Inflammation is a term that gets thrown around a lot in the health and wellness space these days. But what exactly is it, and how does it impact your health?
Inflammation is a normal product of our immune system: When your immune cells detect a foreign invader or an injury, inflammatory cells are sent out to attack the invaders or heal the damaged tissue. Once the problem has been resolved, inflammation levels are meant to return to normal. This acute inflammatory process is essential to keep us alive. However, persistent, or chronic inflammation is connected to most of the chronic diseases we face today.
Chronic inflammation occurs when your body continuously produces inflammatory cells and cytokines (substances that stimulate more inflammatory cells) despite there being no true danger. These proinflammatory cytokines travel throughout the body and can wreak havoc in any system of the body. Short-term symptoms of this inflammation include gastrointestinal issues, fatigue, brain fog, mood fluctuations, joint aches, muscle pains, skin problems, and weight gain. Long-term conditions that may develop from chronic inflammation include diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, autoimmune disease, and cognitive dysfunction.
There is still a lot to learn about what exactly triggers chronic inflammation, but some contributing factors are thought to include ongoing stress, exposure to harmful toxins, and a highly processed Standard American Diet (SAD). While we cannot control all these factors, we certainly do have the power to control our eating patterns. By adopting an anti-inflammatory eating style and concurrently working on gut health, we can bring the body into a more balanced state and lower the risk of many inflammatory-based diseases.
When addressing inflammation throughout the body, we must first address inflammation within the gut. As we know, inflammation is a consequence of a hyperactive immune response; 70% of our immune system is located in the gut and regulated by the environment of bacteria within our gut, also known as the microbiome. When there is an imbalance between these good and bad microbes, this leads to intestinal inflammation and subsequent intestinal permeability. This permeability, often called leaky gut, can be a driver of food sensitivities.
Food sensitivities will vary from person to person, but there are general dietary strategies that can be beneficial for most people to implement. Common foods that may contribute to inflammation include:
1. Ultra-processed and refined foods. These usually come in a box or bag with long ingredient lists and contain food dyes, preservatives, bulking agents, high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, and sweeteners
2. Industrial seed oils such as canola, corn, soybean, cottonseed, safflower, and sunflower oil.
3. Sugary foods like candy, cakes, conventional cereals, sugar-sweetened beverages, packaged desserts, fruit yogurts, and juice.
4. Gluten from breads, bagels, pizza crust, pastas, baked goods, cereals, pastries, and cookies.
5. Processed dairy, from conventional cheeses, sour cream, dips, and cream sauces to ice cream.
Knowing what foods to avoid is step one. But it’s important to view your eating pattern from a place of expansion, not restriction.
Rather than ruminating on what you should not eat, focus on what you should eat. Filling your eating pattern with healing, micronutrient-rich foods, makes crowding out the processed foods that may be contributing to inflammation easier. Foods to focus on that will reduce inflammation and improve gut health include:
1. Probiotic-rich foods: Kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, miso, tempeh, Greek yogurt, and kombucha.
2. Prebiotic-rich foods: Jerusalem artichokes, onions, asparagus, chicory, bananas, and leeks.
3. Colorful vegetables and fruits: Broccoli, mushrooms, bell peppers, squash, tomato, sweet/white potato, kale, spinach, beets, blueberries, kiwi, apples, and pomegranate.
4. High quality proteins: Grass-fed meat, pasture-raised poultry and eggs, wild caught seafood, legumes, nuts, seeds, Greek yogurt, and bone broth.
5. Healthy fats: Olives and olive oil, avocados and avocado oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, ghee, tallow, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and eggs.
6. Herbs and spices: Turmeric, ginger, garlic, oregano, rosemary, cinnamon, and black pepper.
By emphasizing a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods, we can restore our gut microbiomes, improve nutrient insufficiencies, and minimize the food components that contribute to inflammation.
Beyond food, we should also aim to optimize lifestyle factors like sleep, exercise, emotional stress, and environmental exposures. If you can reduce the ongoing, unnecessary stress in the body, you can improve the quality of your health and live a longer, healthier life.
If you’d like to get testing for food sensitivities and receive personalized nutrition guidance to implement an anti-inflammatory eating style, consider working with PreviMedica’s team of nutrition experts.