You hear a lot about inflammation these days – and with good reason. Chronic inflammation is a player in a variety of ailments and diseases and has been linked to diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, asthma, depression, and is even thought to contribute to obesity.
Inflammation isn’t just associated with disease – it slowly and stealthily damages your body in other ways. You may not realize that you are suffering from chronic inflammation because the symptoms may come on gradually and are subtle at first. If you’re not otherwise sick, but you’re not feeling as good as you used to feel, you might think you’re just over-stressed, tired, and naturally stiffening up because of age. But there’s a good chance inflammation is the culprit and you can do something about it.
You won’t be surprised to learn that an excellent way to combat chronic inflammation is with a healthy lifestyle that includes whole, unprocessed foods and regular exercise.
But before we get to the menu, let’s spend a few minutes talking about inflammation – what it is and what it does for, and to, your body.
Not all inflammation is bad. In fact, inflammation is an immediate biological response to an injury such as a cut, a skinned knee, or the introduction into your system of a foreign irritant like pollen, a chemical, or pollutant. Your immune system rushes to the site of the injury to begin the healing process. That’s a good thing, and what keeps us from too readily succumbing to the kinds of minor – or even significant – insults (injuries) that we experience in our normal day-to-day living. The problem arises when the inflammation in our body does not subside after it’s done its job, or when inflammation occurs not in response to an immediate need, but rather as a result of poor diet and lack of exercise. Medications can also play a role.
When chronic inflammation sets in without a job to do, it can turn against you and attack healthy cells. Then all kinds of things you don’t want can happen. In addition to being linked to the diseases mentioned earlier, you might feel tired and listless, have painful joints, feel stiff and achy, develop skin problems, and even swelling and redness in places (check your big toe). In short, you’re not enjoying the kind of energy and well-being you should be.
There are times when severe inflammation will cause you to reach for the ibuprofen for quick (and temporary) relief. That’s okay once in a while. But better, of course, is to make the kinds of lifestyle choices that will keep inflammation under control and help you feel energetic and pain-free.
What foods cause unwanted inflammation? Topping the list are refined, processed, and manufactured (fake) foods. You know the ones — they lurk in the center aisle of the market dressed in colorful and tempting packages with long lists of ingredients (that do not sound like food) on the back. Don’t go there.
In addition to those processed and packaged foods, also avoid:
- Soda and other sugary beverages
- Hydrogenated (trans-) fats like those found in margarine and vegetable oil and polyunsaturated fats such as corn, soy, and sunflower oils. These are rich in omega-6 fatty acids (which you already get plenty of) and promote inflammation.
- Refined carbohydrates – those processed (and packaged) foods made with white flour and sugar – cookies, pastries, white bread, and — alas — pasta
- Processed meats like hot dogs, salami, and sausage.
- Even unprocessed red meats (beef burgers, steaks) – go easy on those
- Fried foods
Foods that help combat inflammation are:
- Olive oil and other monounsaturated fats
- Fatty fish such as tuna and salmon which contain omega-3s (which you don’t get enough of)
- Omega-3 fortified eggs
- Almonds, walnuts, flaxseed
- Green leafy veggies – spinach, collards, kale, dark lettuces
- All those antioxidant-rich berries you already know about like blueberries, blackberries, cherries, strawberries, and also vitamin C-rich oranges
In addition to these specific foods, eat a colorful variety of fresh vegetables and fruits, which are packed with antioxidants and phytonutrients and which will help neutralize the byproducts (free radicals) of normal metabolism that may also be contributors to inflammation.
This kind of diet — with its emphasis on plant food, nuts, and healthy meats, and its avoidance of sugars and refined carbs — is going to address more than just inflammation. It’s going to make you more healthy and happy overall. And, don’t forget to move your body.
You’re going to feel a lot better!