The concept of healthy eating can be confusing for many people. Many of us eat to please our taste buds alone, failing to fully appreciate the importance of consuming high-quality “fuel” to keep our bodies running in peak condition, and to help us to heal when we’re recovering from an injury. We’ve all had days when we eat more “junk” than we should — cookies, cake, candy, and processed foods, and most of us know that those unhealthy foods leave us lacking in energy, even feeling sluggish.

Understanding Inflammation

The first thing to know about inflammation is that a certain degree of it is necessary in order for healing to take place at all. It’s how our immune system attacks anything that it recognizes as foreign, whether it’s an invading microbe, an allergen, or a strange chemical. But when inflammation is out of control — as in the case of a condition like rheumatoid arthritis — then the process becomes damaging rather than healing. Too much inflammation in the body is thought to play a role in obesity, cancer, and heart disease, among other ailments. That means that keeping inflammation at bay should be a priority for nearly everyone, but especially for those who are already overweight, or who have a history of cancer, heart disease, arthritis, or diabetes in their family, or for anybody with allergies. Surprisingly — or perhaps not so surprisingly — the best place to start is with your diet.

Foods That Increase Inflammation

Try to eliminate or minimize your consumption of the following foods that make inflammation worse …

  • sweet treats like cakes, candies, cookies, and other baked goods
  • sweetened beverages like soda and many fruit juices
  • refined foods like white bread, rice, and pasta (unless it’s whole grain pasta)
  • foods that are high in saturated fat such as red meat, processed meats like hot dogs, and fried foods
  • foods with trans fats such as margarine or shortening

Notice anything interesting about these foods? They’re also the very foods that contribute to obesity, which is itself a risk factor for excess inflammation in the body!

Foods That Decrease Inflammation

Load up your plate with the following inflammation-busting foods …

  • Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, tuna, and mackerel contain Omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce inflammation
  • Fiber-rich whole grains have been shown to reduce levels of C-reactive protein, which is a marker of inflammation in the bloodstream.
  • Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collards contain high levels of vitamin E, also shown to reduce inflammation by zapping cytokines (pro-inflammatory molecules)
  • Nuts of all kinds are full of antioxidants that help the body both fight off and repair the damage done by inflammation.

Note that all of these foods are part of the Mediterranean Diet, which some research has shown can reduce inflammation in the body in as little as 6 weeks.

The Role of Fats, Carbohydrates, and Protein

Some weight-loss diets encourage adherents to eschew fats and carbs and load up on proteins, but a really healthy eating diet, which includes fats, carbohydrates, and proteins from the right sources and in the right quantities will help stabilize weight and will help your body to maintain balance and health.

  • A healthy diet includes fats, which are necessary for absorbing certain micronutrients and protecting cells and organs. The best fats to consume are the unsaturated variety found in olive and canola oils, fish, nuts, and low-fat dairy foods. Limit your fat intake to about 20% of your daily calories.
  • Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy, and an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. Because they provide most of your energy, you’ll naturally need more of them in your diet than either fats or proteins. Aim to consume 60% of your daily calories from healthy, complex carbohydrates such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Protein is necessary for growing tissue, and building and repairing muscles. Proteins also help to keep your immune system functioning properly. About 20% of your daily calories should be lean proteins such as roasted poultry, grilled or broiled fish, low-fat dairy, and lean cuts of red meat. You can also get some extra-lean protein from nuts and beans.

Want to learn more about how good nutrition and healthy eating can help you heal from an injury? Visit us at Cawley Physical Therapy and rehab and feel free to contact us with questions or for more healthy eating recommendations and advice. Give us a call at 570-208-2787 or drop us an e-mail at cawleyptfrank@gmail.com anytime!