A Guide To The Anti-Inflammatory Diet

From Dr. Nicholas Perricone

Tremendous strides have been made in the field of anti-aging medicine since the publication of my first book, The Wrinkle Cure in 2000. It was here that I introduced my Inflammation-Aging theory, placing chronic invisible inflammation at the center of age-related diseases and degenerative conditions. This theory was often dismissed with ridicule or skepticism – sometimes both! However, science now recognizes its validity and its serious threat to health and longevity. In fact, inflammation is the ‘new’ buzz word. Because my field is dermatology, where signs of aging and disease are so very visible, I have made it my life’s work to intervene; to halt this inflammation; reversing its negative effects, internally and externally.

Our diet can either be pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. Therefore, understanding our food choices is vital if we want to lower inflammation.

But what is inflammation, and why is it so detrimental to our health and beauty? 

During medical school and my three-year residency in dermatology, I made important connections between inflammation and disease. To learn about hundreds of skin diseases we studied in books, we also needed to recognize them in clinical examination and under a microscope. When we examine inflammation under the microscope, it has an unmistakable appearance. To make it visible, we stain the slide. The inflammation shows as dark blue dots, like confetti—although the presence of inflammation is nothing to celebrate. Quite the opposite. This “confetti” is also present when we look at aging skin. I was puzzled about why this was occurring. Could inflammation be causing these changes? I began to consider wrinkles as a disease, since inflammation was present when damage to skin tissue resulted in wrinkles.

Whenever I looked under microscope at everything from arthritis to heart disease, inflammation was always a component. Every disease I studied had a common theme, whether it was cancer or aging, inflammation was present. I was convinced this was not a secondary response. I believed inflammation to be the key to the whole process of disease of every type. This led me to develop an inflammation-aging theory that is the basis of decades of my research. Thus began the quest for safe, effective anti-inflammatories that could stop, treat, and reverse the symptoms — without doing harm.

How did this lead to the development of the anti-inflammatory diet?

My first startling revelation came with the understanding of the role of diet and nutrition in creating either a pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory condition in the body. I learned that the wrong foods will quickly rob us of our youth and health. In fact, the wrong foods are responsible for rapid, premature aging, a tired, drawn, and doughy complexion, flaccid, weak muscle tone, wrinkled, leathery, dry-looking facial skin, fatigue and poor brain power. When we eat foods that generate a strong inflammatory response in the body we are actually creating inflammation on a cellular level. The key to the anti-inflammatory diet is that it has been designed to prevent a rapid rise in blood sugar. This is important because a rapid rise in blood sugar causes an insulin response, which then causes an inflammatory response.

Different foods are converted to sugar at varying rates. Foods that are rapidly converted to sugar, such as sugary, starchy foods and beverages (bread, pasta, French fries, sweets, snack foods, fruit juices, soda, sugar in all forms, etc.) are pro-inflammatory. Also, avoid processed foods and foods containing unhealthy transfats.

What foods are pro-inflammatory?

Pro-Aging Foods to Avoid

1. Sugars and Starches

Human beings are programmed by millennia of evolutionary pressures to seek out sugars, which are the most readily usable form of fuel for the cells in our brains and muscles. Fortunately, other than occasionally stumbling upon a comb of honey, simple sugars were not readily available to our hunter-gatherer forbearers—much to their benefit. Unfortunately, the opposite is true today, where food manufacturers and restaurateurs add sugars and other toxic, pro-aging forms of sweeteners such as HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) to foods in various guises. Sadly, this common practice has ruined the American palate beginning in infancy and habituated us to expect sweetness not just from pastries and candies, but from foods and beverages of all kinds.

Perhaps the quickest way to accelerate the aging process is to eat foods that convert rapidly to sugar upon ingestion. These include pasta, baked goods, snack foods such as chips, pretzels, rice and corn cakes, etc., soda, fruit juices (eat the fruit instead), French fries, cookies, cakes, pastries, and breads. In short, avoid sugary, starchy foods. Conventional convenience foods usually pack a trio of undesirable elements that combine to undermine health.

2. Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils

To make hydrogenated oils (so-called “vegetable lard”), the EFAs in vegetable oils like cottonseed or soy are transformed, by catalytic conversion, into saturated fatty acids. The purpose is to make the oils in processed foods much more resistant to oxidation (rancidity) during months spent on the shelf or in a freezer. When vegetable oils are hydrogenated, the remaining unsaturated fatty acids get changed from their normal “cis” form to the “trans” form. Unfortunately, these man-made saturated and trans unsaturated fatty acids promote inflammation, arteriosclerosis, and cardiovascular disease.

3. Synthetic additives

I cannot see the logic in ingesting synthetic additives in any form. Synthetic means “are artificially produced and not of natural origin.” What are the potential short and long-term risks of these chemicals? In general, synthetic additives are used entirely for the convenience of food manufacturers and retailers, to extend shelf life or replace costlier natural preservatives (potent antioxidants from rosemary, etc.), flavors, and colors (pigments that exert strong antioxidant effects).

What does this diet consist of?

 1. High-quality protein like that found in cold water fish, shellfish, poultry, grass-fed meat

2. Low-glycemic carbohydrates (will not provoke a glycemic response when consumed in moderation) including colorful fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains such as old-fashioned oatmeal, and legumes such as lentils.

3. Healthy fats, such as those found in cold water fish (especially wild Alaskan salmon, halibut, sardines, herring, anchovies, etc.), nuts, seeds, extra virgin coconut oil and olive oil.

4. Water; 6 – 8 glasses of pure spring water per day.

5. Anti-oxidant rich beverages such as green tea.

These foods and beverages act as natural anti-inflammatories and help to maintain normal levels of insulin and blood sugar.

What about eating fats?

If you want radiant, supple skin don’t go low-fat or fat-free!  After water, fat is the most abundant substance in your body. Fats from animal (especially cold water fish and fish oil) and vegetable sources (extra virgin olive oil and extra virgin coconut oil, nuts, seeds, avocados), provide a concentrated source of energy in the diet; they also provide the building blocks for cell membranes, for hormones, and for prostaglandins.

What about protein?

Very important! High-quality protein, like that found in fish, shellfish, poultry, grass fed beef and lamb is vital for cellular repair. In general, women often do not eat enough protein—a problem not usually seen with men. This is one reason that men can often look younger than women of the same age.

This ongoing lack of protein is first notable in the face, as the features become soft looking. The sharp definition, contoured cheekbones and that great jaw line all becomes blurred. When the supply of protein is depleted, the body is then forced to feed upon itself. This causes both tissue and muscle to breakdown. Protein cannot be stored in the body. Because it is essential for cellular repair, the days that we don’t eat enough protein are the days that we are accelerating aging.

The importance of fruits and vegetables

Colorful vegetables like spinach, broccoli, cabbage, kale, watercress, bok choy, red and orange peppers, all the berries, etc. are very low in digestible carbohydrates, very high in fiber, and positively packed with antioxidants and other preventive-health phytochemicals. Fiber is a key factor in weight control because it provides the all-important satiety factor— it makes you feel full faster and longer. Fiber also moderates the blood-sugar impact of any sweet or starchy foods in a meal. When you shop the farmer’s market for fresh fruit and vegetables, choose the most colorful, as these often have the greatest health benefits.

1 Day Anti-Inflammatory Diet Plan

Breakfast:       

2 Poached or soft boiled Omega 3 Eggs

2 slices turkey bacon

½ grapefruit

8 oz green tea or spring water

Lunch:             

½ cup chicken or crab salad (lightly toss with olive oil, chopped celery and 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds), served in ½ avocado

1 pear

8 oz spring water 

Snack:   

2 oz sliced turkey or chicken breast

Small apple

3 olives

8 oz spring water

Dinner:      

Poached or grilled Salmon (6 – 8 ounces raw weight)

Steamed asparagus

1 cup of salad (dark green leafy lettuce, dressed with 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive, fresh lemon juice to taste top with 2 tablespoons chickpeas)

2” wedge of cantaloupe

8 oz spring water

Bedtime:       

¼ cup plain yogurt topped with 1 teaspoon sesame seeds, ¼ cup berries

Spring water

Want more tips from Dr. Perricone? Check out his seven deadly sins of wrinkling. Read our guide to clean-eating if that diet is more your style.