During the pandemic, some of us packed on unwanted pounds and we’re here to tell you, the quarantine struggle is real! But winning the battle of the bulge may be more complicated than simply counting calories and increasing cardio workout reps if your weight gain is compounded by chronic inflammation.
Acute inflammation is how your immune system fights an injury or infection and helps speed up the healing process; however, chronic inflammation persists even when your body is not under attack.
Factors that may increase the risk of chronic inflammation are older age, smoking, stress and lack of sleep. Poor dietary habits, such as consuming too much fast food; processed snacks like potato chips and pretzels; processed meat like bacon, hot dogs and cold cuts; fried foods; red meats; white bread and pasta; soda; and sports drinks and fruit juices with added sugars, can also lead to obesity and cause inflammation.
Sometimes it’s hard not to overindulge. But one dietary indiscretion does not translate into diet failure. My goal is to have more good days than bad.
“Research suggests sugar, refined carbohydrates and alcohol trigger the release of inflammatory messengers called cytokines and harmful gut bacteria, which promotes inflammation,” explains Constance Brown-Riggs, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes care and education specialist.
Chronic inflammation is also linked to serious health conditions, including depression, Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, as well as heart disease and diabetes, which disproportionately affect African Americans.
But don’t be discouraged, sis. Every little step you take to improve your health is a win, and it’s a win-win if you lose weight in the process.
“Sometimes it’s hard not to overindulge — and I say that from personal experience! But one dietary indiscretion does not translate into diet failure. My goal is to have more good days than bad,” adds Brown-Riggs.
“If your weight is not in a healthy range, making small gradual changes, one day at a time, will get you there. Start by adding one anti-inflammatory food to your meals each week. Before you know it, you’ll be eating healthier, feeling better and achieving your weight goals.”
Taking incremental strides to reach your weight loss goals might include brisk walking for 30 minutes a day, modifying your snack choices, preparing fresh and flavorful meals at home and being more mindful of what you order when dining out. Be patient with yourself — that healthy BMI range of 18.5-24.9 is well within your reach. To get you started, here are seven anti-inflammatory foods to incorporate into your diet, which can fight chronic inflammation and speed up your metabolism.
Pass the guac, please. This delicious and versatile superfood, easily folded into smoothies and salads and sliced onto multigrain toast, is packed with potassium, magnesium and fiber. Brown-Riggs adds that avocados are a great source of healthy monounsaturated fat and antioxidants vitamins C and E, which add to its anti-inflammatory benefits.
Red grapes are bursting with naturally sweet flavor and contain antioxidants known as polyphenols, which can lower inflammation and may reduce the risk of heart disease and encourage weight loss.
Dark leafy greens
Keep piling your plate with spinach, kale and collards. These dark leafy veggies are loaded with vitamins A, C, E and K and minerals including iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium. Plus, they have a low glycemic index (foods that are slowly digested and absorbed and won’t spike blood sugar levels), which may help with weight loss and maintenance.
Go nuts! Hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds and pecans are high in protein, fiber, essential fatty acids, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits. At the same time, nuts are high in fat and calories, so pick up a weight-loss friendly 100-calorie variety pack.
Cherry tomatoes bring a salad to life and juicy beefsteak tomatoes make an average sandwich sing. This sweet and tangy fruit also has lots of anti-inflammatory and nutritional value — it’s high in vitamin C, potassium and lycopene, an antioxidant associated with heart health and protection against certain cancers. So drink a glass of fresh tomato juice (the bloody without the Mary), and enjoy a hearty heaping of homemade marinara sauce over a serving (1/2 cup) of whole wheat pasta!
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
Skip refined oils like canola and peanut oil and get to know EVOO, a super healthy source of monounsaturated fats and a key ingredient in the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to facilitate weight loss and help prevent heart attacks, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Cook with it and drizzle it onto grilled fish, fresh veggies, beans and whole grains.
Take a beverage break and pick up a cup of green tea. Green tea contains less caffeine than coffee but still gives you an energy boost, and its health benefits can’t be beat. Loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, green tea may improve brain function, promote fat loss and lower the risk of heart disease and cancer.
Now that we’ve tantalized your taste buds with this sampling of inflammation fighting foods, add even more variety and nutrition to your grocery list with bell peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, cherries, blueberries, dark chocolate and fatty fish like salmon, tuna and sardines.