How an Anti-Inflammatory Diet Can Improve Your Performance, Help with Recovery, Prevent Injury and Prevent Chronic Disease

by Theresa DeLorenzo, RD

Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for neurologic health and our immune system.  However, as a nation, we consume exponentially more omega-6 fatty acids than we should.  The ideal ratio of omega-6: omega-3 fats is 7:1.  Unfortunately, in the US the actual consumption of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is 20:1.  The risk of this ratio being so vastly different than what it should is that it leads to a constant state of inflammation in our bodies.  Inflammation leads to poor recovery, injury, weight gain and long term health complications such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes and cancer to name a few.

Sources of the pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats include fried and processed foods.  Anything made with safflower oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, and sesame oil are high in omega-6 fats. Some examples of foods that often contain these oils are french fries, crackers, baked goods, and chips.  It is important to know that gluten free foods often contain high amounts of omega-6 fats.  When the gluten is removed, the flavor is often replaced with these pro- inflammatory oils.  If you are on a gluten free diet due to celiac disease, try to include naturally gluten free foods such as fruits, vegetables, and brown rice.  Gluten free foods are also not FDA regulated so they are not fortified with iron, niacin, riboflavin and folic acid like the rest of our grains are to meet our nation’s nutrient requirements.  Be sure to include alternative sources of these nutrients if you follow a gluten free diet.  If you follow a gluten free diet, note that there is limited sound evidence to support this method as a weight loss tool and due to the aforementioned reasons, can cause more harm than good. 

To improve your recovery, and to prevent injury, weight gain and long term health consequences, increase your intake of omega- 3 rich foods.  Examples of foods that contain omega- 3 fat and its pre- cursors, alpha- linolenic acid, include ground flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, avocados, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, fish (especially fatty fish such as salmon), soy, olive oil and omega-3 enriched eggs. 

Vitamin D is another important anti- inflammatory nutrient. Unfortunately, anyone who lives above 40 degrees latitude (Boston and above) is at extremely high risk for vitamin D deficiency.  Between the months of October to March, it is almost impossible to synthesize any vitamin D, even if you were outside naked!  Individuals over 70 have decreased ability to synthesize vitamin D from the sun.  We spend a lot of time inside which increases our risk of vitamin D and when we are outside, sunscreen is typically used.  Sun screen with a SPF of 8 or more, blocks 100% of vitamin D synthesis.  Dark skinned individuals need twice as much time in the sun to synthesize vitamin D than light skinned people.  People who are obese sequester vitamin D into their fat stores making it unavailable for our body to utilize.  Foods to include in your diet to improve your vitamin D status include, shiitake mushrooms, eggs, milk, soy milk, cheese and yogurt. 

In addition to omega- 3 fats and vitamin D, mushrooms are also considered anti- inflammatory.  They can be added to salads, meatballs, stir-fries, omelets, and pizza.

Recovery Salmon Patties with Dill

15 ounces canned salmon (or 1 lb. leftover cooked salmon)
1/4 cup diced onion
4 diced shiitake or other mushroom
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 tbsp flax seeds
1 tbsp hemp seeds
1 omega- 3 enriched egg
Oregano, dill, garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste

For the sauce

1/2 cup unflavored Greek yogurt
1 tbsp. dried dill
1 tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix together the ingredients for the sauce and refrigerate until salmon patties are ready to serve.  Mix all of the salmon patty ingredients well and form into patties. Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a pan.  Cook both sides until browned.  Top with Dill sauce and sliced avocado.

By Dr. Theresa DeLorenzo, RD

Contact for a  sports nutrition consult


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