Do you know the foods you eat every day can cause chronic inflammation in the body and put you at risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and arthritis? Diet book author and registered dietitian Elizabeth Somer gives us the dish on the foods that cause inflammation and how to follow an anti-inflammatory diet.
What is inflammation?
According to Somer, the author of Eat Your Way To Happiness and her latest book Eat Your Way to Sexy, there are two types of inflammation in the body — acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is useful, but chronic inflammation is the root of many diseases.
The nutritionist explains: “Inflammation is the body’s natural response to healing. Acute inflammation works great for healing a cut finger or a bumped head. The white blood cells and their chemicals get in, do their job and get out. But too much of a good thing leads to problems. Chronic inflammation damages, rather than repairs, tissues. When inflammation is too intense or prolonged, it produces diseases instead of healing.”
Lifestyle can lead to inflammation and disease
If your lifestyle includes a poor diet, you’re setting the stage for chronic inflammation to damage your body. “The wrong diet or lifestyle choices sets up a constant irritant in the body, damaging arteries, which can lead to heart disease or dementia, or inflaming tissues, which can lead to cancer, diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis,” explains Somer.
Chronic inflammation is a silent disease
Of even more concern, you may be have chronic inflammation and not even know it. How do you know if your body is battling inflammation? “You won’t feel it,” warns Somer. “But you can check for markers. If any part of you is inflamed, a marker called C reactive protein or CRP, will be high in your blood. If your value is more than 1mg/L, you are at risk.” Get it checked.
Foods that cause inflammation
Wondering if your diet is high in inflammation-provoking foods? According to Somer, inflammatory triggers in the diet include saturated fats in meat and fatty dairy products, sugar, trans fats in processed and fast foods, refined grains, potatoes, fried foods, palm or coconut oils, pastries and processed meats like hot dogs and deli meats. Check your kitchen and chuck these inflammatory foods.
Let’s talk fat and inflammation
Saturated and trans fats are frequently maligned as unhealthy fats, and with good reason. Somer explains, “Saturated and trans fats damage blood vessel walls, which triggers the immune response associated with inflammation and encourages blood fats, like cholesterol, to stick and become imbedded in the artery walls, leading to atherosclerosis, the underlying cause of heart disease, stroke, and even some forms of dementia.”
There is another type of fat that should be limited in your diet. “The fats in safflower or corn oil are called omega-6 fats and they promote inflammation,” explains Somer. “A specific omega-6 fat, called arachidonic acid, found in meats, is a particularly potent inflammation promoter.”
In addition, being overweight can increase your risk of chronic inflammation. “[This is] possibly because body fat stockpiles arachidonic acid, increasing the body’s supply of this damaging inflammatory chemical,” adds Somer.
Healthy fats to reach for are fatty fish, nuts, flax and olive oil, suggests the diet expert.
Anti-inflammatory diet guidelines
Somer says the best way to reduce chronic inflammation is by following these anti-inflammatory guidelines.
Go for whole grains
The registered dietitian advocates whole grains. “Make them chewy, not fluffy,” she suggests. “This means breads with hunks of whole grain, old-fashioned or steel-cut oats, brown rice and pasta cooked al dente.”
Eat colorful fruits
Somer strongly recommends making antioxidant-rich produce a staple in your diet and to eat more vegetables than fruit. “The more phytochemical-rich fruits and vegetables you eat, the more you boost your body’s defenses against disease,” she says. “Aim for at least nine servings a day.
Eat anti-inflammatory fats
“Include one or more omega-3-rich foods in your daily diet, preferably fatty fish or foods fortified with a sustainable, algae-based omega-3 DHA, and use only olive oil,” says Somer. The fats in fish oils, nuts and flaxseed inhibit inflammation. If you’re following a fish-free diet, Somer recommends foods fortified with an algae-based, vegetarian source of DHA (look for “life’sDHA” on the label). “You can also take supplements, such as Ovega-3 and Schiff MegaRed Plant-Omega – the first vegan supplements that supply both EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids.
Forget the processed foods
Would you intentionally eat poison? Of course not! So stop feeding on toxins in processed fare. Somer strongly recommends cutting back or eliminating refined grains, sugar, processed foods and foods that contain saturated or trans fats.
Develop an appetite for antioxidants
Antioxidants are key to disease prevention and reducing inflammation. “Extra-virgin olive oil, fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, nuts, soy, whole grains, green tea and certain spices, such as turmeric and ginger, prevent tissue damage that otherwise triggers the inflammatory response,” explains Somer. “These foods are the best dietary sources of antioxidants, such as vitamin C and beta carotene, as well as thousands of phytonutrients, such as flavonoids. Antioxidants block highly reactive oxygen fragments called free radicals that otherwise damage the genetic code, cell membranes and proteins, [which can lead] to heart disease, cancer, dementia and more.”
Adopt a healthy lifestyle
No amount of dieting will drastically improve your health unless you also have a healthy lifestyle. “To round out your anti-inflammatory program, cut back on stress, exercise daily and reduce your exposure to toxins, such as tobacco smoke and smog,” suggests Somer. “Your body will repay you a thousand-fold for this fight-fire, tender loving care!”