What is inflammation & why does it matter?
Inflammation is a natural and protective response by the body’s immune system to an injury, infection or harmful substances. Symptoms of inflammation include redness, heat, swelling and pain.
There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic. Imagine cutting your finger or scraping your knee. What happens? The area turns red, is painful and perhaps starts swelling. This is acute inflammation – your immune system is sending white blood cells to your injured finger or knee to protect it. In this way, inflammation is helpful and essential and speeds up the healing process.
In contrast, chronic inflammation happens when the body continues to respond for a long time as if it was under attack by a foreign or unwanted substance. Chronic inflammation does not help the body because it fights against its own cells by mistake. Some diseases or medical conditions associated with inflammation are rheumatoid arthritis, where many joints throughout the body are permanently inflamed, psoriasis – a chronic skin disease, and inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. These chronic inflammatory diseases can last for years or even a lifetime. Chronic inflammation also contributes to heart disease, type-2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, and some allergic conditions.
What you can do about managing inflammation?
With all the conditions that involve inflammation, no wonder people are interested in food choices to help reduce ongoing harmful chronic inflammation. Overall good nutrition is key to enhancing immunity and providing antioxidants that lower the stress of inflammation. You may be wondering about specific foods that have been called out as part of the ‘anti-inflammatory diet’. Here are FIVE types of foods to keep on top of your list that may help reduce chronic inflammation:
1. Foods rich in omega- 3 fats
- Eat oily fish 2 – 3 times / week (salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, trout)
- Replace regular eggs with omega-3 eggs
- Choose plant-based sources of omega-3 fats including flax oil, ground flax seeds and walnuts
2. Antioxidant rich vegetables and fruit
- Look for colour – dark green, red, orange, yellow, purple and blue – they are chock full of antioxidants. Examples include berries, citrus fruit, carrots, sweet potatoes, green vegetables
- Enjoy a variety of vegetables and fruit everyday – make them half your plate at each meal
- Choose fibre rich foods such as vegetables, fruit, pulses (beans, chickpeas, lentils) and whole grains. High fibre foods help support your gut health and nourish the beneficial bacteria that help fight inflammation and disease.
4. Herbs and spices
- Add flavour with cinnamon, ginger and turmeric which seem to supress inflammation, but evidence is unclear about how often and how much to eat. Have fun exploring some dietitian approved recipes that enhance flavour with these herbs and spices.
- Eat protein foods to build antibodies which play a role in supporting a healthy immune system. Include fatty fish (see tip #1 above) and lean white meat in your diet. Use cooking methods that do not char meat such as poaching, stewing, and steaming. Try acidic marinades such as lemon, lime vinegar or yogurt for a health and flavour boost. Acid ingredients tenderize meat and studies show that marinating meats may reduce harmful compounds that can form on meat exposed to high cooking temperatures.
- Choose plant proteins including tofu, tempeh, edamame, beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts and seeds.
There is no single anti-inflammatory or miracle food! However, eating an overall healthy diet is an important way to help manage inflammation. In addition, getting enough sleep , engaging in regular physical activity as well as other lifestyle factors (such as NOT smoking) have a direct impact on lowering inflammation.
A registered dietitian can break down the anti-inflammatory diet for you into easy-to-follow steps and provide you with a variety of enjoyable ways to eat well. Contact us to find out more about our personalized nutrition counselling sessions.