We all know the story: busy days with full family schedules can lead to grabbing the fastest thing for dinner. Unfortunately, that may be the worst thing you can do for your health. Creating a plan for easy, healthy dinner ideas will not only help you manage your evening, but your health, too!
What is Inflammation?
If you’ve ever sprained an ankle, stubbed a toe, or had a paper cut, you’ve experienced inflammation. When the body experiences anything from injury, bacteria, or a virus, it reacts by sending more white blood cells to help repair and restore health. This vital part of our immune system takes care of the problem. Sometimes we feel this as swelling, redness, fever, or tenderness. Inflammation in response to an injury can protect your body. Your body sends blood to the site of injury, creating swelling that protects from further injury. Acute inflammation quickly goes away with healing.
Chronic inflammation typically occurs on the inside of the body when there is long term illness or disease. The immune system is working overtime and continues to react. Many diseases are linked to chronic inflammation, like asthma, heart disease, cancers, chronic pain, diabetes, and more. Chronic inflammation, however, has a much different effect on your body. With chronic inflammation, the body continues to react as if there is an injury present. When the body is taxed for one reason or another, cells send distress signals (and inflammatory response) until the cause is removed. If the cause is not removed (i.e., injury healed) then cells continue to alert the immune system that there is trouble.¹
Food is one way we can support the body. Some foods help reduce inflammation, others can increase it and make symptoms worse. When we continue to feed the body food that increases inflammation, we are causing more damage over time. The good news is that inflammation and its damage is largely reversible with some simple changes.¹
How Do Foods Support a Non-Inflammatory Lifestyle?
Healthy, nourishing foods are filled with nutrients needed for the body to sustain life and health. Some of these nutrients also reduce inflammation. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, polyphenols, and fiber are beneficial when trying to reduce inflammation.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats stop inflammatory compounds from forming. They also reduce existing inflammation in the body.²
- Polyphenols: Polyphenols are a protective plant compound. Berries, dark chocolate, herbs, and spices are rich in polyphenols. This compound is linked to reduced inflammation in the body. Anthocyanins (a type of polyphenol found in berries) prevent inflammatory compounds from forming.²
- Fiber: Fiber is one of the most beneficial nutrients for fueling your body. It helps lower inflammatory protein levels in the body. Additionally, fiber feeds good bacteria in the gut microbiome. This bacterial fermentation produces substances that reduce body-wide inflammation. Fruits, vegetables, beans, and lentils are good sources of fiber.²
You’ll notice what is not on this list: soda, doughnuts, alcohol, chips, and hot dogs. It’s also possible to make inflammation worse when we eat processed, sugar laden foods. These foods don’t contain much in the way of nutrition and tend to cause an inflammatory response.
For some people, even the healthiest foods can cause inflammation. Allergies also trigger an immune response. Always remember to avoid them when you are putting together your grocery lists and menu! Remember to use organic, high quality foods. Conventionally farmed foods and conventional meats can also cause inflammation.
With today’s busy lifestyle, it takes a conscious effort to make healthy choices. Here are a few tricks to help ensure good food choices:
- Make a menu: Before you go to the grocery store, make a menu of the dishes you’ll want to make for the week. Not only will this help with wise food choices, we’ve found it saves time and money. And you’ll have a quick answer for the question, “What’s for dinner?” When you don’t have to put extra thought into what you’ll have for dinner, you’ll most likely make better choices.
- Shop from a list: Once you have a menu ready, use it to make a shopping list. Don’t go to the store without a list! This will also help cut down on impulse buys. Be sure to add snacks like nuts and a variety of fruits and vegetables.
- Meal prep: Whether you dedicate one day a week, a day a month, or prep every couple of days, you’ll find putting meals together is a lot simpler if you have the components ready to go. When you’ve put this work in ahead of time, it will make it harder to go through a drive through for the poor nutrition choices. This will also help when you are preparing foods for a family with multiple allergies.
Here’s an easy, healthy dinner idea to help you get started and support your non-inflammatory lifestyle!