Inflammation is one way that your immune system protects you against bacteria, viruses, or any kind of outside invader. You might see some swelling or redness around an infection or injury which is evidence that your body is going to work fighting the invaders and repairing damage. Inflammation is normal and necessary in order for your immune system to do its job. Eventually, inflammation subsides and your body returns to a normal state.
However, some people experience chronic inflammation that spreads throughout the body. There are some whose joints become inflamed even though they aren’t sick or injured. While inflammation is a necessary evil that is for our own good in the short term, it can be damaging to your mental and physical health if it becomes a constant part of your everyday life.
Why is long-term inflammation harmful?
Inflammation can cause plaque to build up in your arteries which can, in turn, increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Higher numbers of white blood cells and the substances they create can also cause joint irritation, swelling, and even loss of joint cartilage over time. This can be painful and even lead to a loss of mobility. Many of these symptoms can be very mentally taxing and can negatively impact a person’s quality of life.
How can a change in diet help reduce chronic inflammation?
Certain foods, like processed sugars, can cause inflammation by sending messages to your body that trigger an inflammatory response. That means that even though the body isn’t injured, you’re eating something that is sending your body false signals and telling your immune system to go forth and conquer when everything is fine. Other foods, like fruits and veggies, reduce inflammation by helping your body regulate imbalances between free radicals and antioxidants.
What does an anti-inflammatory diet look like?
- Fresh fruits and veggies: Aim for eating 5 servings of fruits or veggies a day. Many fruits and vegetables like berries, beats, leafy greens, ginger, and avocados contain antioxidants which fight inflammation and repair certain types of tissue damage. Try to eat them fresh, instead of canned, to avoid added salt, sugar, and other ingredients.
- Omega-3s: Omega-3 fatty acid can regulate inflammation as well as pain related to inflammation. You can find this healthy fat in tuna, salmon, and certain nuts.
- No processed food: You probably saw this one coming. Fast food, box meals, and soda, are obviously not good for us however quick, easy, and delicious they may be. They’re full of unhealthy ingredients that are often linked to inflammation. Also be on the lookout for processed foods like certain granola bars and cereals that brand themselves as healthy but contain just as much added sugar as other processed treats. Cough...Special K...
- Less red meat: Don’t worry, you don’t have to cut out meat altogether. Just go easy on the beef and pork which is shown to be pro-inflammatory.
So where should you go from here?
- Take Baby Steps: If you’re stressing about how far you have to go or how much you need to change, don’t worry! Baby steps are the way to go when changing your diet. You’ve likely eaten a certain way for a long time and that’s not going to change over night. Try changing one aspect of your diet at a time. It’ll also be easier to link specific changes in diet to specific changes in your overall health (for example, you stop eating out and then you feel like you have more energy).
- You Have Nothing to Lose: What’s the worst that could happen from switching over to an anti-inflammatory diet? You’re sure to have more energy, lose some extra weight, and even sleep better.
- Keep a Food Journal: Most people think they eat healthier than they actually do. We usually underestimate how much processed food we eat and overestimate how many fruits and vegetables we eat. This is where your food journal comes in. Write down what you eat for each meal each day for 2 to 3 weeks. It might seem a little tedious but you’ll learn a lot about yourself and your diet and you’ll have a better idea what kind of change you should make to your diet first. There are a number of free apps out there that can help you track your eating, such as MyFitnessPal.