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3 simple ways to eat anti-inflammatory post TBI

How many times have you seen or heard the word “inflammation” come up in brain injury recovery?

10? 20?

2 million ?!?!

And how many times have you seen or heard advice to cut out a bunch of foods in order to “lower inflammation?”

10? 20?

2 TRILLION ?!?!?!?

I’ve stopped being amazed every time I see recommendations to restrict food in the name of anti-inflammatory eating. But I haven’t stopped being frustrated about it.

Woman in White Shirt Showing Frustration

In my over one decade of experience as a dietitian, I know that it’s much better to help you with what TO eat. Focusing on what not to eat often leads to more trouble.

Do you want a clear and simple way to eat more anti-inflammatory WITHOUT cutting out a whole bunch of foods??

If so, read on my fellow TBI friend 🙂 This post is for YOU!!

What’s the deal with inflammation & anti-inflammatory eating in TBI?

I broke down inflammation and the background of anti-inflammatory eating for you in a previous post. You can find that HERE if you want some more of the nitty gritty details.

But as a quick summary:

  • Inflammation isn’t all bad! It’s excess & chronic inflammation that’s the problem.
  • Brain injuries can cause some inflammation in the brain and this likely leads to longer lasting symptoms.
  • Nutrition is one way to help bring down that inflammation.
  • It’s not known whether lowering inflammation through nutrition in TBI will actually lowers symptoms or speed up recovery (this doesn’t mean it’s not possible – it just hasn’t been studied yet).
  • Food isn’t the only thing that contributes to inflammation! Poor sleep & stress are also major contributors.
White Pebbles

Do I need to overhaul my diet to eat anti-inflammatory?

Good news here. The answer is most often NO!

I’ve noticed that some people are motivated by big sweeping changes to their lives and so are more likely to change their diets completely.

However, this doesn’t work for probably 99.9% of people. Instead, I see a vicious cycle ensue that honestly leads to more symptoms and likely worse inflammation.

The restrictive cycle goes like this:

  • Well-meaning people give advice to help with your nutrition.
  • But without a medical nutrition assessment, and without proper guidance from a nutrition professional, the advice becomes overly restrictive.
  • This causes stress because the advice might cut out a lot of your favourite foods or foods that are easily accessible to you.
  • The restrictions might also make it hard for you to eat with friends & family.
  • Plus, when we cut out a bunch of foods, it often signals our body to think we’re in a famine. So, it drives you to crave what you don’t have.
  • This doesn’t do well for your symptoms.
  • The stress might trigger more inflammation.
  • And so, people tell you to “just try harder” or restrict more.
  • And the cycle continues…

If this sounds like you and if you’d like a different approach, then these next 3 tips are for you 🙂

3 simple ways to eat anti-inflammatory WITHOUT cutting out a bunch of foods

Eating anti-inflammatory just means tipping the balance.

A standard north american diet tips more in the favour of inflammation with lower fibre, more refined foods, and less equitable access to fresh whole foods.

Tipping the balance can just mean ADDING more variety of fresh whole foods.

This means you can still have some cake, you can still order pizza on Friday nights, and you can still enjoy a good poutine here in Canada!

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Because it’s all about checks & balances. And these next 3 tips will help get you there with more ease 🙂

Tip #1: Increase your fibre

Most people I meet aren’t getting enough fibre.

On average, adults need about 25 grams of fibre, or more, per day.

The standard american diet tends to be low in fibre. Which is a problem considering just how great fibre foods are for our gut & cardiovascular health.

Getting more fibre in your diet by default gives you more anti-inflammatory power. Because high fibre foods tend to also be high in antioxidants, polyphenols, and support your gut microbiota!

High fibre foods are:

  • Whole grains like oats, whole grain wheat, millet, quinoa
  • Vegetables & fruits of all different colours
  • Nuts & seeds like pumpkin seeds, walnuts, almonds, hemp, chia, and flax seeds
  • Legumes like chickpeas, beans, and lentils
Flat Lay Photography of Three Tray of Foods

Tip #2: Choose some more anti-inflammatory proteins

When people think of protein, they might think meat & animal products. And typically when people talk about meat & animal products, they tend to assume INFLAMMATION!!

However, this is a MYTH!

Animal products by default are NOT all inflammatory. Contrary to popular belief, dairy in research has be shown to be anti-inflammatory (true story! I dug into the research and shared the info with you HERE).

As for red meats, these have typically been viewed as inflammatory. However, cuts of beef are likely anti-inflammatory when they are grass fed vs corn fed.

Whether you choose to eat meat or not, adding some plant-based proteins to your weekly menu is a good move. Once or twice a week in my home we have a tofu or bean-based meal 🙂

And if you can eat fish, then one to two fish meals a week is another great way to tip the balance towards more anti-inflammatory eating.

Meat With Vegetable and Seasonings on Plate

Tip #3: Add some herbs!

This is one of my favourite tips! Because it’s so simple and doesn’t require a lot of extra energy to add to your weekly menu.

Herbs & spices, whether they are added to soups, stews, sauces, salads or sandwiches (the top 5 “s” meals!) are probably some of the most underrated anti-inflammatory allies.

I don’t know if you agree, but the standard north american diet can come across as pretty bland at times… Adding fresh or dried herbs & spices like basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, turmeric, paprika, ginger, cinnamon, and others, can really increase the anti-inflammatory power of your meal.

You can also get your herbs & spices through tea! Green tea, black tea, herbal teas. Or you can make your own golden tea, a milk-based tea that might be made with turmeric, ginger, cardamon, cinnamon, and a bit of pepper!

Spice Bottles on Shelf

So what’s your next step?

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the all the information out there telling you what you “should” or “should not” be eating.

Know that there is not just one diet for every brain. That’s why these “one size fits all” recommendations to cut out a bunch of foods are so misleading.

Start by making the changes that feel right to you. Start by ADDING something fun to your weekly menu like a new colour of fruit, some beans to your soup, or a bit of rosemary to your meal. You can also use this as an excuse to visit your local butcher to find a good quality cut of grass fed meat, if that’s your thing. And why not try adding a relaxing tea time to your day?

Whatever you choose, I hope it serves you and your brain well!

And let me know how it goes! Send me a message and reach out if you find you’re still caught in that vicious restrictive cycle. I’ve helped other TBI survivors like you get eating a variety of foods, giving them some freedom back in their life! Don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like the same 🙂

Best in brain health,

Krystal Merrells

Registered Dietitian

Concussion Warrior


References

Bourke, C. D., Berkley, J. A., & Prendergast, A. J. (2016). Immune Dysfunction as a Cause and Consequence of Malnutrition. Trends in immunology37(6), 386–398. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.it.2016.04.003

Health Canada. Fibre. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/nutrients/fibre.html#shr-pg0

Provenza, F. D., Kronberg, S. L., & Gregorini, P. (2019). Is Grassfed Meat and Dairy Better for Human and Environmental Health?. Frontiers in nutrition6, 26. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2019.00026

Shiu-Ming Kuo, The Interplay Between Fiber and the Intestinal Microbiome in the Inflammatory Response, Advances in Nutrition, Volume 4, Issue 1, January 2013, Pages 16–28, https://doi.org/10.3945/an.112.003046

Swann, O. G., Kilpatrick, M., Breslin, M., & Oddy, W. H. (2020). Dietary fiber and its associations with depression and inflammation. Nutrition reviews78(5), 394–411. https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuz072

2 Comments

    • Krystal Merrells

      Hi Kirsten! Thank you for the question 🙂
      Allergies to nuts & citrus and having to modify for Celiac’s still leaves a lot of foods that can help you eat anti-inflammatory!

      The allergies & celiac can make it difficult to get enough fibre.

      If you’re good with seeds, you can get what nuts might offer through things like pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, or seed butters. Otherwise you can get the healthy fats from olive oil.

      It’s ok to not have citrus and sometimes this allergy only applies to raw citrus (meaning some can have it cooked). There are still many other fruits you might be able to have like cantaloupe or grapes.

      And none of your allergies seem to preclude you from getting foods from points #2 & 3 in the article!

      Hope that helps 🙂

      As you know with Celiac gluten has to be removed from the diet. You can still get great fibre through gluten free whole grains like quinoa, buckwheat, millet, polenta (made with cornmeal).

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