I have been a chiropractic physician since 1983. A lot has changed in health care over that time. One of the most encouraging things to me has been to see the medical profession begin to embrace the importance of diet in the treatment and prevention of disease. In one of my journals, Medscape, Dr Diane Barsky, attending physician in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) discussed the health benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet. I’d like to share a portion of that article with you.
What is an anti-inflammatory diet? It’s a diet based on two ancient healthy patterns of eating: the Asian diet and the Mediterranean diet. The combination of the two is thought to be one of the healthiest ways of eating on a daily basis.
Traditional Mediterranean and Asian diets have many similarities. They are rich in vegetables, with a primary focus on legumes, fruits, and fresh foods. Both are moderately rich in fish and associated omega-3 fatty acids. They include some lean meats and eggs but avoid processed foods, artificial flavouring, high-fructose corn syrup, saturated fat, and trans fat. They’re high in antioxidants that protect the body from many chronic diseases.
There is also a social component to these diets, with their focus on slower eating together with the extended family. It is a whole-foods approach, with minimal commercial processing and using more organic practices that minimize herbicides, insecticides, and toxic residues. It emphasizes the interconnection between the food, the people, and the land. Adherents know where their food is coming from, either through their own agriculture or through their local villages and neighbours.
The Mediterranean diet is composed of healthy fats with high monounsaturated fats, such as olives and olive oil, nuts, and seeds. It includes spices, eggs, and meat, but with a focus on white meat and soy proteins. It also advises the regular consumption of water.
The traditional Asian diet focuses on oily fish; miso soup; and fermented foods such as kimchi, pickles, and natto (fermented soybeans) that encourage and stimulate a favourable microbiome (the good critters that inhabit your body). This is associated with a lower incidence of irritable bowel disease. The mushrooms consumed in the Asian diet (shiitake, enoki, and oyster) are actually now being studied in cancer centres in the United States because they’ve been linked to improvement in cancer risk and recurrence. The inclusion of herbs, medicinal garnishes, spices, turmeric, phenol, and green seaweed, just to name a few aspects of this diet, offer important antioxidants.
The phytochemicals in this diet have key anti-carcinogenic and anti-cardiovascular disease properties. Because this diet is high in fibre and has a low glycaemic index, there is a decreased risk for diabetes. The higher magnesium content reduces inflammation and improves cognitive ability. Spices that are rich in phytochemicals such as ginger, garlic, cayenne, black pepper, rosemary, and turmeric, are associated with maintaining a favourable microbiome.
Dr Barsky states, “The anti-inflammatory diet is a combination of Mediterranean and Asian diets. It incorporates vegetables (4-6/day) and emphasizes fruit, fish, and plant proteins. It includes healthier fats (e.g., canola oil, olive oil, seeds, nuts, avocados) that provide omega-3s, which promote a different prostaglandin pathway that is not pro-inflammatory. This diet highlights the intake of antioxidant-rich foods as well as beverages like green tea. Remember, it is not only about nutrition but a healthier lifestyle.”
Chronic inflammation within our bodies is one of the leading causes of disease from cardiovascular disease and cancer, to most auto-immune diseases. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet as Dr. Barsky explains, along with regular exercise and a positive mental attitude, will pay big lifetime benefits.