Fighting Inflammation with Food
It is no secret in this day and age of wellbeing awareness, that what we choose to put into our mouths is directly linked to our health. Eating healthy foods is at the absolute core of wellness, and can help us combat, and even prevent, disease.
Many doctors are of the persuasion that one of the best ways to quell certain ailments lies not necessarily in the medicine cabinet, but in the refrigerator.
One such common ailment is inflammation. Inflammation is triggered when one’s body recognises anything that is foreign, including invading microbes, plant pollen, or chemicals. Alternating bouts of inflammation, directed at threatening invaders, protect one’s health. However, if inflammation persists, in the absence of foreign invaders, it can become our enemy. Diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, depression, and even Alzheimer’s are all major ailments that have been linked to chronic inflammation.
According to Dr Frank Hu, Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, one of the most powerful ways to combat inflammation is through one’s diet. “Many experimental studies have shown that components of foods or beverages may have antiinflammatory effects,” says Dr Hu. Inflammatory Foods
Unsurprisingly, the same foods that are considered bad for our health, are also the foods that contribute to inflammation.
Inflammatory foods include: refined carbohydrates (white flour, white bread, white rice, pastries, pasta, etc.), fried foods,
sodas, and other sugar-sweetened drinks, red meat and processed meat, as well as margarine, lard, and shortening.
Most of these foods are also foods that contribute to weight gain – itself, a major cause of inflammation. That being said, obesity or weight gain is not the sole driver of this potentially lethal disease. “Some of the food components or ingredients may have independent effects on inflammation, over and above increased caloric intake,” says Dr Hu.
Signs of Inflammation
There are several signs that your body may be suffering from inflammation, one being digestive issues. Though a variety of factors can cause diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, excessive gas, and abdominal pain, these gastrointestinal symptoms are also classic signs of chronic inflammation – especially if they arrive out of nowhere.
Intermittent joint pain, especially when you get up in the morning, and it was not caused by an injury, could also be a sign of inflammation.
When hay fever kicks up a notch with no apparent trigger (such as pollen or smog), inflammation is a likely culprit.
Sometimes the fog can be internal. Feeling spacey, becoming more forgetful, and experiencing a general lack of mental clarity could be early indicators of rising inflammation. Fluctuating hormones, insomnia, stress, and poor nutrition can also cause a hazy head – and each of these factors is individually associated with inflammatory responses.
Conversely, there are a whole host of foods that have been found to combat and reduce the risk of inflammation and, again, these may not come as such a big surprise.
Anti-inflammatory foods include: green, leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, collards), nuts (almonds and walnuts), tomatoes, olive oil, fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel), and fresh fruits (particularly apples, strawberries, blueberries, and cherries).
Studies have shown that nuts are particularly good and lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Similarly, vegetables and fruits (particularly leafy greens, apples, and blueberries) are extremely high in polyphenols – protective compounds that play an important role in preventing the progression of diseases – and natural antioxidants. Surprisingly to some, coffee also contains polyphenols and anti-inflammatory compounds, so a cup of java a day can go a long way.
An overall healthy diet goes way beyond just lowering inflammation. Eating a diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, and healthy oils can have incredible effects on your physical, as well as emotional health. According to Dr Hu, “A healthy diet is beneficial not only for reducing the risk of chronic diseases, but also for improving mood and overall quality of life.”
So, the next time you head out to the grocery store, see it as your new pharmacy or wellness clinic and ensure that what goes into your trolley (and ultimately into your mouth) is in line with all the things that your beautiful body needs.