Inflammation is a serious health problem you can't even feel, but it does tremendous damage, especially over a long period of time.
Scientists say inflammation could be behind heart disease, arthritis, cancer, ADD/ADHD, diabetes, stroke, migraines, thyroid issues, dental issues, and more.
Although inflammation is caused by toxins like cigarette smoke and environmental pollutants, the biggest factor is an inflammatory diet. Many of the foods we eat cause inflammation and simply avoiding them can lead to immediate and dramatic improvements.
Then on top of avoiding the bad foods, adding anti-inflammatory foods to your diet creates and even healthier you. Many people who follow an anti-inflammatory diet also lose weight.
A Picture of Health
Mark Sisson is a leading expert on an anti-inflammatory diet. At age 60 he is the picture of health: He has the body of a man half his age, inside and out. He does not suffer from any diseases or chronic conditions and doesn't take any medications.
But he hasn't always been this healthy. His anti-inflammatory diet changed everything.
"Most of what ails people today could be, if not cured, substantially mitigated with a few lifestyle corrections, first and foremost being diet," he said.
Sisson follows the Paleo Diet. (Get Diet Plan and Recipes.) Last year the Paleo Diet was the number one searched diet on the Internet and Sisson's is the top Paleo Diet website.
He's been studying nutrition research for the last 25 years and writes about his findings on Mark's Daily Apple.
Sisson said the readers who follow the Paleo Diet are very happy with it.
"We've got hundreds of thousands of user experiences on my site, Mark's Daily Apple," he said. "Of people who've embraced this program who've said, 'Not only did I lose the weight but my blood work improved and my energy levels improved.'"
The Paleo Diet is about avoiding foods that cause inflammation. That means no sugar, no wheat, no trans fats or industrialized Omega-6 fats, and very little or no dairy.
"When you get rid of all the bad guys you decrease inflammation and you improve your body's ability to burn fat," Sisson said.
Sugar weakens your immune system and causes insulin problems. Wheat treats your body much the same way.
In fact, many people who follow the Paleo Diet stop eating all grains, such as rice, corn and oats, in addition to wheat. Sisson didn't even know wheat was causing him problems until he stopped eating it.
"My IBS [Irritable Bowel Syndrome] went away, my arthritis went away, the lingering sinus issues went away. The heartburn that I used to have infrequently but enough to be carrying Pepcid AC in my wallet, that went away," he said.
Highly inflammatory trans fats and industrialized Omega-6 fats are Paleo no-nos.
Trans fats are man-made oils that have been hydrogenated, meaning they have been infused with hydrogen for the primary purpose of prolonging the shelf-life of a processed food. Therefore, most trans fats are in packaged foods.
You can recognize whether a product contains a trans fat by looking at the list of ingredients. If you see the word "hydrogenated," it's in there. Vegetable shortening and margarine are also trans fats.
Starting with Omegas
Industrialized Omega-6 fats are also highly inflammatory. Theoretically they could be considered safe if consumed in equal amounts as Omega-3 fats, such as fish oil.
But the average American consumes 20 times the amount of Omega-6 fats as Omega-3 fats, and this imbalance causes inflammation.
Industrialized Omega-6 fats are the vegetable and seed oils. These oils are on many grocery store shelves in the form of vegetable oil, corn oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and soybean oil.
The Paleo Diet advises followers to steer clear from these oils as well as canola oil.
"And we eliminate these industrial oils," Mark explained. "What we call the vegetable oils, we thought two decades ago were so healthy for us. Turns out they're very unhealthy for us."
The Paleo Diet also eschews dairy that can cause inflammation, allergic reactions, and stomach problems.
What Can I Eat?
People considering the Paleo Diet may wonder, after giving up sugar, grains, trans fats, industrialized Omega-6 fats and dairy, what's left to eat? As it turns out, a lot! (Meal ideas from the Paleo Diet Cookbook.)
"Certainly use plants, vegetables as the main basis of the Paleo eating strategy," Mark explained. "And then great sources of protein: so meat, fish, fowl, eggs, and so on, and then healthy fats."
Healthy fats include things like avocadoes, nuts and seeds, olive oil, fish oil, and coconut oil.
Coconut oil is one of many saturated fats that the Paleo Diet encourages. Saturated fat from beef and pork are also encouraged.
The endorsement of saturated fat is controversial. Some health professionals believe saturated fat leads to heart disease and should not be consumed.
However, many recent studies, which are very reliable in that they are large and exhaustive, find no evidence that eating saturated fat is bad for your heart.
Nevertheless, much of the medical community still relies on industry standards from the past that condemn the consumption of saturated fat, though the number of people holding to that belief is reducing every year.
"Some doctors have a real, still, have a real issue with saturated fat because they're relying on 20-year-old studies that were faulty to begin with," Sisson explained. "And they haven't stayed current with dietary research. But there are thousands of doctors who have completely shifted and are embracing this concept."
That includes Dr. Eric Westman, who heads the Duke Lifestyle Medicine Clinic, who like many physicians, formerly believed saturated fat caused heart disease, but changed his mind.
"In fact, saturated fat, the fat that we've been taught not to eat, raises your good cholesterol best of all the foods you can eat," he explained.
Of course, any diet is best when combined with exercise. Sisson combines the Paleo Diet with what he says research proves is the best exercise: a three-fold plan of slow, steady movement, occasionally lifting weight, and a series of all-out sprints.
Most of us know a sedentary lifestyle is hazardous to our health. But that doesn't mean we have to overdo it in the opposite direction by killing ourselves at the gym.
Sisson said his research shows simple movement, such as walking, and very slow movement at that, not even breaking a sweat, is what's best for our health.
But the key is to do it a lot. For those of us who have desk jobs, this can be a challenge.
Sisson points out that walking before and after work, and taking several walking breaks throughout the day can make a huge difference.
Better yet, work at a treadmill desk, which are available for several different prices, or you can even make your own!
Sisson also recommends lifting some weight about twice a week. This does not mean you must purchase a gym membership and lift dumbbells twice a week.
In fact, he uses his own body weight as resistance, and so can you, by doing push-ups, lunges, sit-ups, pull-ups, and so on, and just by lifting heavy objects in your daily life.
"The tension of the muscle on the bone, it creates bone density, and we want to have strong bones as we get older," he pointed out.
Sisson said the latest research in sports medicine proves the value of sprinting. Sprints are short bursts of aerobic activity, such as running, biking and swimming, where you exert 100 percent of your total energy.
Sprints typically last only 30 seconds or so. Sisson said only a few sprints once a week will yield results.
"That little burst of activity can have dramatic effects on all aspects of your health. And for people who've been trying to lose weight, for instance, and are plateaued or stalled, that sprint workout can be the break-through," he explained.
Get Your Sleep!
In addition to a good diet and exercise plan, a healthy lifestyle relies on proper sleep. Your body repairs itself when you sleep.
Without enough sleep, our immune system suffers and we increase the secretion of hormones that make us hungry.
"A lot of people will get the diet right," Sisson said. "But because they're too tempted by the nighttime activities, and they don't get enough sleep, they wonder why they're not losing that last 15 or 20 pounds. It may be because you're not getting enough sleep."
If you have trouble getting to sleep at night, go without any caffeine after noon and avoid all electronics at least one hour before bedtime.
So for an anti-inflammatory diet, try the Paleo eating plan. It's known for what it's missing: sugar, grains, trans fats, industrialized Omega-6 fats and dairy.
That way you'll be left eating foods that keep you thin and healthy.