Fight­ing In­flam­ma­tion with Food

Premier Magazine (South AFrica) - - Contents - Text: Olive John­son Im­ages ©

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.

Anti-in­flam­ma­tory Foods

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.

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