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  • Jill Maher

Diet and Inflammation

For more information and help achieving your health and nutrition goals, contact me today! I work in-person, by phone, or by video chat with my clients.

We hear a lot about inflammation, but what is it, and how can your diet influence it for better or worse? In my recent podcast interview with One Thirty Something, I discussed the role of diet in prevention of disease and inflammation. That interview can be found by clicking the picture below or at this link.

Inflammation is our body's natural response to injury and attack on the immune system. An example would be any type of physical injury or temporary infection where the body "rallies" its immune system to heal, repair, and kill any foreign microbe invaders. This is a healthy response and one that saves our lives on a daily basis. This is also referred to as acute inflammation.

Chronic inflammation is the more troubling and less understood form of inflammation. According to research from John's Hopkins University, chronic inflammation is seen in people who are obese and those who are sedentary. Researchers have yet to figure out what exactly cases the linkage, but diagnostic markers for inflammation are present, and the long-term risks for heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are higher.

There are more contributing factors to chronic inflammation than simply diet, including stress management, environmental factors, etc. Nutrition is obviously my focus when helping clients, so that's what I'll touch on.

Foods that help prevent inflammation:

1. Increase whole foods! What is a whole food? Any food that is in unprocessed and in its original state (e.g. fruits, veggies, plain chicken breast, salmon, etc.)

2. Incorporate lots of veggies and low-gi (glycemic index) fruit. These are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and polyphenols (compounds with antioxidants and health benefits).

3. Consume omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty fish is the best source. There are many studies linking omega-3 fatty acids (specifically DHA, EPA) to reduced inflammation in the body. A good source is from fish, such as salmon, albacore tuna, herring, lake trout, sardines, and mackerel.

Plant-based sources include chia seed, walnuts, and flaxseed oil. These contain the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Although ALA has shown some promise in counteracting inflammatory processes, EPA and DHA appear to be substantially more effective in their anti-inflammatory effects. Canola oil also contains ALA, but it's highly refined, genetically modified, and could actually cause inflammation as described below.

4. Use olive oil at low heat cooking and for drizzling over dishes. Research has found that a compound in extra-virgin olive oil called oleocanthal also helps reduce inflammation.

Are there any foods that trigger inflammation?

1. Foods that are highly processed. They generally contain some or all of the following that contribute to inflammation:

  • Added Sugar (from all sources - white sugar, raw sugar, words ending in -ose, rice syrup, etc.)

  • White flour

  • Foods with additives (dyes, preservatives, enhancers)

  • Saturated fats from poor sources - conventionally grown, non-organic meats and animal products, highly processed meats.

  • Refined vegetable oils (canola, soybean, cottonseed, etc.) are high in omega-6 fatty acids, are unstable, and highly refined. There is an increased ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the American diet. Ideal dietary levels of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids are believed to be 1 to 4:1; however, the typical American diet now provides a ratio of about 10:1 to 20:1. This change has been associated with an increased risk of chronic inflammatory diseases

2. Diets high in sugar and trans fats. Sugar and trans fat appear in a lot of processed foods. They lead to the increased risk of inflammatory diseases and obesity.

3. Also, eating any food, including “healthy foods” in excess of your caloric requirement leads to fat storage and longterm obesity, which increases inflammation. Regularly eating foods that are high on the glycemic index (high in sugar/starch and low in fiber) also leads to inflammation and eventually can contribute to the development of chronic diseases.

See the following link for more detailed information on research from John's Hopkins:

Pan Seared Salmon on Baby Arugala

Servings: Makes 2 servings


1. For the Salmon:

  • 2 center-cut salmon fillets (6 oz. each)

  • 1 1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

  • 1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

​2. For the salad:

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • 3 cups baby arugula leaves

  • 2/3 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

  • 1/4 cup thinly slivered red onion

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 Tbsp red-wine vinegar


1. Place the salmon fillets in a shallow bowl. Toss well with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Let rest for 15 minutes.

2. Cook the salmon, skinside down in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes, shaking the pan and carefully lifting the salmon with a spatula to loosen it from the pan 3. Reduce the heat to medium. Cover the pan and cook until the salmon is cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes more. The skin should be crisp and the flesh medium rare. 4. Meanwhile, combine the arugula, tomatoes and onion in a bowl. Just before serving, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with oil and vinegar. Toss well. Nutritional analysis per serving: 390 calories, 4g carbs, 40g protein, 23g fat, 105mg cholesterol.

Recipe found on Epicurious:

For more information and help achieving your health and nutrition goals, contact me today! I work in-person, by phone, or by video chat with my clients.

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