What is inflammation?
Have you ever noticed swelling when you sprain an ankle, puffiness from a cut, or restricted airflow during an asthma attack or from allergies? These are all signs of inflammation occurring in the body.
Inflammation comes from your body’s immune system recognizing a foreign object such as a microbe, plant pollen or chemical. This action protects your body from threatening invaders, which is a good thing! It is also a necessary part of healing a wound.
However, sometimes inflammation persists all day, even when your body isn’t being threatened by a foreign invader. Chronic inflammation is linked increased risks of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression and Alzheimer’s.
Chronic inflammation causes cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States. At first doctors believed a heart attack was caused by a “plumbing issue”, because over time blood vessels would become more narrowed/clogged as a result of LDL (bad) cholesterol. Now research shows that this bad cholesterol gets imbedded inside the arteries, which causes the immune system to recognize it as an invader and attacks your arteries, causing inflammation that is not seen or felt but is constant/chronic. This response eventually damages the arteries possibly causing them to rupture and form clots, triggering a heart attack.
Doctors are now using blood markers for inflammation along with other risk factors such as blood pressure and blood cholesterol to estimate a person’s risk for developing heart disease.
One of the most powerful tools to fight chronic inflammation doesn’t come from the pharmacy, but what is in your fridge. Many studies have shown a link between anti-inflammatory foods and lowering the chronic inflammation in your body.
Foods that cause inflammation and you should eat sparingly
The following foods have a significant link to increasing inflammation in the body such as:
· Saturated fats – found in butter, bacon, lard, high fat cuts of beef (red meat), processed meats made with nitrites, skin on poultry, full fat dairy and processed foods high in omega-6 fats (corn and safflower oil).
· Trans-fats – fried foods, stick margarine, shortening, any food with partially hydrogenated oil.
· Refined sugars – soda, fruit drinks, other sweetened drinks, candy and other desserts.
· Highly processed, refined grains – white bread, crackers, refined pasta, white rice, snack foods (chips) and sweetened cereals.
· Omega-3 fats – fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), flaxseeds, nuts, pumpkin seeds, canola oil and soy.
· Unsaturated fats – olive, grapeseed and walnut oils, nuts, avocadoes, olives, olive oil.
· Fruits and veggies – vibrant colored fruits and vegetables such as asparagus, snap peas, mixed greens, corn, tomatoes, strawberries, cherries, blueberries and pears. Apples, oranges, squash, broccoli, spinach and other dark leafy greens. These foods are high in antioxidants and polyphenols which help protect the body from the inside out.
· Whole grains – brown rice, wild rice, barley, oatmeal, oat bran, 100% whole grain breads, cereals, and pasta.
· Herbs and spices – curry powder, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, garlic and onions.
If you are looking for an eating plan that closely follows the anti-inflammatory guidelines we just laid out, consider the Mediterranean diet. This “diet” is a lifestyle that includes not only more anti-inflammatory foods, but also being more active and engaging with others in activities.
Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). Foods that fight inflammation - Harvard Health. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation
Healthy Appetite, Cleveland Clinic and Heinen's. (n.d.). Quelling the Flames of Inflammation [Brochure]. Author.
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