When we think of inflammation, we usually picture a situation like someone banging their knee on something and having the area swell up a bit and become red. The body's defense mechanism kicks in sending tons of white blood cells to the scene to help fight off invaders and start the healing process. Of course this is a normal response that we expect. Unlike this acute form of inflammation, chronic inflammation occurs when this system goes a little haywire and doesn't know when to quit. This steady and slow level of inflammation can actually contribute to disease. Scientists still don't fully understand how and why this occurs, but more is being discovered all the time.
For quite a while now, it has been known that inflammation has a definite connection to certain autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. But now it is being discovered that inflammatory cells can have an effect all over the body, possibly causing cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer's and more.
Some of the basic things we can do to help decrease chronic inflammation are the obvious healthy tasks of eating well, getting enough exercise and making sure we get enough rest. But what else is there? First, it is good to know what kinds of things we should avoid in our diet that may contribute to this problem. Processed foods are saturated with vegetable oils and other industrial seed oils that are direct culprits for increasing inflammation. This is one of the many reasons why a diet that consists of little to no processed food is preferred, always. These oils are very high in omega 6 fats. In and of themselves, omega 6 fats are not bad, but it's when the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3's gets way off track that it becomes a problem, specifically when taking in too much processed foods. When you are eating primarily whole foods, this issue becomes less of a problem.
Sugar itself is a huge contributor to inflammation, for sure. Poor regulation of insulin and glucose is an open invitation for chronic inflammation to wreak havoc on our bodies. This is tough because people have eaten so much more sugar since the vilification of fat a years ago (unfortunately).
While some studies suggest a link between dairy and low-grade inflammation, there are others suggesting no correlation at all. Obviously some people don't tolerate dairy well due to lactose intolerance, but many people tolerate some dairy just fine. There are even studies suggesting that certain dairy (specifically fermented dairy like yogurt and kefir) can actually be anti-inflammatory. Grains, legumes and have also been accused of being pro-inflammatory (causing leaky-gut syndrome), but most importantly see how they affect you personally.
It is also important to point out some foods that fight chronic inflammation. Green leafy vegetables, olive oil, fatty fish, berries (such as blueberries and strawberries), tomatoes, and nuts are among the top.
Tumeric is another anti-inflammatory king due to the compound curcumin that is contains. This can be a great addition to things like scrambled eggs, soups and chilies. Just be careful if you are taking certain diabetes medications or certain blood thinners as this can interfere. Always check with your doctor before adding any kind of dietary supplement (as you can get this is a pill form as well). If eating tumeric in recipes using the root or ground form, for best absorption try to eat it with some black pepper or some healthy fat. Adding black pepper to tumeric increases its bioavailability by 1,000 times! Tumeric is also fat soluble, so it needs some fat to fully dissolve the curcumin and make sure it gets past the stomach and into the blood stream where it will have the most effect.
And my personal favorite, cacao. Raw cacao powder is full of polyphenols that are now being noticed for their anti-inflammatory potential. This is what makes eating dark chocolate (greater than 70% cacao) actually good for you. I love adding raw cacao to many of my recipes and you can find the brand I love here. This is NOT the same as processed cocoa powder you find on the shelf in the grocery store. Take note! Cacao nibs are another awesome way to get theses benefits! Add some crunch to your recipes with theses little gems and reap the rewards of the health benefits at the same time. You can find these here as well! I use both cacao powder and cacao nibs in my homemade protein bars.
Now on to an anti-inflammatory life!
Terri Wentzell is a registered nurse with more than 20 years of experience. She is also a certified personal trainer, wellness coach, fitness nutrition coach, and sport yoga instructor.