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NBC5 Chicago: What You Eat, How You Prepare It, Can Help Fight Inflammation, Nutritionist Says

Updated: May 12, 2023

We continue our Food for Thought series with foods to help fight inflammation, including how to best prepare them

By Lauren Petty Published February 16, 2023 Updated on February 16, 2023 at 5:59 pm

Instead of reaching for something in your medicine cabinet to fight inflammation, more health experts are advising patients to reach into their refrigerators.

While inflammation is a normal immune system reaction to help our bodies heal, Dr. Melissa Prest, a registered dietitian and nutritionist, said too much inflammation can cause problems.

“If it's prolonged, it can cause serious health conditions like chronic kidney disease, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer - and a component of inflammation can also come from our diet,” Prest said.

Several studies have looked at the types of food people eat, including those who eat red or highly processed meats, refined carbohydrates and sugar-sweetened beverages.

“They had increases in C-reactive protein, which is a marker of inflammation in the blood, versus individuals who ate more plant foods, fruits, vegetables, whole grains,” Prest said.

NBC 5’s Lauren Petty asked Prest for help identifying our best anti-inflammatory options.

She recommends the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on dark green leafy greens, bright-colored vegetables and fruit and whole grains, including oats, bulgur and brown rice.

For protein sources, she recommends non-meat options.

“We have red lentils and we have kidney beans and these are just some examples of protein options along with tofu,” Prest said.

Low-fat dairy is also recommended, but Prest says you should read nutrition labels carefully.

“It’s always important to look at the yogurt that you’re getting and see how much sugar is in it. Flavored yogurts tend to have a lot more sugar,” Prest said.

And they may be small, but chia, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, as well as nuts, including almonds, can be powerful.

"We know that nuts and seeds are healthy fats and so these would be great things to include,” Prest said.

It’s not just what we eat, but how we prepare our food that also matters.

Prest says most people don’t know about advanced glycation end products. The lower the AGEs, the better, and cooking on high heat raises AGEs.

“Think of things that are more of like a moist heat method, so braising, stewing,” Prest recommends. “Poaching for chicken is another example or a slow cooker. Or just if you're cooking it on the stove or stovetop, lower temperatures for a longer time.”

Nadia Payne, 45, from Oak Park weighed 325 pounds at her heaviest, but has worked hard to lose weight.

“I’ve lost a total of 120 pounds. And I feel wonderful about the weight loss,” Payne said.

In addition to losing weight, she’s improved her kidney disease. She was first diagnosed seven years ago with stage three kidney disease.

“On Nov. 9, 2022, I improved to stage two kidney disease, which is actually unheard of because normally it progresses to stage four or renal disease,” Payne said.

This month, she’s also celebrating one year off insulin and 10 months without any blood pressure medication.

“I improved my illness by following the Weight Watchers program,” Payne said.

By tracking what she eats and how much, plus cooking more at home, Payne has kept the weight off and the inflammation away.

“Not only is it less expensive than eating out all the time, but it's more important for you to control what you are putting into your body,” Payne said.

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