How Nutrition Can Help Reduce Inflammation
Have you been asking yourself, how can I reduce inflammation in my body? If so, there may be a simple solution for you: changing your eating habits. Proper nutrition can play an important role in managing your discomfort. Many people live with chronic pains every day, unaware that simply eating the right foods can actually help them find relief. Maintaining a healthy diet, in addition to frequent exercise and reduced stress, can help alleviate your inflammation and chronic pain. In this article, we'll cover the best foods to help with inflammation. If you're looking for the best tips on how to reduce inflammation, read on.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation refers to your body's process of fighting against things that harm it, like infections, injuries, and toxins, in an attempt to heal itself. When something damages your cells, your body releases chemicals that trigger a response from your immune system.
This response includes the release of antibodies and proteins, as well as increased blood flow to the damaged area. In the case of acute inflammation — like getting a cut on your knee or dealing with a cold — the whole process usually lasts for a few hours or a few days.
Chronic inflammation happens when this response lingers, leaving your body in a constant state of alert. Over time, chronic inflammation may have a negative impact on your tissues and organs. Some research suggests that chronic inflammation could also play a role in a range of conditions, from cancer to stroke.
What foods cause inflammation?
You may be wondering what foods cause inflammation? Unfortunately, the standard American diet is pro-inflammatory because it's rich in ultra-processed foods and red meat and low in fruits and vegetables.
What you eat can affect inflammation. Inflammation is often triggered as a way to protect your health when the immune system notices anything foreign in the body. While intermittent inflammation can be protective, chronic inflammation has been linked to many serious illnesses.
If you want to battle inflammation, start by taking a look in your kitchen. And when you make your grocery list, add less inflammatory foods and more anti-inflammatory foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, seeds, and fatty fish. Here are the inflammatory foods to avoid.
Fried foods like doughnuts, mozzarella sticks, and potato chips are foods that cause inflammation. They are high in trans fats, a type of unhealthy fatty acid that has been linked to a long list of side effects. In addition to cranking up cholesterol levels and increasing the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, trans fats may also trigger inflammation.
According to one study in the Journal of Nutrition, increased consumption of trans fatty acids was associated with higher levels of markers of inflammation, including C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6).
Heavily processed or refined vegetable oils are very high in omega-6 fatty acids. Although omega-6 fatty acids are an important component of a healthy diet, consuming a high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids can trigger inflammation.
While experts generally recommend aiming for a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids of around 4:1, most people consume a ratio closer to 15:1 instead. Therefore, limiting your consumption of refined vegetable oils while also adding more omega-3 fatty acids to your diet may help alleviate inflammation.
High-Fructose Corn Syrup
High-fructose corn syrup is an inflammatory foods to avoid. It's a type of sweetener that is often found in processed foods, including soda, juice, candy, and ice cream. Just like regular sugar, high-fructose corn syrup is at the top of the inflammatory foods chart and can have detrimental effects on nearly every aspect of health.
One study out of Boston found that women who consumed more sugar-sweetened beverages had a higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the joints. Another study published in Nutrition & Diabetes also reported that increased consumption of drinks containing high-fructose corn syrup was associated with a higher risk of arthritis in adults ages 20–30 as well.
Refined carbs like pasta, white bread, cookies, and crackers are notorious as some of the top foods that cause inflammation of the joints. These foods undergo extensive processing, stripping them of beneficial nutrients, such as fiber.
Refined carbs also tend to have a higher glycemic index, which is used to measure how quickly foods increase blood sugar levels. Research shows that consuming foods with a high glycemic index may drive up inflammation, even in healthy adults.
On the other hand, studies show that swapping out refined grains for whole grains instead can decrease inflammation and protect against chronic disease.
Often lurking in low-calorie foods and diet products, some research suggests that artificial sweeteners could cause inflammation. Although more research on humans is needed, studies indicate that artificial sweeteners may disrupt the health of the gut microbiome, which plays a key role in regulating inflammation. One animal model also found that regular consumption of sucralose, also known as Splenda, could cause liver inflammation in mice.
Although certain types of alcohol (like red wine) can actually be beneficial in moderation, excessive alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for inflammation. Studies show that drinking high amounts of alcohol can increase certain inflammatory markers, including CRP.
What's more, alcohol intake can also ramp up the risk of a leaky gut syndrome, a condition in which toxins and food particles leak from the digestive tract into the blood, causing widespread inflammation.
Processed meat is any type of meat that has been smoked, cured, salted, dried, or canned in order to enhance its flavor or extend its shelf life. Some of the most common examples include cold cuts, bacon, salami, sausage, and beef jerky.
Not only was processed meat recently classified as carcinogenic by the World Health Organization, but it can contribute to inflammation as well. Studies show that eating more processed meat may be tied to higher levels of CRP, a marker that is used to measure inflammation in the body.
Food manufacturers create trans fats through the process of hydrogenation. "Adding hydrogen to fat changes its texture, consistency, and shelf life," says Coates. But researchers have found that there's no safe level of trans fats to consume. So it's recommended to aim for less than one gram of trans fat each day.
Trans fats raise your bad cholesterol (LDL) levels and lower good cholesterol (HDL) levels. Both actions can increase your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes.
What are anti-inflammatory foods
An anti-inflammatory diet plan is one way to counter some chronic inflammation. By addressing the inflammation with anti-inflammatory foods, not only can the symptoms of these diseases be alleviated, but we could even see them disappear. Small, gradual changes are typically more sustainable, easier for the body to adapt to, and can make you less likely to go back to your old ways. So rather than emptying your pantry and sailing off to the Mediterranean, you can pursue an anti-inflammatory diet one step at a time.
By adding in the anti-inflammatory foods that fight inflammation and restore health at a cellular level, you can begin to repair the body without any drastic changes. Once you find foods that heal your body and satisfy your palate, you can remove the inflammation-causing offenders without feeling deprived. Here are some foods that are anti-inflammatory:
Almonds are a great source of monounsaturated (healthy) fats, vitamin E, and manganese. They're also rich in magnesium and plant protein.
In research studies, eating almonds has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease. They may improve the balance of fatty acids in your blood.
Almonds can also give you a "full" feeling. They're a little higher in calories than many other anti-inflammatory foods, but eating a handful of them may help you stick with a healthy weight loss plan.
Avocados are rich in heart-healthy fats. Plus, they're a good source of magnesium, fiber, and potassium. Half an avocado adds nicely to your daily intake of vitamins C, A, E, and B-complex vitamins. Bonus: They're low in sodium.
Avocados also contain polyphenols that work as antioxidants.2 Antioxidants fight cell damage in your body. Add avocado slices to a sandwich or salad, or make a tasty guacamole.
Green Leafy Vegetables
The produce drawer is the first spot in your refrigerator or pantry to fill when fighting inflammation. Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants that restore cellular health, as well as anti-inflammatory flavonoids. If you struggle to consume added portions of green leafy vegetables, try this delicious anti-inflammatory juice that incorporates greens alongside some of the strongest anti-inflammatory foods on the list.
Swiss chard, for example, is extremely high in the antioxidants vitamin A and C, as well as vitamin K, which can protect your brain against oxidative stress caused by free radical damage. Eating chard can also protect you against common vitamin K deficiency.
Also known as Chinese cabbage, bok choy is an excellent source of antioxidant vitamins and minerals. In fact, recent studies show that there are over 70 antioxidant phenolic substances in bok choy. These include something called hydroxycinnamic acids, which are robust antioxidants that scavenge free radicals. A versatile vegetable, bok choy, can be made in many dishes outside of Chinese cuisine, so make it a go-to anti-inflammatory food.
Following an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Certain foods are known to contribute to inflammation in the body. One example is red meat, which contains a lot of saturated fat. Saturated fat is one of the substances, along with trans fat and refined sugar, that cause certain immune cells to release inflammatory proteins into the bloodstream.
Other foods do not trigger this effect and, in some cases, can reduce inflammation. This includes foods that are rich in substances called antioxidants. Antioxidants fight chemicals known as free radicals that cause long-term damage to cells and can increase inflammation.
Focus on whole foods
When you've cut out the processed stuff, what's left? Whole foods, of course!
A whole food is a one-ingredient food, an entire entity: an apple, an orange, a cucumber. In addition to fruits and vegetables, other examples include:
Brown or wild rice.
Fish (especially oily fish, such as salmon, tuna, herring, or mackerel).
Legumes, like dried beans and peas.
Nuts and seeds.
In short, if you can find it in nature, it's probably a whole food.
So do any processed foods make the grade? Foods that have more than one ingredient can still be made up of whole foods — for example, store-bought hummus, dried fruit, and nut snack mix or a pasta sauce. The key is to always review the ingredient list.
That means choosing bread and pasta that are minimally processed, minimally preserved, and made with whole grains.
Cut back on processed foods
The first key to minimizing inflammation is cutting foods that cause it. An anti-inflammatory diet is one that includes minimally processed foods. That typically means staying away from anything that comes in a box or a bag or anything that has a laundry list of ingredients — especially if they start with sugar, salt, or processed oil and include ingredients you don't recognize.
Sweets, like commercial baked goods, pre-packaged desserts, ice cream, and candy.
Snack foods, like potato chips and microwave popcorn.
Processed meats, including bacon, sausage, hot dogs, bologna, pepperoni, and salami.
Processed cheeses, like nacho cheese dip and American cheese slices.
Sugary beverages, including soda and sports drinks.
Fried foods, like fried chicken and French fries.
Even so-called healthy snacks like granola bars, trail mix, and baked chips can have a lot of processed ingredients, including added sodium and sugar.
There's no real nutritional benefit to them, so you're not lacking anything when you cut them out.
Consider the elimination diet
If you've cut out processed foods but still experience symptoms of inflammation, you may need to go a step further.
Finding the right anti-inflammatory diet for you is a matter of personalization and finding the foods that trigger your inflammation. The best way to start is by trying an elimination diet and slowly cutting out potential trigger foods one by one.
Food sensitivity tests can help identify which foods increase your body's antibody response, too, which may be helpful if you can't seem to determine a culprit on your own.
How to reduce inflammation in the body
Chances are, you don't want chronic inflammation to damage your health. Let's look at these
simple tips on how to reduce inflammation in the body.
It may sound contradictory to see exercise on a list of how to reduce inflammation in the body. If you are dealing with chronic inflammation, you are probably feeling tired, achy, or overburdened with other symptoms. Why would you want to exercise when you have low energy?
Yet, movement and exercise are some of your best weapons to reduce inflammation in your body. Regular exercise can reduce inflammation, pain, and the risk of chronic diseases.
Aim to exercise five days a week for at least 20 to 30 minutes a day. Mix up your routine by practicing cardiovascular exercises, strength and resistance training, and low-impact workouts. Stay active throughout the day by getting up to stretch regularly, taking a stroll during lunch, or choosing the stairs over the elevator.
Reduce Your Stress Levels
Just like inflammation, stress is beneficial when it's acute and harmful when it is chronic. Acute stress helps you survive immediate danger. It was quite handy for the cavemen when lions were chasing them.
In today's world, however, lions are not chasing us anymore. Instead of lions, you are being bombarded by daily stressors, such as work stress, school stress, financial stress, relationship stress, and other life stress. Unfortunately, your body's response to these chronic stressors is creating chronic inflammation, which can consequently lead to an array of health issues.
To reduce stress-induced inflammation in your body, you need to reduce stress in your life. Practicing breathwork, meditation, guided relaxation, and gratitude are great ways to relax your body, calm your mind, and teach your brain to respond to stressful situations better. Other stress-reducing activities include journaling, coloring, arts and crafts, yoga, TaiChi, and nature walks.
Improve Your Sleep
Poor sleep is a major contributing factor to both chronic stress and chronic inflammation. Yet insomnia, poor sleep, and tiredness are some of the major signs of chronic stress and chronic inflammation creating a vicious cycle.
Improving your sleep is non-negotiable if you want to reduce inflammation in your body. Develop an evening routine that helps to unwind and relax. Avoid sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and heavy foods in the evening as they can stimulate your body. Choose calming herbal tea, golden milk, or water instead.
Avoid electronic use at least two hours before bed. Choose relaxing activities instead, such as reading, coloring, puzzles, journaling, or listening to calming music instead. Support your sleep with a supportive and comfortable mattress, pillows, and bedding.
Supplements to reduce inflammation in the body
People use supplements for a wide variety of reasons. Inflammation, which contributes to a host of conditions from arthritis to digestive diseases and more—is one of them.
Across the board, supplements are not as well-researched as conventional medical treatments. However, certain supplements are recognized for having properties that may help control inflammation.
Bromelain is a group of protein-dissolving enzymes found in the stem and fruit of the pineapple.
Bromelain may have an anti-inflammatory effect by changing various immune responses and pathways, especially when the immune system is already stimulated.
Chondroitin is a part of human connective tissue found in bone and cartilage. In supplements, chondroitin sulfate is typically made from bovine trachea. It is also made from pork byproducts.
Chondroitin is believed to reduce pain and have anti-inflammatory properties. The supplement may also improve joint function and slow the progression of osteoarthritis.
Cat's claw comes from the dried root bark of a woody vine. The plant is found in the Amazon rainforest in Peru and other parts of South America.
Cat's claw is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties by blocking TNF or the tumor necrosis factor.
Boswellia is a tree that is found in parts of the Middle East, Africa, and India. Boswellia extract is also referred to as Indian frankincense. It's made from the gum resin of the tree bark.
Classified as an Ayurvedic herb, Boswellia is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties. It may help relieve pain.
Inflammation can occur in response to many triggers, some of which are hard to prevent, including pollution, injury, or sickness. However, you have much more control over factors like your diet.
To stay as healthy as possible, keep inflammation down by minimizing your consumption of foods that trigger it and eating anti-inflammatory foods. If you need help, consider seeking nutrition counseling from Natural Care Chiropractic. We offer personalized nutrition programs and guidance to ensure you're getting the support you need to live healthier and feel better. Schedule an appointment today to get started.