Say nay—and yea—to fats. Trans fats and saturated fats contribute to chronic low-grade inflammation in the body. Studies have shown, however, that another kind of fat reduces inflammation: omega-3 fatty acids, which are members of the polyunsaturated fat family.
- Avoid large quantities of butter and margarine, whole milk dairy products, fatty cuts of meat, fast food and junk food like cakes, cookies, candies, crackers and chips.
Eat cold water fatty fish (such as wild salmon, albacore tuna, halibut, shellfish, sardines, herring and mackerel), canola, cold-pressed high oleic safflower or sunflower oil, flaxseed and walnut oils, walnuts, soy and green leafy veggies.
Go natural. Fare that is highly processed or loaded with refined sugar will leave you feeling sluggish and swollen. Choose foods that are as close to their natural form as possible and step up your intake of fruits and veggies that are the colors of the rainbow. These two practices will also improve your intake of the anti-inflammatory compounds known as antioxidants and phytochemicals.
- Avoid large quantities of soda, sugar-packed juice drinks, cakes, cookies, candy and sugary cereals.
- Eat whole grains, soy, tomatoes, broccoli, sweet potatoes, beans, peas, lentils, garlic, citrus fruits, cherries, blueberries, pineapples and flax seeds.
Power up with protein. This nutrient is essential for building, maintaining and repairing virtually all the cells in the body, but especially those in your muscles. If your diet is low in protein, your risk of inflammation will swell, along with your susceptibility to injury and sickness. Aim to eat one serving of protein (one egg, 1⁄2 cup of tofu, or meat that is the size of a deck of cards) with all meals and snacks.
- Eat lean red meat, poultry, seafood, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, and soy foods like milk, cheese, yogurt and burgers.
Stay hydrated. Toxins created in your body during physical activity fuel the fires of inflammation unless you consume enough fluid to flush them out. Drink enough so that you visit the restroom every 2 to 3 hours and your urine appears clear or pale yellow.
- Avoid drinking multiple cups of coffee every day. Try replacing one cup of coffee with green tea. Let it steep for 3 to 5 minutes to maximize its antioxidants.
- Drink water, flavored seltzers, herbal teas; caffeinated beverages such as diet soda and other reduced-calorie drinks also count toward the goal of 68 to 96 ounces of fluid daily.
Cut back on pills. Do you make a habit of reaching for Advil or another pain relieving medication at every muscle or joint ache? If so, you’re well aware of the powerful punch these pills place on the pain and inflammation commonly experienced by dancers and athletes—but pain relievers have a dark side. Short- and long-term side effects can include dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, stomach irritation, ulcers and even kidney ailments. Furthermore, pain meds trick your body into thinking it’s ready to hit the dance floor, when a little rest and relaxation may be what you really need in order to heal.
Take supplements for joints. Cartilage prevents bone-to-bone contact and helps absorb shock; excessive wear and tear can cause joint pain and inflammation. Two essentials for cartilage health are glucosamine, which forms a structural basis for cartilage, and chrondroitin sulfate, which is a component of protein that gives cartilage its flexibility and durability. A recent review concluded that taking these in supplement form can relieve pain and improve mobility. The recommended dosage is 1,500 mg of glucosamine and 1,200 mg of chrondroitin daily for 2 to 4 months. Avoid taking these supplements if you have diabetes or a shellfish allergy; discontinue if you experience bloating or diarrhea when actively using either supplement.
Karlyn Grimes, a registered dietician, holds a dual master’s degree in nutrition and exercise physiology from Boston University and is a faculty member in the Nutrition and Biology departments at Simmons College in Boston.