Inflammation. It's a love/hate relationship. In moderation, it's very good, but too much can lead to disaster! You can lower your inflammation by improving your diet.
Inflammation is a natural and necessary response. When your body is fighting a virus such as the common cold or an infected cut, your body's natural inflammatory response kicks into effect. The swelling and redness you feel with a sore throat or the throbbing you feel with an infected cut is because your immune system is "sending in the troops". This consists of white blood cells and immune stimulating cell growth factors that target the problem. This is a healthy response and is necessary for healing to take place. However, this inflammation should only be temporary. There are certain conditions when your body can't "turn off" it's inflammatory response and it remains in a constant state of inflammation. This is when problems begin...
6 Chronic Inflammation Warnings:
- Stomach problems (pain, burning, diarrhea, constipation)
- Extreme fatigue or brain fog
- Ongoing joint or muscle pain
- Mouth or gum pain or swelling
- Skin rash
As an expert in food and nutrition, I could write a book (and maybe I should) on things to consider when trying to reduce inflammation with diet and lifestyle. To save you time, I have summarized my top 6 pieces of advice.
- Avoid food additives and preservatives. The shorter the ingredient list the better. Look for ingredients with names you recognize.
- Decrease sugar. This includes the obvious candy, and sweetened drinks. This also includes "white" foods like pasta and rice and white flour products that are low in fiber and are highly processed. Instead choose carbohydrates that are high in fiber and digest slower.
- Substitute white rice with wild rice, quinoa, or faro in your stir fry .
- Switch up your white pasta for my favorite bean based pastas by Explore Asian.
- Increase whole fruits and vegetables. Spend the majority of your grocery trip in the produce area.
- Increase your variety of fresh herbs and spices. Stop relying on the "same old" seasonings. Use fresh herbs when possible and check the expiration date of dried herbs. Those that top the anti-inflammatory list include Turmeric, Ginger, and Cayenne. Try my recipe for Turmeric Rice and Beans or my Turmeric Golden Milk Latte.
- Choose your fats wisely. Even healthy oils can become pro-inflammatory (make inflammation worse) if they become rancid or are heated above their smoke point.
- Use cold pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) for drizzling or on your salads. Refined olive oil is good for moderate temperature sauteing and baking.
- Use avocado oil for high temperature roasting or frying.
- Increase your intake of nuts, seeds, and avocado. Sprinkle some pumpkin seeds on your next salad. Pair a handful of walnuts with a piece of fresh fruit for a quick, balanced snack. Add 1 tablespoon of flax seed to the blender with your next smoothie.
- Avoid buying large bulk containers of oil or nuts and always store these items in a cool, dark place. Buy oil in dark glass instead of clear plastic.
- Support your gut health. 80% of your immune system is related to your digestive tract. A poor diet=poor health. Healthy bacteria in your gut is crucial to supporting your ability to keep inflammation low. I often recommend a combination of diet and supplemental probiotics to support this endeavor. A diet high in fiber from fruits and vegetables is important to make sure the "good" bacteria thrives. Slowly introducing fermented foods is also a good way to keep your gut in tip top condition.
- A variety of organic yogurt, kefir, and Kombucha tea are an easy place to start.
- Fermented vegetables like Kimchi (pickled spicy cabbage), sauerkraut, or pickles can be beneficial to helping support healthy gut bacteria too. Make sure to look for them in the refrigerated section of your grocery. These are the kind that will have the most beneficial effect since these are usually raw and have not been heated to destroy healthy bacteria.
Other important goals to lower your body's inflammation:
Stress is often overlooked as a huge contributing factor to poor health and chronic inflammation. Working long hours and never "unplugging" yourself from your phone, computer, or TV can wreak havoc on hormone levels. A release of both cortisol and adrenaline (fight or flight hormones) happen in high stress situations. This can cause your body to suppress non-emergency functions such as immunity and digestion. This can lead to chronic inflammatory symptoms. Find time to "unplug" and relax in a quiet place. Take a bath, meditate, practice deep breathing and yoga. Calm and nurture your body for the sake of your health.
Make time for regular exercise
A recent study confirmed that just 20 minutes of moderate exercise can have anti-inflammatory effects. Strive to get your heart pumping by taking a brisk walk on your lunch hour or parking your car in the farthest spot when you stop at the store. Not all exercise has to involve going to the gym! On the flip side, excessive exercise without enough rest days can actually make inflammation worse. There is moderation even in good things!
Inflammation is a complicated puzzle. Lowering your inflammation levels and improving your chronic symptoms takes "cleaning up" your diet and lifestyle. I approach this topic by treating each person as an individual. The body is complex. There is no "one size fits all" approach. The information shared with you today is meant to provide generalized goals appropriate for most people. Chronic conditions will require extra dietary consideration. Other nutritional factors may need to be addressed such as food sensitivities, allergies, and possible underlying nutrient deficiencies. Rest assured all of my patients receive a thorough assessment to decide the best dietary approach for you! Contact me to learn more.