Food is Medicine When it Comes to Chronic Inflammation
Patients often confuse acute inflammation and chronic inflammation. Acute inflammation occurs when you injure yourself or get sick with an infection. This type of inflammation is a normal biological response and your body’s way of healing or getting rid of the infection. Chronic inflammation happens when your body doesn’t shut off this process, and it can damage cells throughout the body leading to chronic disease or general poor health.
The good news is chronic inflammation can be reduced significantly through simple lifestyle changes and food choices. It's important to note, that while you may not have symptoms of chronic inflammation today, taking steps now to avoid chronic inflammation altogether is one of the most important strategies to maintaining optimal health and disease prevention.
Know the Signs of Chronic Inflammation
- Body pain, joint pain, muscle pain
- Chronic fatigue and insomnia
- Depression, anxiety and mood disorders
- Constipation, diarrhea, and acid reflux
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Frequent infections
What medical conditions are tied to chronic inflammation?
Chronic inflammation has been associated with head to toe conditions including stroke, chronic respiratory diseases (COPD) heart disease, dementia, diabetes, cancer, obesity, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, allergies/asthma and inflammatory bowel disease. It can also lead to skin aging and overall accelerated aging.
What role does diet play in chronic inflammation?
Food as medicine is arguably most important when it comes to reducing chronic inflammation. Increasing your intake of anti-inflammatory foods, and limiting pro-inflammatory foods, is critical even if you have an inflammatory disease that is contributing to your chronic inflammation.
What are some foods that can contribute to or cause inflammation?
Excessive amounts of certain types of saturated fat, especially from highly processed foods or fatty cuts of meat, and even small amounts of processed trans fats are the real bad guys when it comes to triggering inflammation. Trans fats in particular are known to cause inflammation, and yet still exist in small amounts in the general food supply, mainly in packaged baked goods. Always look for words like “partially hydrogenated”, and limit fast food and fried foods as much as possible as they can be high in trans fats. In addition, refined white sugar and refined carbohydrates can also contribute to inflammation, as well as sugar sweetened beverages including sodas, sweet teas, energy drinks, flavored coffee drinks, and even store bought smoothies can be loaded with sugar.. Chronic inflammation can also be caused by excess alcohol consumption and eating too much red meat, especially processed red meat.
Foods that Help to Reduce Chronic Inflammation
Fruits and Vegetables
Berries, citrus, apples and pears are loaded with anti-inflammatory polyphenols. Cruciferous vegetables like brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower are also loaded with antioxidants which help reduce chronic inflammation by reducing damage to your cells.
Foods such as beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and most fruits, help stabilize blood sugar and support a healthy gut which can help reduce inflammation. In addition, soluble fiber is especially helpful as it feeds the good bacteria in your gut which is essential to keeping the gut lining healthy.
Green and Black Tea and Olive Oil
Tea polyphenols are associated with a reduction in inflammation as they are one of the top sources of polyphenols. In fact, just two cups of green tea per day would exceed the latest recommendations to consume at least 250 mg of flavonoids polyphenols daily. Polyphenol-rich extra virgin olive oil is also a great way to fight inflammation.
Herbs and Spices
Most herbs and spices help fight inflammation and are loaded with polyphenols, and they act as prebiotics feeding the healthy bacteria in your gut. But, the real anti-inflammatory spice rockstar is turmeric which contains a compound called curcumin that is an especially powerful anti-inflammatory. Other helpful herbs and spices include: ginger; cardamom; marjoram; coriander; rosemary; cinnamon; and thyme.
Pro Tip #1: Eat turmeric with a pinch of black pepper and a healthy fat like olive oil to increase its activity in your body by up to 2000%.
Pro Tip #2: For those that aren’t as savvy in the kitchen, I recommend getting spice blends such as Indian spices; Asian spices; Thai spices; Italian spices; French spices; Greek spices; or Chinese spices to make spicing up your diet simple and delicious.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Fatty Fish including salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring, and fatty tuna are the richest source of omega-3 fatty acids and help reduce inflammation. If you don’t eat these fish at least twice a week it's important to consider taking an omega 3 fish oil supplement.
Pro Tip #3: When purchasing an omega 3 fish oil supplement, look at the supplement facts panel to make sure that the total amount of EPA and DHA is at least ⅔ of the total fish oil in the product to ensure that you are getting adequate amounts of anti-inflammatory omega 3s.
Good Lifestyle Habits
- Exercising regularly, even if you don’t lose weight
- Sleeping 7-8 hours per night
- Managing stress as best as possible
- Sedentary behavior (not just not exercising but sitting too much)
- Excess stress
- Poor or inadequate sleep
- Gum disease can contribute to chronic inflammation also so take care of your teeth and gums
Anti-Inflammatory Snack Recipe
Chai Chia Pudding
- ½ cup unsweetened almond milk or other non-dairy milk
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds
- 2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Pinch of ground cardamom
- Pinch of ground cloves
- ½ cup sliced banana, divided
- 1 tablespoon chopped unsalted roasted pistachios, divided
- Stir almond milk (or other non-dairy milk beverage), chia, maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves together in a small bowl.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.
- When ready to serve, stir well.
- Spoon about half the pudding into a serving glass (or bowl) and top with half the banana and pistachios.
- Add the rest of the pudding and top with the remaining banana and pistachios.