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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Managing Inflammation with Nutrition

Inflammation. It’s a necessary response by the body’s immune system to deal with acute stress. This stress can be from a cut, injury, infection and even prolonged, intense exercise. For active individuals, this type of acute inflammation is triggered during the repair and growth of muscle, when reducing free radicals produced by exercise, or when dealing with an injury. However, when inflammation is chronic or on going, this becomes a problem. It can lead to muscle soreness, fatigue, greater risk of illness, slower recovery and chronic disease – all of which can impact your training and performance. The great news is, our lifestyle and the foods that we eat play an important role in minimizing this chronic inflammation.

As a Registered Dietitian, I often tell my clients – food is more than just calories, carbohydrates, fats and protein. Whole, unprocessed foods provide a rich source of vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals and a variety of other compounds. These all have a significant impact on our health and are involved in many of the processes in our body, including our immune system and the inflammatory response.

As one strategy to help you feel your best, recover from exercise so you can continue to train hard and maintain your overall health, aim to include a variety of these antioxidant and anti-inflammatory foods in your diet.

Foods rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 fatty acid is an essential polyunsaturated fat that also has anti-inflammatory properties. Omega 6 is another essential polyunsaturated fat, however too much of this fat and not enough Omega 3 can promote inflammation. To create a good balance between Omega 3 and Omega 6, make an effort to include more foods rich in Omega 3. While salmon may be the first thing that comes to mind, other cold-water fatty fish are excellent sources, such as: mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring, trout and tuna. Try to have fish 2-3 times a week to meet your needs. Some plant foods, like walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp hearts, and avocado also contain this type of fat and can be enjoyed each day.

How to get more in your diet:

Use canned salmon or tuna on a wrap or on a salad
Grill, bake, steam or pan fry a piece of fish for a quick dinner
Use avocado in place of mayonnaise in tuna salad or as a spread on sandwiches
Make your own trail mix for snacks and be sure they include walnuts
Add 1-2 tbsp chia, flax or hemp to oatmeal, yogurt or smoothies
Top salads with a sprinkle of hemp hearts or chopped avocado

Tart Cherries

Tart cherries contain anthocyanins which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Research has shown that this can help reduce the effects of muscle damage, including muscle soreness. The amount of juice to achieve the benefits is about 16 ounces or 2 cups of tart cherry juice. The sugar content is high, so you need to consider if this can fit into your overall training diet. However, including this during periods of intense training may be worth it to aid in recovery.  

How to use:
Add tart cherry juice or concentrate to recovery smoothies
Add sparkling water to the juice or concentrate to make a refreshing drink
Add dried cherries to oatmeal or trail mix
Blend frozen cherries into smoothies or mix with Greek yogurt


Not only will they add so much flavour to your meals, but spices also pack a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory punch. Curcumin found in turmeric is associated with these benefits and gives this spice its distinctive yellow colour. Other spices like fresh or ground cinnamon, ginger, and garlic are other great additions to your diet.

How to use:
Add cinnamon to oatmeal or yogurt
Sprinkle apple slices with cinnamon and dip in natural nut butter
Add 1tsp turmeric and ginger (grated fresh or powder) to rice, quinoa, beans, roasted vegetables, soups and stews
Roast a batch of chopped vegetables and add a few cloves of garlic to the pan
Add turmeric or cinnamon to smoothies
Make dips like hummus or white bean dips and get creative with the spices you add
Add fresh garlic to stirfrys, soups, pasta, chicken dishes


Probiotics are a group of “good” bacteria and when consumed, will help to improve the balance of good and bad bacteria in our gut. The right balance is important for many aspects of our health, including keeping our immune system healthy. Probiotics are found in fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh (fermented soy beans), and kimchi and yogurt with active bacterial cultures. Kefir is fermented milk with a consistency between yogurt and milk.
Aside from consuming foods with probiotics to help boost the immune system, also be sure to include foods with prebiotics. Prebiotics are not bacteria, but rather a type of carbohydrate that can only be used by gut bacteria, so eating these will help to flourish the good bacteria already in your gut. These are found in foods such as onions, artichokes, garlic, asparagus and banana.

How to include more in your diet:
Plain kefir is tart and some people compare it to sour cream or buttermilk, but works well in smoothies or using in place of milk in cereal
Tempeh can be used in place of meat in stirfrys
Add sauerkraut to salads or sandwiches

Variety of Fruits and Vegetables

Just about everyone can use more fruits and vegetables in their diet. Each colour contains different vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants, which are all important for recovery and optimal health. Aim to include as many bright, vibrant colours a day that you can.

How to eat more fruits and vegetables:
Always include a handful of dark leafy greens in smoothies
Cut up your vegetables before they get put away in the fridge – store in a big container so its always available for snacking
Keep antioxidant rich frozen berries and vegetables on hand for quick use
Toss berries into a salad or in yogurt
Add diced pineapple to stirfrys
Use dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, collards in place of iceberg lettuce or Romaine

Bonus – Sleep! Getting enough quality sleep is also important for reducing inflammation. 

Overall dietary patterns of incorporating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes and limiting processed foods and refined grains will help to reduce chronic inflammation. Variety is key! No one food or supplement alone will improve your health or reduce inflammation. Whole foods can often take more time to prepare, which can often be a challenge for those with busy schedules, so stay tuned for the next blog post - Meal Planning Tips for Busy Athletes.

Andrea Docherty is a Registered Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist and owner of Andrea Docherty Nutrition, a private practice nutrition consulting business in Windsor, Ontario She works with a variety of clients and active individuals to meet their health, nutrition and performance goals.
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