New Lifesaving Foods: The Anti-Inflammation Diet
The Major Culprits
Saturated fat is found mostly in animal-based foods like red meat and whole-fat dairy products. "It's bad both for the old-fashioned reason that it raises LDL [bad] cholesterol and also because it promotes inflammation throughout the body," says Linda Antinoro, RD, a dietitian at the Nutrition Consultation Service at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, where much of the research on inflammation has been done.
Trans fats -- chemically altered fats often found in crackers, cookies, and other baked goods -- send bad cholesterol soaring and promote inflammation even more than saturated fat does. That's why doctors recommend cutting trans fats out of your diet completely. They've been clearly marked on nutrition labels since a new law requiring this went into effect at the start of the year.
Omega-6 polyunsaturated fat may also have inflammatory components and is probably not even on your radar. That's because food labels don't list omega-6 specifically; it's included under the umbrella of all polyunsaturated fats. Omega-6 is found in corn, soybean, sunflower, and safflower oils; it's also in packaged goods that list these oils as ingredients -- and the grocery-store shelves are full of them.
Until very recently, omega-6 has been viewed as healthier than saturated and trans fats, because it may improve cholesterol levels. However, research now suggests that in the fight against heart disease, and possibly other ailments, lowering cholesterol may not be as beneficial as lowering inflammation. And that's where omega-6's dark side comes into play: It appears to boost inflammation. In one study, people who consumed more omega-6 fat had higher blood-sugar levels and less insulin sensitivity -- two risk factors for diabetes.
The body needs a certain amount of omega-6 each day to function properly -- about that found in a tablespoon of Thousand Island dressing or a 1-ounce bag of reduced-fat potato chips. But because it's so prevalent in packaged foods, the typical American consumes far more than this, says Davis -- and to the exclusion of inflammation-fighting fats.
Sugar and other simple carbs can make your blood sugar spike; this has been linked with higher levels of inflammation. A high sugar intake may not trigger inflammation on its own, says Davis, but it may worsen the effects of unhealthy fats.
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