During the month of July, the clinic where I practice, Gateway Family Chiropractic, is highlighting inflammation – or more appropriately, ways to combat inflammation. Many of today’s prevalent diseases – diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer – are now thought to be due (in part) to chronic inflammation. First, let’s be clear, inflammation is a critical component of our body’s immune system. Acute inflammation during an injury causes redness, swelling and additional blood flow which delivers nourishment and immune activity to the affected area. This type of inflammation is necessary and short-lived. However, it’s the chronic, low-grade inflammation that presents a disease risk; this persistent inflammation is one that we should work hard to reduce.
There are many factors that affect inflammation in our body and a big one is the foods we eat. Luckily, we can control this factor! Certain foods can create inflammation in the body, while others can help reduce inflammation. Following an anti-inflammatory diet not only helps reduce inflammation directly, it provides a well-rounded blend of nutrients our body needs to function at its best. In addition to macronutrients (protein, fat and carbs), it emphasizes micronutrients like vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that are essential to health and prevention of disease.
First things, first: reduce or eliminate the inflammatory foods in your diet. These include:
- Refined carbs and sugar – these empty-calorie foods quickly spike blood sugar and insulin, which can increase inflammation after time. They also get stored as fat.
- Fried foods like French fries – these foods typically contain rancid or oxidized fats. Once ingested, these fats damage arteries, increase inflammation, and heighten your risk for cardiovascular disease.
- Processed foods like chips, crackers and cookies – these foods are typically high in calories, and low in nutrients, and can cause inflammation from excessive additives, preservatives and omega-6 fats and/or trans fats (see below).
- Trans fats in the form of hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils – these are widely known to cause inflammation and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Industrial vegetable oils and margarine – these products contain synthetically produced or chemically extracted omega-6 fats. In general, omega-6 fats are pro-inflammatory. That being said, they are an essential fatty acid, meaning our body needs them, but we can’t make them, so we have to get them from our diet. The key is getting them from the right sources and not eating them in excess (see #3 below).
Next, increase the anti-inflammatory foods in your diet:
- Colorful vegetables and fruits – the various pigments in fruits and veggies are due to disease-fighting phytochemicals. There are thousands of these chemical compounds and they each support health in a variety of ways, including lowering inflammation. Eat the rainbow to get a wide range of phytochemicals.
- Monounsaturated fats (olive and avocado oils) – this so called “queen of healthy fats” is a staple of the Mediterranean diet and supports overall cardiovascular health.
- Omega-3 fats – the other essential fatty acid, omega-3 fats are generally considered anti-inflammatory. The important thing is to get the right balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats from your diet, ideally in a 2:1 omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. So 4-6 g of omega-6 fats per day and 2-3 grams of omega-3 fats per day. Yes, generally you need more omega-6 than omega-3, but not by much. Omega-3 fats come from fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, halibut, sardines, anchovies), walnuts, flax, chia and hemp seeds. Omega-6 fats come mainly from nuts and seeds.
- Embrace garlic, ginger and turmeric – these spices have been shown in multiple studies to reduce inflammation within the body and fight chronic disease. Plus, they add depth, aroma and flavor to food!
- Organic/free range/responsibly raised/sourced meats and fish –animals that are allowed to eat their natural diet (i.e. grass for cows) and to graze on open land, free from cages, are not only healthier and happier, but their meat is leaner and it contains a better fat profile, specifically more omega-3 fats.
- Choose organic produce when possible (see EWG’s Clean 15 and Dirty 12 guide) – by reducing exposure to pesticides and toxins, you reduce the strain on your body’s detoxification systems and calm inflammation.
In addition to these general recommendations, I like to mention that there isn’t a clear “one-size-fits-all” diet. Every person is unique and they will respond differently to foods. Some people develop food sensitivities to certain foods, and this can cause additional inflammation and immune activation (read more about food allergies and sensitivities in my other blog post). For someone with longstanding inflammation, it can be helpful to do an elimination diet that reduces common inflammatory foods (gluten, dairy, soy, etc.) or test for specific food sensitivities.
Nutrition is not a straightforward topic, but by following these guidelines, you will have a much better chance of reducing inflammation in your body. Combined with stress reduction and regular physical activity, you will be on your way to better health!