Chronic Inflammation and the Role of Diet
Inflammation is a normal process in the body. It is what helps us heal, but chronic or long-term inflammation can cause problems. There’s an old saying: “You are what you eat”. This doesn’t mean if you eat a ton of carrots you will look like a carrot. However, there is truth to this statement. What you eat determines the nutrients you are giving your body. These nutrients are used as building blocks and fuel for your body. Many people find that how they feel is affected by what they eat.
Inflammation and Your Body
Acute inflammation is short-lived and is a protective response. When the body recognizes something as foreign it activates the inflammatory system to respond. Intermittent bouts of inflammation are what helps protect our health. However, problems arise with chronic or long-term inflammation. Chronic inflammation causes long-term activation and a widespread response throughout the body. This may cause damage to healthy tissues in the body. Chronic inflammation is linked to many diseases. It can be triggered by various genetic and lifestyle factors including diet, stress, lack of exercise and exposure to environmental toxins like second-hand smoke. Your diet does not have to contribute to inflammation. Certain foods have anti-inflammatory properties by triggering inflammation reducing hormones. Other foods can trigger the release of pro-inflammatory hormones.
Processed foods can trigger increased inflammation. These include products containing saturated fats or trans fats. Not all fat is bad and may depend on the ratio you eat. For example, your body requires Omega-6 fats which are pro-inflammatory. Omega-6 fats must, however, be in proper ratios with Omega-3 fats. Sugars and corn sweeteners also tend to increase inflammation levels in the body due to an increase in blood sugar. Avoid foods that are high in artificial sugars. Likewise, refined carbohydrates such as those found in white bread and pasta can have a pro-inflammatory effect. Some examples of foods that may increase your level of inflammation include candy, white bread, bagels, cereals, fast food, and soda.
Anti-inflammatory foods tend to be more products of nature and foods in their natural forms as well as tend to be high in Omega-3s, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E. Omega-3s are positive fatty acids that help to decrease markers of inflammation in the body and the cellular byproducts creating inflammation. They tend to be foods that are high in fiber or antioxidants. Look for foods containing high amounts of fiber such as whole grains, foods with antioxidants, or foods like peppers or carrots that contain carotenoids which reduce inflammatory markers in the body. An anti-inflammatory diet may help reduce the number of pain flare-ups you experience with certain arthritic conditions.
Examples of anti-inflammatory foods:
- Beans, because they are high in fiber and antioxidants
- Herbs and Spices including turmeric and garlic
- Flax seeds, walnuts, salmon, herring, trout, or tuna because they are all great sources of Omega 3s. Fish is a great source of Omega 3 fatty acids and should be consumed in 3-4 oz servings twice per week.
- Fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants which help support the immune system. Include things such as tomatoes, carrots, peppers, green leafy vegetables including spinach and kale, blackberries, acai, blueberries, cherries, and strawberries.
- Nuts or seeds because they include monounsaturated fats, protein, and fiber. Recommendation: 1 handful per day about 1.5 oz. Examples: walnuts, pistachios, and almonds
- Olive Oil because it contains monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, oleocanthal which has benefits in lowering inflammation and pain. Use Olive Oil as a salad dressing, for cooking, or in dishes. Choose an extra virgin variety as these are less refined and processed keeping more of the natural nutrients.
- Onions, because they have high levels of antioxidants.
Diet can play a strong role in the level of inflammation in your body. Some foods increase inflammation and other foods work to reduce inflammation. Pay attention to how you feel when you eat certain foods. If there is a day where you feel more aches and pains, consider what you ate. An anti-inflammatory diet can be helpful in reducing the effects of inflammation, especially in individuals with certain forms of arthritis.