Inflammation is not all bad—actually, it’s necessary. It’s your body’s natural defense against harmful invaders such as bacteria, viruses, and pathogens, and in healing after an injury or trauma. When we get sick, our body’s initial response is to create more white blood cells to help drive out the virus or bacteria that has invaded our system. We develop symptoms such as a fever, runny nose, a cough, and night sweats, all of which are an inflammatory response and are our body’s natural way of drawing out the illness.
However, there is a type of inflammation that can be harmful to our bodies, and this is called chronic inflammation. In certain circumstances, the inflammatory response goes on for a longer period of time than is necessary or needed. This leads to chronic inflammation, which can later manifest in an autoimmune disease, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and so on. In order to help mitigate and lower our chances of experiencing chronic inflammation, we need to pay attention to how we are caring for our bodies.
Factors such as stress, sleep, and exposure to environmental toxins play a huge part in how inflammation continues to evolve in our bodies. Nutrition and food is, of course, a huge priority, which is why the conversation around eating anti-inflammatory foods is very important. There are certain foods that, when eaten frequently and especially in combination with poor lifestyle routines such as lack of sleep and excessive stress, can turn on a more chronic inflammatory response.
These inflammatory foods include anything that contains trans fats, such as margarine, corn and canola oil, deep-fried foods, and most processed foods. Foods that are rich in trans fats increase the amount of LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream and reduce the amount of HDL cholesterol, which helps remove any excess cholesterol from your body.
Dairy is a common irritant in those who are especially sensitive to cow’s dairy or are lactose-intolerant. For those who are sensitive to whole and full-fat dairy, it can cause the development of acne, bloating, and stomach discomfort. Fatty red meat contains saturated fat which, when consumed frequently and in large amounts, can also increase cholesterol levels. Other foods containing high levels of saturated fat include butter, chicken skin, and palm and coconut oils. Do your best to limit the intake of these foods to a minimum. Instead, opt for fatty fish (which contains omega fatty acids), legumes, chicken, or eggs (if tolerable).
Managing the intake of added sugar is also important when trying to lower inflammation in the body. When consumed in excess, sugar can stimulate the production of free fatty acids in the liver and has been linked to an increase in inflammatory markers, gut permeability (leaky gut), and weight gain, among other problems. Natural sugars such as those found in fruits are not harmful and do not cause inflammation, because your body processes them differently.
It’s important that you pay attention to what foods might be an irritant to your unique body. What might be a food sensitivity for you may not be one for your sibling, child, or friend. Your particular sensitivities can be assessed through a food sensitivity or allergy assessment test administered by a healthcare professional. You could also follow an elimination diet with the guidance of a registered and certified practitioner, such as a dietician, nutritionist, or nutrition coach.
The good news is that there are more anti-inflammatory foods to enjoy than there are inflammatory foods to minimize or avoid. These include foods such as gluten-free whole grains; fresh fruits; vegetables and leafy greens; healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil, and fatty fish; spices like ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, saffron, and cloves; garlic and herbs; 70%-plus cocoa content chocolate; nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, flax and sunflower seeds; and almost everyone’s personal favorite, matcha or green tea.