Diet and Inflammation
There is a powerful relationship we are finding out between our diet and inflammation. I want to focus on some of what we know about the food we eat which can promote or reduce inflammation in the body especially as it pertains to the heart. Understanding the connection is crucial for our overall health and well-being.
Inflammation is a natural immune response that helps the body heal from injuries and fight off infection. So inflammation in that respect is good for us especially when it is limited to a brief period. However, when inflammation becomes chronic or persists over long periods it can contribute to various problems like heart and stroke disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes which is not good for us.
Research has shown that dietary choices can significantly influence the levels of inflammation in our bodies. Certain foods, such as processed foods, sugary beverages, sweets, and those high in unhealthy fats, can promote inflammation. On the other hand, a diet rich in whole, nutrient dense foods can reduce inflammation and support overall health especially when it comes to our vascular health. With this in mind let’s delve into the foods that are inflammatory (not so good for us) and the foods that are anti-inflammatory (good for us).
- Processed Foods. Highly processed foods often contain unhealthy saturated fat, added sugars and artificial ingredients, all of which can contribute to inflammation. Limit your intake of packaged snacks, fast food and pre-packaged meals.
- Added sugars: Sugary foods and beverages can spike blood sugar levels. High sugar levels promote weight gain and insulin resistance both of which cause inflammation. Be mindful of your consumption of sugary juices, sodas, sweets, pastries and sugary cereals.
- Trans and Saturated Fats: Unhealthy fats are found in many fried foods, buttery baked goods and margarines. These fats are considered trans and saturated fats and high consumption is associated with many chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes and stroke disease.
- Excessive Alcohol: The key is the amount. Moderate consumption of alcohol by limiting it to one or two drinks a day may have some health benefits, but excessive alcohol intake damages the liver and can promote inflammation by interfering with the liver’s primary role as a filter and detoxifier of your body.
- High Sodium: Although a low sodium diet for healthy people is not necessary, avoiding excess sodium by limiting the amount of processed meats, canned soups, and fast foods, can help reduce your risk of high blood pressure and its inflammatory effects on the blood vessels.
Foods for Staying Healthy
- Fruits and Vegetables. Aim to consume a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables especially the dark green ones that are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals that reduce inflammation and help the immune system. Berries, leafy greens, tomatoes and cruciferous vegetables like brussel sprouts and broccoli are particularly beneficial for one’s health.
- Fatty Fish: Cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and trout are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have potent anti-inflammatory effects. Aim to include fish in your diet at least twice a week just don’t fry it.
- Whole Grains: Opt for whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, oats and whole wheat instead of refined grains like white bread, white rice and white flour. The whole grains provide fiber and other nutrients that help reduce inflammation and lower cholesterol.
- Healthy Fats: Incorporate healthy fats such as olive oils, avocados, nuts and seeds into your meals. The oils high in monounsaturated fats contain beneficial compounds that reduce the level of inflammatory molecules in the circulation.
- Nuts and Seeds: Nuts and seeds are nutrient-dense foods that provide a wealth of beneficial nutrients in a small package. They are rich in anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fats and antioxidants. Research shows that consuming nuts rich in omega-3 fatty acids can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and reduce the risk of blood clots.
- Legumes: Beans, lentils and chickpeas are wonderful sources of fiber and protein and are low in fat. They are an excellent addition to any diet and can add some extra protein to any dish or meal.
- Herbs and Spices: Turmeric, ginger, garlic, cinnamon and cayenne pepper are known seasonings that have potent anti-inflammatory properties. Use them to add flavor and a little extra health benefit to your meals. Supplements have not shown to have the same effects so working them into your diet is the way to go!
Bottom Line: Although we don’t know everything about how the foods we eat interact with our body and supporting microbiome, we do know the diet plays a powerful role in your overall health and it is the fuel all our systems run on. If you want a well oiled machine that does not have a lot of friction and disease causing inflammation there are a few basics to follow: Go with whole foods, choose proteins from plant-based sources or that swim, eliminate the added sugars and salt, use healthy oils to cook with, go spicy and regularly consume nuts and beans.