Many of the major diseases prevalent today appear to have something in common:
Acute inflammation, a normal bodily response to harmful stimuli such as pathogens, is not a terrible thing.
It is a protective response to eliminate the initial cause of cell injury, clear out damaged cells and tissues, and to initiate repair. Inflammation is typically a generic response of the immune system in which plasma and leukocytes (white blood cell) moves from the blood into the injured tissues. Examples of this could be swelling around a broken finger or a bacterial infection.
Chronic inflammation, however, has a slow onset and signs can be much more subtle. This is characterized by the simultaneous destruction and healing of the tissues involved. Examples of this could be arthritis or autoimmune diseases such as lupus.
Not only that, but some of the most common health problems in the US (and across the world) have been linked with chronic inflammation:
- heart disease
Many researchers and physicians are beginning to think that inflammation is the underlying mechanism that leads to diabetes and heart disease, not only years of poor lifestyle choices and genetics.
Many people that I speak with who have not been educated in nutrition believe that eating sugar gives you diabetes.
Is there any truth to that?…
One of the best, easiest, and least expensive ways you can help reduce your risk of illness is by eating less inflammatory foods and more anti-inflammatory foods. Cultures have been doing this for centuries – long before our modernized Western medicine.
Meet the ‘Bad Guys’
Foods to limit or avoid:
- sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda, sweet tea, and fancy coffee drinks
- fried foods
- refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and baked goods
- processed meats, such as hot dogs
- trans fats, found in products that contain hydrogenated oils
- alcohol, if in excess – more than 1 drink per day for women and men over age 60 or 2 drinks per day for younger men
I hope that you noticed something about this list.
Generally, the foods that are considered inflammatory are also generally considered bad for your health.
So, going back to our earlier question of “Do high-sugar diets lead to diabetes?”
Yes and no…
Sugar itself is not the problem. Eating a diet high in inflammatory foods, of which refined carbohydrates (ie. added sugar) is a contributor, which can lead to increased levels of systemic inflammation over a long period of time is the problem.
Many of the above listed foods also contribute to weight gain, which is a risk factor for high levels of inflammation itself.
Having excessive levels of body fat can also trigger inflammatory processes.
Coming to the Rescue
These are foods that have been found to reduce the risk of inflammation, and therefore inflammation-associated chronic diseases.
These foods are high in naturally-occurring antioxidiants and polyphenols – protective compounds found in plants – and omega-3 fatty acids.
- leafy greens, such as spinach and collards
- nuts, such as almonds and walnuts
- berries, such as blueberries and strawberries
- fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and herring
- seeds, such as flaxseed and chia seed
- citrus fruits, such as lemons, oranges, grapefruit, and limes
- healthy oils, such as olive oil and avocado oil
- whole grains, such as oats and quinoa
- vegetables, such as bell peppers, onions, beets, broccoli, mushrooms, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes
- spices, such as turmeric, garlic, oregano, and ginger
Most people would consider all of these foods to be generally good for your health.
Inflammation and Athletics
You may be thinking to yourself:
“Okay, well, that’s all and good, but what about me? I’m active and I don’t eat all that processed crud. Why should I care?”
Intense exercise (and other events, too) causes the release of free radicals. These are compounds that can cause cell damage and result in an inflammatory response. Eating anti-inflammatory foods can help athletes protect their cell membranes from this free radical damage, enhancing recovery and performance.
To reduce levels of systemic inflammation and lower your risk for disease, eat an overall more natural, less processed, healthy diet emphasizing fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, healthy oils, and spices.