Life in the twenty-first century is full – there are so many demands on our time that we often find we have very little time for ourselves. One result of that is that we tend to be so busy reacting to problems as they happen (‘putting out fires’) that we have no time to take proactive measures to prevent them from happening at all. In terms of our own health, that often means waiting until things get very bad before we decide that we need to make some serious changes.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is part of the body’s natural defense system against infection, irritation, toxins, and other foreign materials. But sometimes, if the natural balance of the immune system is disrupted, it can shift into a state of chronic inflammation.
Without inflammation, wounds and infections would never heal. Prolonged inflammation, however, is characterized by the simultaneous healing and destruction of the tissue from the inflammatory process. It has been linked to a wide range of disorders, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease
What causes it?
There are many potential triggers of chronic inflammation, including an unbalanced diet, too much stress, lack of exercise, oxidation, thyroid problems, or liver issues. Diets high in saturated fats can increase levels of inflammation, as can eating too many processed foods, and even just consuming too many calories. Eating foods with high glycemic loads has been shown to result in a significant increase in inflammation.
Certain foods are particularly problematic for some people, including: food allergens (wheat, dairy, eggs, corn, soy, and peanuts) and gluten (found in wheat, rye, barley, oats, and some other grains).
What can I do to reduce inflammation?
Your body creates both inflammatory and anti-inflammatory chemicals, called “prostaglandins” from nutrients in the food that you eat. Imbalances in your diet can lead to the creation of excessive amounts of inflammatory prostaglandins, which fuel your body’s inflammatory response. Conversely, the consumption of certain nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acids, allows your body to produce more anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, which it uses to reduce inflammation.
What that means is: eat less inflammatory foods, and eat more anti-inflammatory ones. Things to look for are:
High Fiber: a high-fiber diet will reduce inflammation. Whole grains are one easy way to increase the fiber content of your diet.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: One good way to reduce inflammation is to eat more Omega-3 fats. These fats are found in fish-oil, so you can consume more Omega-3 by eating fish like salmon, sardines, and halibut. Other foods that are extremely high in Omega-3 fatty acids are: flax seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, soy beans, and many dark leafy greens.
Phytonutrients: Flavonols are natural antioxidants and are anti-inflammatory; they can be found in fruits and vegetables such as berries, grapes, tea, and cocoa. Polyphenols are found in dark chocolate (look for at least 70% cocoa content). Isothiocynanates are found in broccoli, cabbage and kale. Lycopene is found in grapefuit, red peppers, and tomatoes (canned tomatoes are particularly high). Grapes, blueberries, and strawberries are high in anthocyanins. Spinach, collard greens, and avocados are high in lutein.
If you’re interested in one thing you can add to your diet that has most of these, and is highly anti-inflammatory, see my article on Green Smoothies.
If you’d like to read more about the links between chronic inflammation and obesity, consider reading UltraMetabolism.