You’ve likely heard the term “inflammation” or people talking about “anti-inflammatory” foods or diets. And for good reason - almost every single modern ailment and health issue has inflammation at its root cause. Obesity, chronic pain, brain fog, diabetes, depression, autoimmune disorders - there’s some element of inflammation involved in all of these conditions!
Today we’re going to explore what exactly inflammation is, why it’s so harmful and the best foods + lifestyle practices to fight inflammation.
What is inflammation?
First, let’s clear up a common misconception about inflammation. It’s not all bad - in fact, we need our body to produce an inflammatory response - it’s a sign that our immune system is alert and working well.
Think of it this way - you fall and cut your knee. The cut starts to turn red, swell and sting. This is inflammation in action! This inflammation alerts your body’s immune system to a problem and in come the white blood cells and your body’s natural line of defense that will help heal you and fight off infection. This is an example of when inflammation is acute, necessary and results in healing.
On the other hand, we can also experience chronic inflammation. Imagine if you were to keep falling on your knee, day after day. That first cut would never heal - in fact it would probably get worse, might get infected, might get so bad that you have to have your leg removed! The kind of inflammation that most of us are experiencing today is like that. It’s a chronic, low grade inflammation. It’s a continuous assault on our body that our immune system can’t quite catch up on.
But here’s another tricky thing about inflammation. When we get a cut, we can see it, we know what that feels like. When there’s inflammation inside of us, we can’t always see it or feel it. We might experience symptoms that are seemingly unrelated. We may walk around for years, chronically inflamed on a low level and never know it. Until one day, out of nowhere, we experience a health crisis.
This is what’s so dangerous about inflammation and why it’s important to combat the inflammation that’s a result of our modern diets and lifestyles.
Why is it suddenly important to talk about inflammation?
You probably know - either from following me or from simply observing the world around you - we’re experiencing a huge health crisis. Never before has the human race been so sick, depressed, or overweight. It’s been getting worse and worse over the last several decades. So what changed?
Our diet - we’ve been moving further away from eating foods that mother nature provides and increasingly consuming foods that are highly processed, full of chemicals, preservatives and artificial ingredients.
Sugar - sugar is one of the top sources of inflammation. And it. is. everywhere. And we. are. addicted.
Pesticides - common sprays like glyphosate inflame our gut lining and promote inflammation in the body.
Toxins - all the chemicals that are in our house cleaning products, personal care products, make up and even our furniture are a huge burden for our body! Couple this will pollution from cars, planes and contaminated drinking water. The cumulative effect of this causes inflammation.
OTC painkillers + prescription meds - painkillers, even the innocent ones like ibuprofen, are actually extremely hard on the gut. They inflame the gut lining, which then can lead to inflammation systemically.
Stress - Chronic stress lessens your body’s ability to regulate inflammation. Stress permeates our culture. It’s been normalized, sometimes even rewarded, and it’s really bad for our health.
What conditions/diseases are associated with chronic inflammation?
inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
coronary artery disease
So how can we combat inflammation? First, let’s look at our diet:
Foods to Limit/Remove
These are some of the top inflammation causing foods that I recommend you avoid or reduce your consumption of:
sugar + artificial sweeteners- especially refined white cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup, but go easy on more natural forms of sugar too. Artificial sweeteners are usually chemically derived and don’t do your body any favors either.
trans fats - there’s been a big movement to get trans fats out of our foods, but they’re still pervasive. Don’t just look at the nutrition facts label - a serving of food that has less than .5 grams of trans fats is not required to be labeled and can be rounded down to zero. Check the ingredients - any oils that are labeled “partially hydrogenated” are trans fats. Fried foods are loaded with trans fats.
vegetable + seed oils - including canola, safflower, sunflower, soybean, etc. These oils contain many more omega-6 fatty acids than we need. It’s tough because most any processed/packaged food will contain at least one of these oils. I recommend avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil.
refined carbohydrates - I’m not knocking carbs. Whole food carbs (like sweet potatoes) aren’t the problem. Bread, cookies, crackers, cakes, pastries, and some cereals that are made with refined white flour is what you want to avoid.
too much alcohol - you can enjoy alcohol occasionally, but too much too often promotes inflammation in the body.
processed conventional meats - like bacon, sausage, and smoked meats can promote inflammation. Always opt for the best quality meat you can afford and treat it more as a condiment instead of making it the center of your meal.
gluten + grains - the problem with gluten may not be the gluten itself, but more the fact that it’s often sprayed with pesticides, which inflame our gut. For some people (especially those with autoimmune conditions) grains may cause inflammation. This can vary widely from person to person, so notice how you feel when you eat gluten and grains. I recommend cutting them all out for 30 days, see how you feel and notice your body’s reaction when you reintroduce them.
dairy - this may not be a cause of inflammation for everyone, but many people don’t digest dairy well. If you’re suffering from headaches, stuffiness, breakouts or bloating, try cutting out dairy to see how you feel.
Foods to Incorporate
fruits + vegetables - virtually all fruits and vegetables provide an anti-inflammatory effect because of their high antioxidant content. Some that are especially good at fighting inflammation are: blueberries, pineapple, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, and beets.
turmeric - you’ve likely heard of the profound anti-inflammatory effect that turmeric provides. Use it powdered or fresh in cooking. If you’re fighting a lot of inflammation or simply want to be preventative, a turmeric supplement is great.
ginger - helps modulate the immune system and has an anti-inflammatory effect.
wild caught salmon - is high in omega-3 fats which fight inflammation. It is expensive though, so if you can’t buy it often enough a good supplement works just as well. Some plant-based sources of omega-3s are walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds.
nuts + seeds - they contain many phytonutrients that fight inflammation
extra virgin olive oil - good quality olive oil contains many antioxidants which fight inflammation.
bone broth - helps soothe inflammation in the gut.
stress - stress puts our body in a state of high alert and promotes inflammation. Try to cut stress down in your life and find ways to manage the stress you can’t control. Yoga and meditation are great for stress management.
exposure to chemicals - try to reduce your toxic load by opting for natural household cleaners and non-toxic personal care products.
exposure to plastics - toxins (like BPA) are found in plastic and can damage your health long-term.
exercise - combats inflammation. Do whatever feels good to you whether that’s hiking, running, lifting weights, a zumba class, tennis - as long as it’s active! Bonus stress reduction points if you get to do any of these things in nature.
sleep - get good 7-9 hours of good quality sleep a night. This helps reduce stress, allows your body to rest and heal and helps regulate the immune response.
cold therapy - I know, it doesn’t sound fun, but exposing yourself to cold temperatures is amazing for fighting inflammation. You can pay a lot of money to go to a cryotherapy chamber, but cold showers are also super effective. It takes some getting used to, but you might find yourself craving them after awhile. If a whole cold shower sounds like too much, try just a short burst of cold water at the end of your shower.
nurture your gut - our gut plays a big role in modulating inflammation. Consume fermented foods (sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, etc.) and plenty of plant foods which act as prebiotics. Bone broth is great for gut health.
This might seem like a lot, but start small! Begin by focusing on incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods into into your diet, especially vegetables. There’s no quick fix for inflammation - it’s a shift in lifestyle that will happen over time. Questions? Leave them below!