples, blood oranges, cherries, cranberries, grapefruit, raspberries, watermelon, red grapes, strawberries
Red vegetables: Beets, red peppers, radishes, red onions, red potatoes, rhubarb, tomatoes, chili peppers, kidney beans
Yellow/orange fruits: Yellow apples, apricots, cantaloupe, pineapple, mangoes, peaches, yellow pears, tangerines, oranges
Yellow/orange vegetables: Butternut squash, carrots, peppers, pumpkin, rutabagas, summer squash, sweet potatoes, yellow tomatoes
White/tan fruits: Bananas, dates, white nectarines, white peaches, brown pears, white nectarines
White/tan vegetables: Cauliflower, onions, garlic, ginger, mushrooms, chickpeas
Green fruits: Avocados, green apples, green grapes, limes, kiwi, honeydew.
Green vegetables: Leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, celery, cabbage, cucumbers, zucchini, snap peas, peppers, green beans, edamame
Blue/purple fruits: Blackberries, blueberries, grapes, plums, figs, raisins
Blue/purple vegetables: Eggplant, purple carrots, olives, beets, purple potatoes, purple cabbage

Omega-3 Rich Foods

Foods rich in omega-3 fats also appear to reduce chronic inflammation. Westernized diets are often low in omega-3 fats. Use the list below to start incorporating more omega-3 fats today!

Omega-3 Fats
Fish, non-breaded; flax seeds/oil; grass-fed meats or poultry; chia seeds; free-range eggs; tofu, soybeans,
seafood, canola oil; green leafy vegetables, Brussels sprouts; seaweed; walnuts; Omega-3 fortified foods (peanut butter, yogurt, etc.)

Herbs & Spices
Herbs and spices are a great way to incorporate more flavors into your foods. Additionally, herbs and spices contain similar anti-inflammatory phytochemicals and antioxidants, which are also found in fruit and vegetables. At your next meal, ditch the salt shaker and choose more herbs and spices to season up your foods.   

Pairing Spices
Cinnamon: Pair with oatmeal, applesauce, roasted or grilled fruit, sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, pork, chili, coffee, yogurt
Ginger: Pair with chicken, fruit, squash, stir-fry dishes, tofu, fish, pork, rice, beets
Turmeric: Pair with salads, eggs, smoothies, rice, vegetables, pickles, chicken, beans, lentils, cauliflower, cabbage
Oregano: Pair with tomatoes, potatoes, squash, asparagus
Rosemary: Pair with chicken, soups, vegetables, bread, pasta, onions, lamb, fish
Garlic: Pair with cabbage, tomatoes, zucchini, beans, chicken, beef, fish, tofu, soups, sauces, salad dressing
Cayenne: Pair with chicken, beef, fish, eggs, zucchini, peppers, corn, tomatoes, eggplant, soups, salad dressings

Probiotics & Prebiotics
Probiotics are known as the “good” bacteria in our digestive system. Common names for probiotics are Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. Probiotics are often found in fermented foods like yogurt or Kefir. It appears that probiotics enhance our body’s immune system, which may aid in reducing inflammation. Further, probiotics are beneficial for keeping our digestive system regular.

In comparison, prebiotics are non-digestible portions of certain foods that feed our “good” gut bacteria. Probiotics and prebiotics work as a team to keep our immune system and digestive system working optimally. Challenge yourself to include at least one food source of probiotics and prebiotics daily.

Sources of Probiotics and Prebiotics
Probiotics: Yogurt, kefir yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso soup, soft cheeses, buttermilk, tempeh, sour pickles, kombucha tea  
Prebiotics: Onions, bananas, chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, leeks, jicama, soybeans

Pro-inflammatory Foods
Diets high in trans-fat, omega-6 fats, white flour and sugar sweetened beverages, appear to be associated with higher levels of inflammation. If you are looking to reduce chronic inflammation, focus on eating less of these foods weekly.

Inflammatory Foods
Trans fat: Partially hydrogenated oils, deep-fried foods, bakery goods, snack cakes, stick margarines, peanut butter made with "partially hydrogenated oils"
Omega-6 fats: Corn oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil, sunflower seed oil, safflower seed oil, deep-fried foods
Refined grains "enriched flour": White flour, white bread or buns, white pasta, white rice, chips, cookies, cakes, pizza, crackers, sugary cereals
Sugar-sweetened beverages: Soda, juice drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, specialty coffee drinks, cappuccino, slushes, hot cocoa, sweetened tea

Anti-Inflammatory Meal Ideas

Cherry Vanilla Smoothie
*4-6 oz. water
*1 cup low-fat yogurt, plain
*2 tbsp. tart cherry juice concentrate
*1/2 -1 tsp. pure vanilla
*1 cup frozen cherries
*1/2 banana 
*1 Tbsp. flaxseed or chia seeds
*1 cup baby spinach  

Sample Meal
*Large salad topped with grilled chicken
*2 Tbsp. olive oil salad dressing
*1 cup berries – salad topping
*10-15 nuts  - salad topping 
*8 oz. Kefir yogurt   

Sample Meal
*4-6 oz. grilled or baked fish
*1 medium sweet potato or 2-3 small red potatoes
*1-2 cups roasted or grilled vegetables
*1 cup mixed fruit
*8 oz. low-fat milk  or almond  milk

Lee Hyrkas is a registered dietitian and performance nutrition specialist at Bellin Health. Lee’s goal is to assist every athlete and active individual in maximizing their performance and health. To schedule a one-on-one assessment, please contact Lee at or (920) 430-4728.

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