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How to Keep Your Healthy Eating Goals
If you’d like to make eating healthy a priority, the way you structure your goals can have a big impact on whether you’re able to follow through or not.
While a general goal to “To eat healthier,” is much too broad, leaving you with little guidance when faced with decisions about how to feed yourself, making too many rules about what you can and can’t eat will also set you up for failure. Keeping your healthy eating goals is about balance.
Eating better means nourishing your body with what it needs for long-term health. Thankfully, there’s one guiding principle when it comes to nutrition that can help you achieve your goal of eating better without feeling overly restricted or having to follow complicated diet rules.
Simply choosing anti-inflammatory foods while limiting inflammatory foods will have long-lasting benefits. Especially if you suffer from musculoskeletal conditions such as muscle strains, back pain, or arthritis.
What Does Inflammation Have To Do With Diet?
Inflammation is not bad in and of itself. It’s simply your body’s way of defending itself against intruders.
When you cut yourself, fall, or otherwise injure yourself, inflammation works to heal wounds through a coordinated effort of increasing production of white blood cells, immune cells, and cytokines which help fight infection. These visible, short-term reactions fall under “acute inflammation” and cause redness, pain, heat, and swelling.
If it becomes chronic, however, persisting for weeks, months, or years, inflammation is harmful. The heightened immune response cells begin silently attacking your own body. This chronic reaction is worryingly linked to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease, and cancer - and it occurs inside your body without noticeable symptoms.
Although scientists are not certain exactly why it occurs, scientists believe genetics and obesity play a role in chronic inflammation. Other lifestyle factors such as your diet can also contribute to chronic inflammation.
The Anti-Inflammatory Foods You Should 100% Eat
The good news is that changing your diet can drive down inflammation in your body. Many foods can even reduce inflammation in the body, which is not only associated with lethal diseases but is also a known cause for back pain.
An anti-inflammatory diet is mostly plant-based supplemented by omega-3 rich foods such as flax seeds, chia seeds, and fish.
The top anti-inflammatory foods, according to Harvard Health, are tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, green leafy vegetables, nuts, fatty fish, and fruits. These are the foods you should absolutely incorporate into your diet in order to be healthier.
Specifically, spinach, kale, and collards have been shown to reduce inflammation the most. For nuts, the best are almonds, walnuts and Brazil nuts. Strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges have the most anti-inflammatory properties.
When choosing fish for an anti-inflammatory diet, the fattier the better. Salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines are your best bet.
Other Nourishing Anti-Inflammatory Foods
There are many other healthy and delicious anti-inflammatory foods that can help reduce back pain.
Besides berries, apples, watermelon, pomegranates, and grapes are great choices for healthy snacks. Avocados (yes, they’re a fruit!) are packed with omega-3 fatty acids and contain high levels of other anti-inflammatory compounds such as phytosterols, polyhydroxylated fatty alcohols, and carotenoid antioxidants.
When it comes to vegetables, you want to pick the most colorful produce. Think broccoli, carrots, beets, bell peppers and chilies. Root vegetables such as sweet potatoes and onions are also good for you.
Herbs and Spices
Many common spices you’re likely to have in your pantry are chock-full of health benefits, including cinnamon, ginger, curcumin, and turmeric. Herbs, too, such as basil, rosemary, and oregano.
Herring, black cod, and trout are less fatty fish that still combat inflammation. Besides fish, other protein sources also help with chronic inflammation, including chicken, turkey, and beans.
Real tea (without added sugar or flavoring) has a myriad of health properties, including reducing inflammation. Opt for green, oolong, or white tea. You can even drink red wine in moderation! Red wine contains one of the most powerful polyphenols (antioxidants), called resveratrol. For women, one glass of red wine a day has been linked to reduced likelihood of blood clotting and heart attack. Men under 65 can enjoy up to two glasses. Coffee, which also contains polyphenols and other anti-inflammatory compounds, may also protect against inflammation.
Good news for chocolate lovers! Dark chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa is considered an anti-inflammatory food.
A healthy, anti-inflammatory diet that helps with musculoskeletal conditions also needs to include enough calcium to maintain bone mass. It’s best to get calcium naturally from foods such as yogurt, milk, cheese, and leafy green vegetables. If you don’t think you’re getting enough calcium from food, or have dairy sensitivities, it’s always smart to talk to your doctor to make sure you’re getting enough nutrients before considering taking supplements.
Inflammatory Foods to Avoid
Just as eating certain foods keeps you healthy and helps reduce inflammation that can lead to arthritis and joint pain, eating some foods can exacerbate these painful symptoms.
But before we examine them - remember that the most important part about embracing a new way of eating is to be realistic and kind with yourself.
Don’t think you can never eat inflammatory foods again. Just know the effect they have on your body, and eat them sparingly.
Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup
Refined sugar is ever-present in our society: soda, pastries, fruit juices, even chocolate, are chock-full of refined sugar (fructose, sucrose, maltose) or corn syrup that trigger the release of proteins called cytokines. These (and sugar alternatives such as aspartame and sucralose) cause an inflammatary response in the body. Try to limit sugar to six or nine teaspoons a day for women and men, respectively. Natural sources are always better, so opt for honey, maple syrup and coconut sugar.
Processed foods such as baked goods, prepackaged meals and snacks can contain trans fat that trigger systemic inflammation. Because they’re inexpensive, long-lasting, and easy to use, trans fats have found their way into almost every popular snack food. Unfortunately, they raise your bad cholesterol (LDL) while they lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. It is also linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes and stroke.
Products made from white flour such as white bread, white pasta and crackers pack all the calories of unrefined carbs without any of the health benefits. They cause a spike in blood glucose that’s been linked to increased inflammation in the body.
Ok, alcohol isn’t a food, per se. But it is a large part of many of our diets, so we need to be aware of its health risks past liver-related issues. Consuming too much alcohol increases inflammation and joint pain, and also makes it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep.
Meat, especially red meat, has high levels of saturated fats which may cause high cholesterol and inflammation. It also contains high levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that stimulate inflammation, particularly when broiled, grilled, roasted, or fried. When you want to enjoy meat, choose grass-fed or wild game over conventional, processed options.
Fried foods such as fried chicken, donuts, and french fries contain trans fats in addition to AGEs.
Omega-6 fatty acids
Omega-6 fatty acids are only healthy in small doses. Besides in meat, they’re found abundant in corn, peanut, grapeseed, sunflower, safflower, and soy oils. Excessive omega-6 consumption can trigger inflammatory chemicals. Condiments such as mayo and salad dressing can have hidden servings of omega-6.
Avoiding foods and drinks that trigger inflammation can help you keep joint pain and chronic conditions such as arthritis at bay, and may even help prevent other chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes!
Here’s to Healthy Eating
Making a commitment to eating healthy isn’t about being perfect or subscribing to an “all or nothing” mindset. That’s setting yourself up to fail! Instead, approach your nutrition with general guidelines. Trying to “eat mostly anti-inflammatory foods” and “avoid processed and fried foods” will go a long way towards creating long-lasting healthy habits.
And don’t forget to stay active! A sedentary lifestyle is also a major factor in unhealthy inflammation, so if you have to sit, choose a chair that moves with you.