If you’ve been keeping up with health news at all in the past few years, you’ve heard the word “inflammation” a lot. And for good reason: inflammation is at the root of a wide range of chronic diseases. Having a basic understanding of what inflammation actually is can go a long way in helping you develop a plan to keep it under control.
So, what exactly is inflammation? The root word comes from the Latin inflammo, which means to set ablaze, or to ignite. Inflammation is named after fire… and fire is a perfect metaphor to describe how inflammation works. Humans have depended on fire for millennia…. in fact, we could never have developed the complex society that we have without it. It allows us to cook food, and to keep warm when it’s cold outside. When it’s properly controlled, fire is a force for good. However, when fire is not controlled, it can be a terrifying and profoundly destructive force.
Our body’s inflammation mechanisms work in a very similar way. Appropriate levels of inflammation are necessary for survival. Acute inflammation is the way that the immune system responds to trauma or infection. It is a process that allows the body to heal, and defends us against bacteria, viruses, and other dangerous microorganisms. Inflammation is a critical part of our immunological defense system, and a key player in good health. However, like the fire from which is gets it’s name… when inflammation gets out of control, it’s one of the most destructive forces that there is.
The nature of your own inflammatory response is a function of the overall health of your immune system. A healthy immune system generally responds to challenges (like trauma or infection) in a healthy, appropriate way. For example, a small wound or a minor infection should trigger a mild inflammatory reaction. However, an unhealthy immune system will often over-react and allow inflammation to spin out of control at the slightest provocation. When the body’s inflammatory mechanisms go into overdrive and inflammation becomes widespread and chronic, conditions such as heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and even certain cancers may develop.
Keeping your body’s inflammatory response under control is largely in your hands. There are many things you can do to keep that fire under control. These include living an active lifestyle, making sure you get enough sleep, and managing your stress. However, the most important change you can make in your life to keep your inflammatory response healthy is to modify your diet. The foods you eat make a huge difference: some foods are naturally anti-inflammatory, while others stoke the fires of inflammation and send your immune system into a downward spiral.
To get you started, here is a chart of the foods to include and the foods to avoid for a healthy inflammatory response:
Foods to include
● Vegetables: No restrictions! Fill half your plate with vegetables. Especially the colorful ones. Organic vegetables are preferred whenever possible.
● Fruits: Focus on the deeply pigmented ones, like berries and cherries. Fresh is best but frozen fruits are great too!
● Whole Grains: Stick to grains that are in their whole, intact form. Brown or black rice, quinoa, buckwheat, and bulgur are great choices.
● Beans: Excellent source of complex carbohydrates and fiber as well as clean vegetarian protein. There are many varieties so mix it up with lentils, black, white, soy, pinto, kidney, garbanzos.
● Wild caught fish: High quality protein and full of anti-inflammatory oils. Wild salmon, sardines, arctic char, and black cod are great choices.
● Omega-3 enriched eggs: Clean protein and healthy fats.
● Beans: Beans made their way into both the carbohydrate section and the protein section…the lesson here is simple: eat more beans!
● Organic dairy: Unsweetened plain yogurt and hard cheeses in small amounts.
●Grass-fed Beef, Free-range Chicken and Pasture-raised pork: free from all of the hormones, antibiotics and grains being fed to factory-farmed animals
● Olive oil: Extra virgin olive oil should be the main oil you use in your kitchen.
● Nuts and nut butters: Walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, and nut butters without added ingredients are a part of an anti-inflammatory diet.
● Seeds: Hemp seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds can all be a delicious and nutritious addition.
● Fish: Cold water fish like wild Alaskan salmon and sardines are nature’s most reliable source of healthy, anti-inflammatory Omega-3 oils.
● Avocado: There are high levels of of monounsaturated fats in an avocado. Use avocado as a spread instead of mayonnaise.
● Coconut: Even though it contains saturated fats, this plant oil is healthy and useful for high heat cooking and baking.
● Grass-fed Butter
Herbs and Spices:
These are the top ten anti-inflammatory herbs and spices… but there are many many more: Turmeric, Ginger, Cloves, Cumin, Paprika, Sage, Rosemary, Cayenne, Cinnamon, Garlic.
The more herbs and spices in our cooking, the better!!!
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Foods to avoid
● High Fructose Corn Syrup: This stuff has no place in a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet. None.
● Sugar: Limit intake, it spikes insulin levels which contributes to inflammation.
● Processed grains: Restrict foods that are made from flour. When mills turn whole grain into flour, it makes the carbohydrates in the grain easier to break down which results in higher blood sugar spikes. White flour is worse than whole wheat flour but both should be limited.
● White Flour: Breads, pastas, baked goods, snack foods, and pastries that are made with flour should be restricted.
● Factory-farmed beef: Factory farmed cattle and other animals are fed almost entirely on corn, heavily medicated, and live in deplorable conditions. They are unhealthy animals and the meat from them is unhealthy for you.
● Factory-farmed Pork: Hog farms are arguably worse than cattle farms. Stay away.
● Factory-farmed Poultry and eggs: Again, factory farmed chickens and turkeys are unhealthy animals that produce unhealthy meat and eggs.
● Trans fats: Avoid them completely. If it says “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” do not eat it. Margarine and shortening are made of trans fats.
● Factory-farmed Butter, cheese, full fat dairy: Conventional dairy cows produce milk products that are loaded with pro-inflammatory saturated fats.
● Factory-farmed Beef, pork, and poultry: Factory farmed animals have unhealthy fats in their meat. You should restrict consumption of meat altogether, and only eat grass fed, or pasture raised animals.
● Vegetable oils: Although they may sound healthy, this is where the unhealthy Omega-6 fats come from. Stay away from soybean oil, vegetable oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, and palm kernel oil.
Herbs and Spices:
Nothing to avoid here. Green light for ALL natural herbs and spices. Enjoy!
On top of eating an anti-inflammatory diet and living a healthy, active lifestyle, a high quality herbal supplement, such as Golden Revive +, can aid your body in keeping inflammation levels low. Inflammation that’s out of control is like a wildfire: don’t let it destroy your body from within.
– Dr. Joshua Levitt