Inflamed, in pain and drained… is this you?
Considering over 125 million Americans are living with chronic conditions, it wouldn’t be surprising if the answer is yes.
Many don’t have a full grasp of the problems inflammation can have on our bodies and may not even realize they are living with chronic inflammation because it has become so normalized. Inflammation is not usually a great word to hear when we’re talking about our health these days yet, inflammation is a completely normal biological process. It’s a vital component of the body’s immune response. Ideally, inflammation is a self-limiting process, such as when we’re facing infection or recovering from a wound. In other words, the body initiates an inflammatory response when it’s trying to fight off pathogens or facilitate the healing process—both of which are intended to be relatively short-lived.
However, problems arise when there are persistent, moderately elevated levels of inflammation often referred to as chronic low-grade inflammation, which can occur as a result of a variety of “environmental insults”.1
If you’ve ever wondered what earned “inflammation” its negative connotation, it would be this chronic inflammation problem. Chronic inflammation is associated with a laundry list of issues and complications. Everything from cancer, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, obesity, asthma, cognitive decline and dementia.2 In fact, many in the scientific community believe that this chronic low-grade “metaflammation” is at the heart of most—if not all—non-infectious lifestyle-driven health complications.3
If you’ve followed any of my other content, you won’t be surprised by this next part. Diet is one of the most profound environmental insults. In other words, dietary factors can have a profound effect on inflammation.
But here’s the catch: The food you eat (or don’t eat) can impact your inflammatory balance both through pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory mechanisms.
In plain speak, that means that there are anti-inflammatory foods and nutrients, and those will serve as the foundation of an anti-inflammatory diet, which is also designed to limit (or eliminate) those foods and nutrients that have an inflammatory effect.
Check out the rest of the blog to find out what these are. Don’t forget to join me in the ENERGY Formula Facebook group and let me know if there are any foods you’ve noticed you are particularly sensitive to.
An anti-inflammatory diet is one that:
There several dietary components that are associated with lower inflammation, and these giving us more insight into what can be considered anti-inflammatory foods:1,5,6
Eat plenty of fiber. There are many benefits to making sure you have enough fiber in your diet and lower levels of inflammation is one more to be added to that list.7 High-fiber, anti-inflammatory foods can help support a healthy balance of gut bacteria, which seems to play an integral role in supporting a healthy inflammatory balance.4,8 But, foods high in fiber also tend to package several other key anti-inflammatory compounds, such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. So, before you go out and buy some sawdust powder to ramp up your fiber intake (most people barely consume half of the recommended 30 – 40 grams per day), focus on eating more fiber-rich anti-inflammatory foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Load up on veggies and fruits. As mentioned above, fruits and veggies are densely packaged with fiber, but there’s more to the story. For starters, they’re loaded with phytonutrients, antioxidants that play a critical role in supporting a healthy oxidative balance, which in turn supports a healthy inflammatory balance. For example, anthocyanins are the anti-inflammatory phytonutrients that give fruits (such as berries) and vegetables their red, purple, and blue colors. Shoot for a variety of colorful fruits and veggies, which are also great sources of the key micronutrients that are associated with lower levels of inflammation:
Eat fatty fish and seafood. There’s good reason health organizations like the American Heart Association encourage people to include more fatty fish in their diets as they’re the best dietary sources of the key omega-3 fats DHA and EPA. Research shows that consuming roughly three 3 ½-ounce servings of fish each week is associated with significantly lower levels of inflammatory markers.10 When it comes to choosing fish and seafood, not all choices are equal. We want to emphasize options that are rich in the omega-3 fats DHA and EPA, and we also have to take into consideration factors like sustainability and heavy metals (e.g., mercury). Generally speaking, the best fish and seafood (which also tend to be the best dietary sources of vitamin D) that meet these criteria include:
Focus on healthy fats. In addition to the omega-3 fats found in fatty fish, thanks to their “healthy fats”, we can also add to our list of anti-inflammatory foods avocados, olives, and extra virgin olive oil, the hallmark of the Mediterranean diet, which is arguably the best example of an anti-inflammatory diet. The anti-inflammatory properties of these foods can be traced back to both their fat content (i.e., monounsaturated fats) as well as their antioxidants. Nuts and seeds also contain anti-inflammatory fats, fiber, and key micronutrients, including magnesium. Meanwhile, you’ll want to limit your intake of industrially-produced vegetable and seed oils (e.g., soybean, corn, canola, safflower, sunflower, and cottonseed oils), which are rife with omega-6 fats and other inflammation-promoting compounds.
Go the extra mile for pasture-raised, organic meat, dairy, and eggs. One of the greatest advantages meat, dairy, and eggs from pasture-raised animals is their fatty acid profile (more omega-3 fats, a better omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, and more conjugated linoleic acid), making them strong candidates as anti-inflammatory foods. You’ll also be getting no GMO, no antibiotics, no added hormones, and no persistent pesticides, which could potentially have inflammatory properties. Although heavily debated, dairy seems to have anti-inflammatory properties, and along those lines, dairy consumption may promote a healthy inflammatory balance.11,12 Having said that, individual differences certainly apply; it’s just that the broad recommendation for everyone to completely avoid dairy seems impractical and unnecessary. And it’s possible that fermented dairy (such as yogurt and kefir) may be especially key anti-inflammatory foods due to the fact that they contain probiotics, which play a principal role in the immune system and support a healthy inflammatory response.13
Careful with the carbs. I’m not saying you need to go ultra-low-carb although it should come as no surprise that I highly recommend giving the ketogenic diet a try. There’s some evidence to suggest that a properly formulated, whole-food-based ketogenic diet may improve inflammatory balance.14 But, whether you try going keto or you don’t, what should be clear is that an anti-inflammatory diet encourages the consumption of whole plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, tubers, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes, which have a low glycemic load, promote glycemic control, and are packaged with nutrients (e.g., antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, minerals) that support healthy levels of inflammation. The things you won’t find in anti-inflammatory foods are refined grains/starches and added sugar.
Be liberal with herbs and spices. Nearly all herbs and spices are nicely packaged with phytonutrients (e.g., flavonoids) that have powerful antioxidant properties and promote a healthy balance of inflammation. Cocoa, garlic, ginger, oregano, pepper, rosemary, thyme, and turmeric are some of the most noteworthy.6
Basically, what much of this boils down to is that an anti-inflammatory diet is the opposite of the typical Western-style diet. This lifestyle relies heavily on processed, ultra-refined, pre-packaged convenience foods.
But, it’s important to note that there’s no single anti-inflammatory diet. Arguably, the best examples are the Mediterranean, plant-based (e.g., macrobiotic), and Paleolithic diets, but bioindividuality and overall lifestyle play a factor as well.1,15 In other words, while they’re abundant in anti-inflammatory foods, they also address several other key areas, which are essentially “danger signals” that serve as continuous false inflammatory triggers that influence inflammation, including:4
In conclusion, an anti-inflammatory diet means eating more anti-inflammatory foods and fewer inflammation-promoting foods. This is the same advice that can help alleviate many of the other health and energy issues we have discussed previously. Try to incorporate more of the foods mentioned in this article and let me know if you notice a difference in how you feel.