When it comes to chronic health conditions, inflammation is a common cause. Chronic inflammation has been linked to a number of health issues including heart disease, cancer and neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). By limiting the amount of inflammation in our bodies, we can help decrease our risk for these diseases. But where does all of this inflammation come from? You might be surprised that a lot of it can come for our diets.
What is Inflammation?
We have all heard the term inflammation, but what does it really mean? Inflammation is simply the body’s response to an injury or infection, such as a bacteria or virus. The role of inflammation is to help fight off infection and to help heal an injury. Any disease ending in the suffix -itis is the result of inflammation, like arthritis, bronchitis or gastritis. Common signs and symptoms of inflammation include heat, redness, swelling and pain.
So, if inflammation is the body’s response to an injury or illness, is all inflammation bad? Of course not. Inflammation is part of the body’s normal healing process. Inflammation should usually resolve within a few days to a week. This is sufficient time for the body to heal an injury. It is when inflammation remains over a week, or becomes chronic, that it becomes a problem.
Foods to Avoid
It has been proven that certain foods can either increase or decrease the amounts of inflammation in our bodies. In a perfect world, we would attempt to completely remove all of the foods that increase inflammation from our diet, however I know that is not a sustainable goal in most cases. Instead, attempt to limit these foods and replace them with better options when possible.
Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners – If there was one thing from this post to completely remove from your diet, I would recommend it be sugar. In the past I’ve written an entire blog post on the dangers of sugar to our health. Sugar is proven to not only increase inflammation, but also feed cancer cells! Don’t think that since you don’t have a sweet tooth, that you aren’t ingesting a lot of sugar. I’ve been surprised to find sugar is in almost everything! From sauces, to spice mixtures, it is everywhere. Instead of sugar, try using a natural sweetener like Stevia or xylitol, or honey to add some sweetness to your food or drink.
Vegetable Oils – These, along with corn, sunflower, soy and peanut oil, are high in omega-6 fatty acids. Excess omega-6 fatty acids in the body can cause the body to produce excess inflammatory chemicals. We want to limit omega-6 fatty acids, and increase omega-3 fatty acids, which we will discuss later. Instead of cooking your foods in these oils, substitute extra virgin olive oil, which is also a great source of healthy fats.
Refined Grains – If you don’t know what a refined grain is, think of almost anything white. White bread, pasta and rice. When a grain goes through the refining process, fiber, which is anti-inflammatory, and vitamins are removed to help increase shelf life. Instead of refined grains, eat whole grains, brown rice and quinoa.
Processed Foods – Basically avoid anything in a bag or a box. These foods are usually high in sodium, which can contribute to inflammation. A good rule of thumb when grocery shopping is avoid the center of the store and shop on the outside. This will keep you away from most of the processed foods. Try substituting whole foods like fruits, vegetables or nuts in place of processed foods.
Red Meat – I know, this is going to be a tough one. We live in Texas, I am not going to tell you you can’t eat steak and hamburgers. That being said try to limit your intake or beef and lamb to a couple of times a week. Too much red meat will definitely increase inflammation. Increase your intake of white meat (chicken and turkey) and fish instead.
Fiber – A diet high in fiber has not only been proven to be anti-inflammatory, but can also aid in weight loss. Ideally, you want to have at least 25 grams of fiber per day. Good sources of fiber include whole grains, dark leafy vegetables (spinach, Swiss chard, kale) and fruits like bananas and blueberries.
Increase Intake of Fruits and Vegetables – A good goal is nine combined daily servings on fruits and vegetables. A serving is considered a cup of vegetables or half a cup of fruit. This is also a great way to increase your fiber intake. At least four of these servings per week should be either alliums (onions, garlic, leeks) and crucifers (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts). These are particularly good at decreasing inflammation.
Increase Omega-3 Fatty Acids – As mentioned earlier, omega-3s are great anti-inflammatory agents. They can be found in beans, flax seeds and cold water fish such as salmon, oysters or trout. You can also take a fish oil supplement to increase your omega-3 intake.
Eat Fish 3 Times per Week – As mentioned above, fish are a great source of not only omega-3 fatty acids, but healthy fats in general. Try to have at least three servings of fish per week.
Spice It Up!– Some spices can not only add flavor to your food, but are also anti-inflammatory. These spices include cayenne, ginger, cinnamon, sage and rosemary. An extremely beneficial spice is turmeric, found in curry powder. Studies show that not only is turmeric a very powerful anti-inflammatory, it also has anti-cancer properties. If you don’t like the flavor of turmeric, it can be taken as a supplement as well.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the symptoms of inflammation is pain. When it comes to dealing with headaches, neck pain or lower back pain, there isn’t a more effective treatment than chiropractic care.
When the spine becomes misaligned, a vertebra can start to put pressure on a nerve, leading to pain. One of the body’s natural reactions to this misalignment is the inflammatory response. Therefore, if your spine is not aligned properly, there is a good chance that you are inflamed. When a chiropractor corrects these misalignments, pressure is removed from the nerve, and the body stops producing inflammation, thus relieving pain.
If you are someone dealing with chronic inflammation, try to begin implementing a few of the diet tips in this post. Don’t worry about trying to do everything, just pick one or two things and start there. You can then gradually add more later on. By making a few dietary changes, and making sure your spine is properly aligned, you can start fighting off inflammation.