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The choices you make at the grocery store can have an impact on the inflammation in your body. Scientists are still unravelling how food affects our inflammatory processes, but they know a few things.
In simple terms, sugary high-processed foods help release inflammatory messengers that can raise the risk of chronic inflammation. Other foods like fruits and veggies help your body fight against oxidative stress, which can trigger inflammation.
Add walnuts to your shopping list - they fight inflammation and have other desirable side-effects such as helping us sleep better.
Inflammation isn't bad, unless it is chronic
But why is inflammation bad for us, anyway? And what does food have to do with it?
Inflammation is a part of your body's normal response to infection or injury. It's when your damaged tissue releases chemicals that tell white blood cells to start repairing. But sometimes, inflammation is low-grade, spread throughout the body, and chronic.
Typically, the background level of chronic inflammation in our body increases as we age. This increase is one reason older people are more susceptible to dying from the coronavirus.
The right food can reduce the background level of inflammation. Results published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology indicated that people in their 60s and 70s who regularly consumed walnuts showed reduced inflammation (compared to those who do not eat walnuts).
Reducing chronic inflammation is vital, because, for example:
Dietary and lifestyle changes are crucial to lowering the level of chronic inflammation.
Eating walnuts for 2 years reduced chronic inflammation - study
In the study*, 600 healthy older adults formed into two groups. One group consumed 30 to 60 grams of walnuts per day as part of their typical diet; the other followed their standard diet (without walnuts) for two years.
Those who consumed walnuts had a significant reduction in inflammation. Walnuts reduced inflammatory markers in their blood by up to 11.5%.
Walnuts have an optimal mix of essential nutrients like the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid, and other highly bioactive components like polyphenols (antioxidants). These likely play a role in their anti-inflammatory effect and other health benefits. They are also fibre-dense. It is nutrients like these that give walnuts their stress-fighting properties.
In fact, some people consider walnuts to be a superfood.
Superfood or not, walnuts have a lot going for them
Not only do they reduce arterial inflammation but are great for your brain. Walnuts are one of the most concentrated sources of choline, a B-like vitamin crucial for cognitive health in which 90% of older adults are deficient.
Walnuts work synergistically with other foods known to promote cognitive health (and in fighting inflammation) including fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines; fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges; spices like ginger; and eggs.
Adding all of these to your diet at different times - whatever you like best - will support your brain health.
If you are not keen on just munching on walnuts, try adding them to a salad or dipping them in dark chocolate. Or use walnut oil to make a salad dressing: mix walnut oil with sherry vinegar, olive oil, cumin and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Aim for a minimum daily intake of 30 grams of walnuts - about 14 halves. This amount is about 200 calories. Replacing your usual snacks, particularly unhealthy snacks, with walnuts is a small change you can make to improve your diet.
If you'd like to eat 60 grams of walnuts daily, then you need to substitute them for something else in your diet comprising 400 calories - or add in some exercise.
Mix exercise and walnuts to beat chronic inflammation
Best to add in exercise anyway, as researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine recently found how just one session of moderate exercise can also act as an anti-inflammatory.
Twenty minutes to half-an-hour of moderate exercise, including fast walking, appears to be sufficient.
Walnuts boost your quality of sleep, with a few almonds
As a bonus, while they are repairing your inflammation, walnuts will also help you sleep better!
Walnuts are a good source of tryptophan, a sleep-enhancing amino acid that helps make serotonin and melatonin, the "body clock" hormone that sets your sleep-wake cycles. They also contain magnesium which plays a part in helping you achieve deep and restful sleep.
While you're at it, throw in a few almonds, as they are also rich in magnesium.
Adults who took a magnesium supplement before bed reported being able to fall asleep faster, getting more quality sleep at night, and being able to wake up on time more easily, according to a study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences.
Sleep well, and while you are sleeping your inflammation will be being restored to a healthy level.
*The research quoted was part of the Walnuts and Healthy Aging (WAHA) study – the most extensive and longest trial to date exploring the benefits of daily walnut consumption. The California Walnut Commission (CWC) supported this research.
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