Welcome back to the Inflammation 101 series with Cured Nutrition.
In last week’s blog, we discussed the ins and outs of exactly what inflammation is, the types of inflammation, the signs of inflammation, and the common indications of inflammation.
This week, we are deep diving into the ways you can protect your physical body from inflammation through nutritional and lifestyle changes.
As discussed in the previous blog, inflammation can be a good thing. When you get a cut, burn or bruise, the inflammatory response is the mechanism used by the body to combat injury. Problems occur, however, when the inflammatory response does not shut off and goes from being temporary, localized and protective to being chronic and harmful. Continuous inflammation can cause changes in cells, contributing to premature cell death.
While some factors associated with inflammation can’t be altered, such as aging, many healthy lifestyle modifications can put into place, such as avoiding tobacco, will decrease inflammation. There are other ways one can become empowered to take their health and healing into their own hands by navigating a anti-inflammatory lifestyle through dietary choices and lifestyle habits.
The anti-inflammatory nutrition approach is designed to prevent or reduce low-grade chronic inflammation, a key rise factor in a host of health problems and several major diseases.
Foods to Eat on the Anti-Inflammatory Diet
- Berries (such as blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries)
- Dark leafy vegetables
- Sweet potatoes
- Nuts (such as walnuts, almonds, pecans, and hazelnuts)
- Whole grains (such as oats and brown rice)
- Dark Chocolate (at least 70% cocao)
Research suggests that people with a high intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, healthy oils, and fish may have a reduced risk for inflammation – related disease. Studies have found that the substances found in some foods (especially antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids) appear to possess anti-inflammatory effects.
Antioxidants work by reducing levels of free radicals. These reactive molecules are created as a natural part of your metabolism but can lead to inflammation when they’re not held in check.
A diet full of colorful fruits, vegetables and whole grains supplies an array of antioxidants. These antioxidant-rich carbohydrates act by squelching free radicals that may contribute to chronic inflammation. Conversely, a regular diet of refined carbohydrates or sugary foods result in free- radical formation. The carbs in sweets and desserts are usually low in antioxidants (the exception is dark chocolate) and often contain saturated and trans fats. They also can readily contribute to weight gain, and this includes dark chocolate.
Your anti-inflammatory diet should provide a healthy balance of protein, carbs, and fat at each meal. Make sure you also meet your body’s needs for vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water.
Alongside antioxidants, healthy dietary fats can influence the degree of inflammation. Trans-fats, namely hydrogenated oils, some margarine brands, french fries and other fried foods are pro-inflammatory.
In a Harvard study, trans-fatty acids are linked to greater inflammation in overweight women. Saturated fats found in red meats, full fat dairy foods, butter and poultry skin are contributors to chronic inflammation as well. Also, eating too many foods that are rich in omega-6 fatty acids (especially vegetable oils such as corn, safflower and cottonseed oils) appears to promote inflammation.
On the other hand, omega-3 fats exert anti-inflammatory effects. Diets with lower amounts of omega-3 fats result in less production of prostaglandins, substances which turn up inflammation. The best omega-3 sources are fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring and tuna as well as fish-oil supplements. Other omega-3 contributors include ground flax, flaxseed oil, walnuts and, to a limited degree, green leafy vegetables.
Foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids are also amazing choices to reduce inflammation:
- Oily fish (such as salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies)
- Selected Vegetable Oils: Olive Oil, Avocado Oil, and Coconut Oil
There’s also evidence that certain culinary herbs and spices, such as ginger, turmeric, and garlic can help alleviate inflammation.
Choosing a balanced diet that cuts out processed products and boosts your intake of whole, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich foods is the first step towards reducing your inflammation. Begin by taking it one plate at a time to determine how your own unique body responds to this nutrition approach.
Over time, a poor diet (too much sugar, for example), lack of exercise, a smoking habit, and other personal lifestyle choices may lead to low levels of long-term, continuing inflammation.
This type of inflammation can damage the blood vessels that feed your heart muscle and brain and allow cholesterol to enter their walls and damage them. When the inflammation continues, the damage worsens and can lead to many unwanted health conditions like unexpected heart attack or stroke.
As mentioned above, diet is the first factor one can alter in effort to reduce inflammation and protect their body against possible future inflammation. Alongside nutrition choices, an individual can alter their lifestyle habits towards a more anti-inflammatory approach.
Have a Consistent Bedtime. Try to get about 7-8 hours a night. Finding the balance between not enough and too much sleep comes down to the individual needs. However, in one study it was found that more hours of sleep than this go with higher levels of C-reactive protein, and point to inflammation in the body. People who slept the most had higher levels of inflammation in the body.
Start Moving Daily.
If you don’t over do it, exercising helps your heart by lowering blood pressure, helping you reduce or manage your weight, and reducing your risk for type 2 diabetes. A moderate level workout also has a direct effect on inflammation. In recent research, just 20 minutes of moderate exercise a day decreased damaging inflammation. (In general, try to be physically active for 30 minutes a day, 5 or more days of the week.)
Participate in Mindful Exercises. Stress is a natural part of life and can change over the course of life. It comes in many forms, from physical (over exercise), mental (job or financial stress), and emotional (social rejection, isolation, and relationship stress) If stress gets overwhelming or if there are moderate on-going stresses that are not relieved, the body can lose its ability to healthfully respond, causing increased inflammation which can harm our health.
The ability to manage stress can be developed. All of the strategies already mentioned — eating a healthy diet, being active, and getting enough sleep — help support the body’s ability to manage life’s stresses. There are additional strategies that may be helpful, including mind-body approaches like mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), biofeedback, breathing exercises, yoga, and tai chi.
Build A Healthy Gut. Our digestive system has the highest concentration of immune cells in our entire body and is charged with preventing toxins and pathogens from entering the bloodstream. To do this job properly, your digestive lining should be woven tightly, like a piece of cheesecloth. If it becomes too permeable, or a “leaky gut” (from a poor diet, environmental insults, overuse of antibiotics, and so on), it can allow undigested nutrient particles to get into your bloodstream. Various toxins and bacteria can also pass through. These escapees can trigger your immune system, leading to inflammation.
Living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle
Long-term success is achievable when you focus on small, specific action steps. So in order to take control of your inflammation, you don’t have to adopt all of the steps stated above at once. Rather, choose some that you feel you can implement now, and just get started, one step at a time. You will build momentum as you keep moving forward, and soon enough, the little wins will lead to some big ones. And the biggest win—achieving and maintaining vibrant and healthy living—is what this entire journey is about.