Inflammation, Diet, & Disease: A Powerful Relationship

Millions of Americans are affected by inflammation each year. Inflammation can be expressed in many ways and has visible negative impacts on health and quality of life. In recent years, researchers have pinpointed links between long-term chronic inflammation and the onset of numerous chronic diseases and conditions including chronic pain, arthritis, GI health, cardiovascular disease, cancer, brain function, immunity, energy, weight and body composition, and overall health and quality of life.

Chronic inflammation is proving to be more and more impactful to both short and long-term health.

While acute inflammation due to illness or injury is a normal and healthy bodily response, chronic (or long-term) inflammation to the body can be detrimental to health.  Addressing lifestyle and dietary habits can prevent the onset of disease, as well as alleviate associated symptoms.

“Good” Inflammation: inflammation that occurs in response to injury or illness. I.e. a response by the immune system.

“Bad” Inflammation: chronic internal inflammation that is caused by an over-reaching immune system that has adapted to attack healthy tissue. This can be seen in chronic autoimmune diseases such as Lupus, as well as in conditions and diseases such as leaky gut, arthritis, fibromyalgia, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel syndrome, asthma, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and more.

So, what can you do to reduce your body’s unhealthy inflammatory responses? First, look to your sleep quality and quantity, hydration, stress levels, and regular activity. Adequate sleep, water, well-managed stress, and regular exercise all help to combat inflammation.  You can probably spot a trend here – the key to reducing inflammation is to address irritants and excess stress on the body.

The final (powerful) piece to reduce inflammation is diet. Recent research has found a strong relationship between food consumption and inflammation. Like any eating pattern or style that I recommend to clients, the primary objective is to consume a balance of good-quality nutritious foods. Beyond those crucial pillars of a nourishing diet is where more specific alterations can be made to address specific needs.

If you have a lot of work to do on your nutrition, start slowly with small, gradual changes. As your body adjusts and becomes used to new foods and new eating habits, continue making changes. Not only will the new foods become more engrained in your lifestyle, but you will also avoid yo-yo dieting, making too drastic of changes that could cause a negative response, and you will be able to more easily pinpoint foods that you do not tolerate well. Again, we return to reduction in stress. Overeating, making many drastic changes all at once, and consuming inflammation-promoting foods all increase stress.

First, what kinds of eating patterns and habits contribute to inflammation?

  • The over-consumption of energy (i.e. eating too much food).

  • The consumption of highly processed foods, especially carbohydrates and refined sugars.

  • Un-balanced eating patterns (i.e. diets lacking in one or more macronutrient).

So what kinds of eating patterns and habits reduce inflammation?

Historically, the Mediterranean style eating pattern has been successful in reducing inflammation and promoting overall heath.  This includes a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, good-quality meats, foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids, un-processed and sprouted grains, fermented foods, and fiber.

Now that inflammation and its’ affect on health is understood, continue reading for the most valuable takeaways in regard to Inflammation:

Lifestyle habits to reduce inflammation:

  • Get 6-8 hours of good-quality sleep each night.

  • Consume adequate water each day.

  • Assess and manage stress.

  • Exercise regularly at an intensity that is appropriate for you.

  • Overall, focus on living a balanced and active lifestyle.

Dietary habits to reduce inflammation:

  • Consume energy in moderation – avoid overeating.

  • Monitor micro- and macronutrients to avoid imbalance.

  • When changing your diet, focus on making gradual changes.  This puts less stress on the body, and helps you to not only make sustainable changes, but to also monitor how you body responds to different foods.

  • Increase consumption of inflammation-preventing foods and decrease consumption of inflammation-causing foods (see lists below).

  • Focus on consuming fiber, whole grains, sprouted grains, fermented foods, Omega 3 Fatty Acids, high quality meats and protein, fresh fruit and vegetables, and an overall balance of energy and macronutrients.

*The lists below are merely the top foods in each respective category. Not every single inflammation-preventing food needs to be consumed, and not every single inflammation-causing food needs to be avoided indefinitely. Additionally, each individual respond to certain foods differently, even if that food is a healthy one. There are also many more nourishing inflammation-preventing foods that are not on the list below. This merely serves as a place to begin.

Inflammation-preventing foods to consume:

  • Leafy green vegetables

  • Bok Choy

  • Celery

  • Beet

  • Broccoli

  • Blueberries

  • Pineapple

  • Salmon

  • Dark chocolate

  • Bone broth

  • Walnuts

  • Coconut oil

  • Chia seeds

  • Flax seeds

  • Turmeric

  • Ginger

  • Lemon

Inflammation-causing foods to avoid:

  • Omega 6 fatty acids and trans fatty acids (most often found in highly processed foods and fast food).

  • Refined sugars and processed carbohydrates.

  • Highly processed snacks, packaged foods, meats, candies, and beverages.

Citations & Additional Resources

An Anti-Inflammatory Diet As Treatment For Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Case Series Report. Diet and Inflammation

Top 15 Anti-Inflammatory Foods.

Foods that Fight Inflammation.

Systemic Effects of Inflammation on Health During Chronic HIV Infection.

The Inflammation Theory of Disease.

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