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Aging and the Anti-inflammatory Diet

Posted on August 23, 2014 at 12:25 AM



At first glance, you might wonder what an anti-inflammatory diet has to do with aging.

Well, quite a lot, it seems!

Aging can be seen as an inflammatory process—those normal biochemical reactions that produce free radicals like reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS) which can, if not limited, produce the damage that we see as aging.  Some of this damage is seen as:

• Chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and circulatory problems are much more common the older we get

• Wrinkles and fine (and not-so-fine) lines on our faces and the rest of our bodies. (Gravity, too, seems to play an important role with body parts that feel and look like they are sagging, sinking or drooping...)

• Changes in sleep patterns as we age

• Increased problems with obesity. Obesity, by the way, is actually considered to be a chronic disease.

An anti-inflammatory diet can help get rid of any excess free radicals and minimize their aging effects. As an added bonus, the foods recommended in an anti-inflammatory diet can help prevent heart disease, diabetes and obesity. While “diets” can be tough to stick to, the anti-inflammatory diet is not really all that complicated and you don’t really need to keep track of calories, “good fats” or “bad fats” or much of anything else. One useful motto to keep in mind is “eat like your ancestors did”. This means fresh fruits, berries and vegetables, whole grains (or gluten-free grains if needed), fresh fish, grass-feed beef and pork, free range chicken and poultry and lots and lots of water. Look for hormone-free meats. Organic foods are preferred, but not essential (I’ll get into that recent Stanford study some other time). This also means that an anti-inflammatory diet requires some old-fashioned cooking and preparation. Remember, no processed or prepackaged foods were available for your ancestors! They didn’t sit down to eat “Mac ‘N Cheese” unless they made the noodles themselves and perhaps got the cheese wheel from a local dairy farm!

An anti-inflammatory diet is high in:

• Vegetables, especially leafy green vegetables (spinach, mustard greens, kale, Swiss chard) that are high in anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals. Vegetables also have loads of fiber—and fiber increases bowel regularity—and that ensures that toxins and by-products that can increase free radicals are regularly removed.

• Variously colored fruits and berries are high in anti-oxidants, vitamins and fiber. Getting fresh fruit in the summer is easy—and the best places to find a variety of fresh local fruit are at farmer’s markets (the same is true for vegetables). In the winter months, however, its not so easy. One way to get around this is to use frozen berries and fruits in smoothies. Frozen fruit is a great choice. You can also use dried fruit as long as no sulfites are used. Sulfites are associated with a number of adverse reactions.1-3 Click here and here for ways to dry fruit at home.

• Whole grain foods—unless, and this is a BIG unless—you are gluten sensitive. Gluten can be an inflammatory food for some people. Gluten sensitivity has a wide range of possible symptoms—some people get mainly digestive symptoms like gas, abdominal discomfort, acid indigestion, constipation, diarrhea or cramping. Other people may get headaches, fatigue, eczema, other types of skin rashes, joint pain or neurological symptoms. The simplest approach in determining if you are gluten sensitive is to try going gluten-free for two weeks at least. If, at the end of the two weeks, if you are feeling better and don’t have the same symptoms –whatever they were in your particular case—well, you may very well be gluten sensitive, and should avoid gluten as an inflammatory food.

• Lots of fish—the omega-3 fats found in fish are very anti-inflammatory. Salmon is one of the best choices. The omega-3 fats also seem to be beneficial for those of us who can’t remember why we walked into a room!4,5

• Use various herbs and spices in your cooking. Anti-inflammatory herbs and spices include:

o Onions and garlic

o Ginger

o Curry, Cumin and Turmeric

o Rosemary

o Sage

• Drink lots of water—and lots of teas. Green tea is an exceptional anti-inflammatory tea, but there are many herbal teas that work as well. These include chamomile, and a few others you may not have heard about or have tried, like elderberry leaf tea, goldenseal, Una de Gato (Cats claw), feverfew, licorice, nettles and Rooibos (Red Bush tree).

What about foods to avoid?

Here’s a quick list.

• Sugar

• Processed or refined foods—a reasonable rule of thumb is to avoid white foods like white bread or rice.

• Fried foods and “trans” fats. Avoid any cooking oils other than olive, macadamia and canola oil. Avoid margarine and vegetable shortenings. Absolutely avoid any oil that includes “partially hydrogenated oils”

• Alcohol

• Dairy products, particularly if you are lactose intolerant.

Another bonus is that while the anti-inflammatory diet is not really designed for weight loss, many people find that they DO lose weight. Also, you will be eating better and feeling better …AND you will also be reducing the signs of aging, both inside and outside!


1. Randhawa S, Bahna SL. Hypersensitivity reactions to food additives. Current Opinion in Allergy & Clinical Immunology 2009;9:278-83.

2. Armentia A. Adverse reactions to wine: think outside the bottle. Current Opinion in Allergy & Clinical Immunology 2008;8:266-9.

3. Food and drink: red wine headaches. Harvard Health Letter 2002;27:6-.

4. Danthiir V, Burns NR, Nettelbeck T, Wilson C, Wittert G. The older people, omega-3, and cognitive health (EPOCH) trial design and methodology: a randomised, double-blind, controlled trial investigating the effect of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids on cognitive ageing and wellbeing in cognitively healthy older adults. Nutrition Journal 2011;10:117-.

5. Centre for R, Dissemination. Effects of omega‐3 fatty acids on cognitive performance: a meta‐analysis (Provisional abstract). In: Mazereeuw G, Lanctot KL, Chau SA, Swardfager W, Herrmann N, eds.; 2012.




Categories: Aging

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