By Michael A. Smith, MD
Chronic inflammation is the “common denominator” of age-related disease. Now you’re probably familiar with inflammation on the surface of your body as local redness, heat, swelling and pain. But what you may not know is this: Inflammation also happens on the inside of your body, and this is where it can be the most dangerous to your health.
Inflammation is characterized by an increased blood flow to an area of infection or injury. In this process, your blood carries white blood cells, nourishment and repair cells to the injury site to aid in recovery. But when inflammation persists, it can actually damage your body and cause illnesses.
So what causes chronic inflammation? Stress, lack of exercise, genetic predisposition, and exposure to toxins are all common culprits. However, there’s another major cause that’s often overlooked: the foods that you put into your body. Below, we’ll examine this in detail.
Inflammation & Pro-Inflammatory Foods
The typical European diet is rich in animal protein, which is a source of Arachidonic acid — a polyunsaturated omega-6 fat that can increase inflammation. Arachidonic acid generates a number of potent inflammatory compounds, including the following:
It’s really important for people with inflammatory conditions to do everything they can to avoid increasing Arachidonic acid levels. Below is a short list of foods that anyone with an inflammatory condition should limit or even avoid entirely:
- Red Meat – Especially fatty red meat
- White Meat – Chicken, duck & wild fowl
- Dairy – Any animal milk
- Eggs – Avoid the yolk
- Cheeses – Especially hard cheeses
- Certain fish – Tilapia, catfish, yellowtail
Please note that a healthy diet usually contains a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, and some omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation.
What Foods are Anti-Inflammatory?
Fortunately, nature offers us plenty of foods that can help ease inflammation. Even better, these foods work without side effects while supplying us with essential vitamins and minerals that can boost our overall health. The table below includes some natural foods and beverages that are known to ease inflammation:
|Type of Food or Beverage||Food Source||Supporting Research|
|Omega-3 Fatty Acids||Oily fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies||Suppress multiple steps in the inflammatory process and limit the production of inflammatory cytokines.1,2|
|Monounsaturated Fat-Oils||Olive oil, canola, walnut, grape seed oil||Olive oil, for instance, decreases C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation.3|
|Seeds & Nuts||Flax seeds, pumpkin, walnuts|
|Whole Grains||Quinoa, bulgur wheat, barley, oats, rye||Lower CRP and are helpful in different types of arthritis.5|
|Dark Fruits||Tart cherries & dark berries||Tart cherry anthocyanins provide protection against pain and inflammation. The effect is actually comparable to that of the anti-inflammatory drug indomethacin.6|
|Green & black tea||Camellia sinensis||Black tea theaflavins, for instance, can help turn off specific genes in your DNA that express inflammatory cytokines.7|
|Seaweed||Brown kelp, wakame, arame||Seaweed is rich in fucoidan, a natural compound that reduces inflammation.8 It’s also one of the key nutrients thought to be responsible for the exceptionally long lives of people living in Okinawa.9|
Is Your Own Diet Pro-Inflammatory?
Want to measure up your own diet as it relates to inflammation? Try this: keep a food diary for 1 week. Create a table with 5 columns — meats, dairy, fruits, vegetables and grains. Place a checkmark in the appropriate column every time you eat a serving of food from that category. At the end of the week, simply tally your checkmarks to see where you land.
Here’s an example diary:
If you have more checkmarks to the left of the table, you’re eating what we’d consider to be a pro-inflammatory diet. If you have more checkmarks to the right, you’re eating an anti-inflammatory diet.
Please note: This table is not an exact science. It’s just a simple means of helping you assess your own diet!
How does your diet measure up in terms of inflammation? Have you ever considered this before? Let us know in the comments!
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