by Ariel Anderson, Dietetic Intern
One of the common nutrition buzz words throughout social media these days is the term “inflammation.” Supplements claiming to be anti-inflammatory, advertising weight loss benefits and joint pain relief have flooded the market in recent years, leading to a lot of discussion on the consequences of inflammation. But what is inflammation, and why is it bad for you?
Inflammation is a natural process of your immune system that helps it to fight off foreign invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, or even plant pollen. It is generally short term and beneficial, helping to prevent you from getting sick. However, chronic inflammation that persists without the presence of a foreign body can be harmful. It has been shown to play a role in the development of chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease, cancer, asthma, heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis, to name a few. But sometimes you don’t need a fancy supplement or medication to beat chronic inflammation- the best cure can lie in your lifestyle choices and what types of foods you choose to consume.
Now do you know if you are suffering from inflammation? Acute inflammation tends to manifest as swelling, bruising, or redness to a certain area of the body. These symptoms usually go away within a few days, and are generally not cause for concern. But chronic inflammation is often invisible to the eye, and manifests much differently. With chronic inflammation, you may experience joint pain, chest pain, constant fatigue, skin rashes, abdominal pain, or fever. These symptoms will persist for long periods of time, such as weeks or months.
Some lifestyle factors that can lead to chronic inflammation are within your own control. Excessive drinking, smoking, and stress are all strong factors leading to inflammation. Exercising too much without allowing your body to rest, or falling on the other end of the spectrum with little to no exercise can also play a role. And finally, obesity and the lifestyle factors that influence weight gain can lead to chronic inflammation.
So now you know what causes inflammation, but how do you fix it? There are specific foods that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. Foods high in antioxidants such as berries, leafy greens, pomegranates, citrus fruits, tomatoes, coffee and green tea can all help to reduce inflammation. Foods with high quality oils such as olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish (salmon, sardines, etc) are also beneficial. And finally, increasing your consumption of ginger, garlic and turmeric (just make sure to add black pepper as well, to enhance absorption!) has been shown to be very effective at reducing chronic inflammation. These foods are all commonly found in the Mediterranean diet, which is recommended for many different disease conditions and found to be highly effective for those with heart disease. Following a Mediterranean diet cookbook can be an easy way to increase your intake of these anti-inflammatory foods.
While increasing your consumption of these foods, also pay attention to certain foods that you may want to reduce. Any fried foods such as French fries, red meats such as steak, cured meats such as bacon and hot dogs, and refined carbohydrates should be limited when possible. Trans fats, found in some margarines as well as store bought cakes/pies/cookies should also be limited as much as possible.
Inflammation is a natural process that occurs in each of us, but being able to recognize when inflammation overstays its welcome is an important tool in our arsenal for leading a healthier lifestyle. As always, talk with your doctor and registered dietitian prior to making serious changes to your lifestyle, and about any concerns you may have. For more information, check out these resources below:
- Harvard Health: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation
- Chronic Inflammation study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/
- Mediterranean Diet Plan: https://www.eatingwell.com/article/2061785/anti-inflammatory-mediterranean-diet-plan/