If I asked you whether you would want to live longer and avoid serious health issues, I'm pretty sure you'd answer with an unequivocal "Yes!"
Advertisements are plentiful for all kinds of products and supplements that purport to improve longevity or fend off disease. What may be harder to find, however, are ways you can influence these yourself without "six easy payments."
The Inflammation Link
We now know that many diseases are linked to low-grade inflammation in the body. If we can lower inflammation through our diets, there is a good chance of lowering incidence of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis and other medical issues.
Most health care professional concur that if an individual follows the basic principles outlined below for clean, anti-inflammatory eating, many illnesses could be prevented.
Sound too good to be true? It really isn't. Let's look at how we got to this point and how you can shift to eating foods that lower inflammation.
Our Changing Food Supply
Twenty years ago, healthy eating was mostly about balance -- assessing how much carbohydrate, protein and fat was consumed, and making sure plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables were part of the mix.
Today, our diet is heavily influenced by how our food supply has changed, how animals are fed, and the plethora of new products on the market. Navigating what to eat is much more complicated.
The documentary Food, Inc. clearly illustrates how food suppliers produce a vast amount of food at an affordable price -- but at a great cost to our health. Animals raised for food consume corn instead of grass, live in factories instead of on farms, and are raised in less than half the amount of time than in the past.
Corn has become the prominent food for farm animals, and the main component in processed foods. Ninety percent of the products on grocery shelves contain a corn or soybean ingredient.
So, why is this bad? Enter omega-3 and omega-6 fats.
Battle of the Omegas
Cows were not designed by evolution to eat corn. When animals eat grass, the products they produce are rich in fats called omega-3 fatty acids. When they consume corn, omega-6 fats are more prevalent.
This is important because omega-6 fats increase inflammation in the body, while omega-3 fats decrease inflammation. Research shows that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in our diet 100 years ago was approximately 2-to-1. Recent estimates show our food supply has changed the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats to a whopping 20-to-1.
When we eat large amounts of omega-6 fats, these compete with the omega-3's, which affects not only inflammation, but can also increase diseases linked to inflammation.
Increasing our intake of the three omega-3 fats -- ALA, DHA and EPA -- and lowering our intake of omega-6 fats could be the link toward health and increased longevity.
10 Steps to Anti-Inflammatory Eating
Given what we know, how can we shift the balance and take back our health and happiness? Here are some principles to follow:
1. Choose grass-fed meat and pastured, organic poultry (those that eat a combination of grass, other plants, insects, etc.).
2. Consume wild fish several times a week, such as salmon, sardines and black cod.
3. Eat certified, pastured organic, free-range eggs and choose organic dairy and grass-fed cheese.
4. Eat carbohydrates in their natural state -- organic fruits and vegetables, nuts/seeds, brown/wild rice, quinoa, etc. and limit starchy and/or processed carbohydrates. Consume at least one dark green leafy vegetable and one orange/yellow/red vegetable per day.
5. Limit foods high in flours and sugars, especially foods in a package with more than five ingredients.
6. Use extra-virgin olive oil, and lower your intake of omega-6 oils such as soybean, cottonseed, corn, vegetable, safflower and sunflower.
7. Choose monounsaturated fats such as nuts, seeds and avocado.
8. Choose foods that are non-GMO (genetically modified organisms). Changing the DNA of a food crop can ultimately change how the food acts in our bodies. This could destroy the food's health properties and almost replace what is natural. The complete guide to eating non-GMO foods can be found at www.responsibletechnology.org/GMFree/Home/index.cfm.
9. Drink tea, especially green tea, and limit coffee. Tea contains an amino acid known as L-theanine, which has been shown to counter the normal effects of caffeine, such as high blood pressure and headaches. Minimize alcohol.
10. Consider taking an omega-3 supplement with at least 500 mg. of each of the omega 3-fats DHA and EPA. Even if you consume fish several times a week, a supplement ensures you are receiving enough DHA and EPA. Eat at least one tablespoon per day of ground flax seed, high in the omega-3 fat ALA.
These 10 principles may seem challenging to implement at first. Eating a clean, anti-inflammatory diet is a process and requires reviewing all the foods you eat, from snacks to full meals, whether dining at home or at a restaurant.
The most important thing is to "act now." Set small goals for yourself. Start with your breakfast and then make adjustments to your other meals. Lifestyle change takes time, but commitment will bring you the healthy results you desire.
Follow Susan B. Dopart, M.S., R.D., C.D.E. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/smnutritionist