It’s rich in plant-based compounds, fiber, protein and heart-healthy fats—and flavor.
You probably know that short-term inflammation is a natural and important response in your body (think: relieving post-workout soreness, or tamping down a fever when you’re sick). It’s the chronic kind you want to watch out for. Chronic low-grade inflammation is associated with excess weight and can also increase your risk of diseases like metabolic syndrome, heart disease and diabetes, per an article published in Nature Medicine.
Losing weight can lower inflammation, but as you also probably know, weight loss is complicated—and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. That’s where following an eating pattern that includes key nutrients, along with trimming calories and eating fewer pro-inflammatory foods, can not only help keep you full and satisfied, but may also reduce inflammation and help you drop excess pounds.
And in our opinion, there is no better place to start than lunch. Finding a satisfying midday meal for weight loss when you have chronic inflammation is easy when you know what types of foods to include.
Read on for a dietitian-approved lunch aimed at targeting chronic inflammation and promoting weight loss. This one is rich in plant-based compounds, fiber, protein and heart-healthy fats—and it’s chock-full of flavor.
The Best Lunch for Weight Loss When You Have Chronic Inflammation
When you’re trying to lose weight it’s important to choose a lunch that is nutritious, but also easy to prepare, filling, convenient and delicious. Incorporating various nonstarchy vegetables, healthy fats and lean protein can help reduce inflammation and help you reach your weight-loss goals.
We picked the Chickpea Tuna Salad as our favorite make-ahead lunch for weight loss when you have chronic inflammation. It’s packed with filling fiber, healthy fat and protein and isn’t too high in carbohydrates. It also contains phytonutrients. Read on for more on the importance of all these nutrients.
The ingredients in this recipe are easily swappable, too. For example, you can swap spinach for kale or mixed greens, tomatoes for red peppers, canned tuna for sardines or canned salmon, feta cheese for walnuts, pecans, pistachios or pumpkin seeds. You can also easily bulk up this salad into a complete dinner by adding a serving of starchy vegetables, like roasted sweet potatoes, or a serving of a whole grain, like quinoa or wild rice.
Here’s a look at some of the key nutrients this lunch offers.
What to Look for in a Weight-Loss Lunch When You Have Chronic Inflammation
Nonstarchy vegetables, particularly deep-colored ones, are rich in plant-based compounds and antioxidants. They provide a larger volume of food for less calories. Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and chard are rich in lutein and beta carotene, which are potent antioxidants. As an added bonus, eating more plants, including nonstarchy vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds, is a strategy encouraged for weight loss, according to the World Health Organization.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The National Institutes of Health highlights the importance of omega-3 fatty acids, noting that these essential polyunsaturated fats have been studied for their role in reducing inflammation, supporting heart and brain health, and playing an integral role in vision and nervous system function. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in plant-based foods like walnuts and flaxseed and in fish like salmon, sardines and tuna.
Chronic inflammation can cause insulin resistance, which reduces your body’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates efficiently. When we eat foods containing carbohydrates, they are broken down into the simple sugar glucose, which prompts release of insulin (a hormone produced by the pancreas). One of insulin’s many jobs is to bring glucose from the blood to the cells to use for energy. Insulin resistance occurs when the cells are inefficient at accepting glucose and instead glucose remains in the bloodstream.This causes the pancreas to produce more insulin, and over time it can become sluggish and stop working as efficiently. Insulin resistance is a precursor to type 2 diabetes.
High-fiber carbohydrates are digested more slowly and thus put less stress on the pancreas. They also increase feelings of fullness, which can reduce overall food intake and increase the chances of weight loss.
One serving of this salad provides roughly 6 grams of fiber or 21% of your daily needs. Chickpeas contain a prebiotic fiber known as resistant starch. When resistant starch is broken down and fermented in the body, it produces higher levels of butyrate, which can suppress inflammation, according to research published in Nutrients.
In addition, high-fiber diets can contribute to weight loss by increasing satiety and reducing overall calorie intake. A 2019 randomized trial in the The Journal of Nutrition examined the effects of calorie-restricted diets with four different macronutrient compositions on weight loss in adults who were overweight or obese. Researchers found that the participants who adhered to a higher-fiber diet (averaging 25.2 grams of fiber per day) lost more weight than those who ate less fiber (21.1 g a day on average).
Herbs like the ones in our Chickpea Tuna Salad provide flavor without added sodium or fat. They are also a potent source of antioxidants and bioactive compounds. When herbs are used as a replacement for flavor-enhancers that are higher in calories, they can add robust flavor that helps you eat less.
Protein is an essential nutrient that can aid weight loss by keeping you full for longer. It also regulates appetite hormones, like ghrelin, and preserves lean muscle mass, per research published in Physiology & Behavior. Protein is especially important in preserving lean muscle mass when you’re following a calorie-restricted diet, according to a study published in Advances in Nutrition. The 21 grams of protein in this salad are provided by the tuna (which is also rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids), chickpeas and feta cheese.
A key player in the Mediterranean diet, extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) has a stellar nutrition profile and is the base of this salad dressing. EVOO is rich in plant-based phenolic compounds that are known to possess anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
In a randomized double-blind crossover clinical trial published in Clinical Nutrition, researchers examined the role of using EVOO versus regular olive oil (OO) in cooking and raw food for one month in males and females with obesity and prediabetes. They found that the group who used the EVOO experienced reduced inflammation. The EVOO group also saw a significant decrease in weight, a result not seen in the OO group.
Other Ways to Manage Chronic Inflammation
In addition to eating a nutritious diet, there are other ways to manage chronic inflammation and weight loss.
Get Consistent Sleep
The quantity, quality and consistency of your sleep may influence markers of inflammation. According to a study published in Frontiers in Neurology, inconsistent sleep can increase markers of inflammation, including C-reactive protein, interleukin-6 and fibrinogen. If possible, aim to go to bed and rise around the same time each day and shoot for an average of seven or more hours per night, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Drinking enough water can help reduce inflammation by helping flush out toxins and contributing to the production of synovial fluid, which prevents joint friction. The amount of water you should drink depends on your age, activity level and overall diet. Most men should drink about 125 ounces daily (from water and beverages) and women about 91 ounces.
Move Your Body Daily
Regular activity is important for reducing inflammation, improving energy, boosting mood and facilitating weight loss. The CDC highlights the importance of exercise for maintaining weight loss, too. Aim to get about 150 minutes per week, but depending on your goals you may need more. Find an activity you love and get moving. If you enjoy what you’re doing, you’re more likely to be consistent.
Mindfulness activities like meditation, journaling, deep breathing or simply being still can help reduce stress and, as a result, reduce inflammation. In addition, mindfulness practices like meditation may help facilitate weight loss. In a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials published in Obesity Reviews, researchers found that mindfulness-based interventions are effective at reducing weight and improving obesity-related eating behaviors among individuals with overweight and obesity.
The Bottom Line
Weight loss is complicated, but when you know which nutrients to prioritize and how to do so, it makes it a little easier. Finding a lunch that is satisfying and meets your nutrition goals is possible with this Chickpea Tuna Salad. Feel free to prepare it in advance and make your own substitutions. Consuming colorful vegetables, fibrous carbohydrates, healthy fats and high-quality protein will make you feel full and satisfied, while also reducing inflammation and facilitating weight loss.