It makes sense that the food we eat would have a major impact on our health; I am not just talking about providing proper nutrition. I am talking about its role in causing, treating and exacerbating symptoms of disease and other health conditions, its effect on how we feel overall. While links between diet and specific health conditions have not been definitively proven in every case, emerging research and anecdotal evidence suggests making certain changes to our diet can significantly impact symptoms and our overall condition. One such area where our diet may exert significant influence is in the realm of inflammation, which is at the root of many health problems ranging from heart disease to autoimmune disorders.
What is Inflammation and Why is it a Problem?
Inflammation actually serves an important purpose in the body. When we experience injury or certain types of illness, it lets our body know something is wrong. It helps kick start the healing process by setting certain actions into motion, such as sending our immune system cells to tackle infections and foreign invaders. But, when it is excessive and chronic, it becomes problematic.
High levels of inflammation can damage our body at the cellular level, causing issues like heart disease, neurological disorders and cancer. It worsens painful conditions like arthritis. Inflammation can trigger and worsen autoimmune disorders – diseases where your body attacks its own healthy cells—like eczema and rheumatoid arthritis. It is a complex process and it is not something you can completely eliminate but you can take steps to reduce it and one of the most powerful is adopting an anti-inflammatory diet.
Fats and Inflammation
The type of fats you eat may make the biggest impact on inflammation levels. Your body uses the fat you consume to make prostaglandins—hormone-like chemicals that play a major role in the inflammatory process. Some prostaglandins quell inflammation while others trigger it. Omega-6 fatty acids–which actually provide health benefits—are a major culprit when eaten in excess, which is the case in the typical American diet. Oils high in omega-6 fatty acids include corn, soy, safflower and sunflower oil. Read ingredients carefully on packaged goods like snack foods as they are usually prepared with these oils.
You also want to limited saturated fat in animal products and the worst fat of all, trans fat.
Omega-3 fatty acids aid in the production of anti-inflammatory chemicals and research has found populations who regularly consume these types of fats tend to experience fewer incidences, or in some cases, complete absence of autoimmune disorders and other conditions linked to chronic inflammation. Good choices include cold-water fish, flax seed, hemp seed and walnuts.
Picking the Right Carbohydrates
Whole grains have been touted over their refined counterparts for a variety of reasons, such as retaining a higher level of nutrients and having more fiber. Reducing inflammation is another good reason to go with these foods instead. Eating refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, and sugary foods and beverages like soda and candy, trigger the production of chemicals that cause inflammation in the body; eating whole grains on the other hand, has been linked with producing lower levels of these same chemicals. Examples of whole grains include popcorn, whole wheat, brown rice, millet, tapioca, buckwheat, barley, bulgur and quinoa.
Eat Your Fruits and Veggies
The advice to eat your fruits and vegetables is boring and cliché as is most of the best health advice. Why? Because the most effective strategies are often simple. Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of antioxidants, these wonderful substances that help fend off and repair the damage to our body that can cause things like inflammation. Many antioxidants are also responsible for giving fruits their color so eat across the color spectrum to consume as many different kinds as possible. Fruits and vegetables highest in antioxidants include berries of all kinds, apples, prunes, russet potatoes, red beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, artichokes, pecans, black beans and plums.
About the Author: Kelli Cooper is a freelance writer who specializes in health and wellness content. If you are interested in learning more about natural health from an Eastern perspective, check out Solstice Medicine for information on Traditional Chinese Medicine.