Inflammation causes more than just discomfort; it is the root of almost all disease here in the U.S. and many other countries as they become increasingly westernized. Multiple studies have now shown that arthritis, cancer, IBS, heart disease, diabetes and even Alzheimer’s disease are all linked to chronic inflammation in the body. That means if you can get to the root of the inflammation and stop it in its tracks, you can keep it from wreaking more havoc in your body.
Inflammation serves a useful purpose in healing our bodies. We want white blood cells rushing to the site when we scrape our knee, and a fever in response to a virus invading our body is a good thing. However, when dietary choices, underlying infection or high daily stress levels cause the inflammatory response to be turned on constantly, chronic inflammation takes hold, resulting in autoimmune disorders and disease.
The first step in calming chronic inflammation is to start with the removal of things that create inflammation in the first place. The standard American diet (SAD) is full of processed foods that have little or no true nutritional value and plenty of inflammation inducing ingredients. Once you remove these, you will begin to notice more energy, improved sleep, less cravings and increased physical comfort.
What needs to be removed?
Three of the biggest offenders
Sugar. This is number one, and unfortunately found in almost every processed food. According to a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, “Sugar produces more symptoms than is required in order to be considered an addictive substance… In both animals and humans, the evidence shows substantial parallels between drugs of abuse and sugar from the standpoint of neurochemistry as well as behavior.” This means we need to be vigilant in our efforts to reduce sugar because we are fighting against an addictive substance.
A healthy body can handle up to 25 grams of added sugar a day for women and 37 grams for men in order to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and keep inflammation away. To put this into perspective, blended coffee drinks at popular coffee chains contain between 75 and 176 grams of added sugar. That is 3 to 7 times more than an entire day should include. Our bodies are not designed to take in and process this amount of added sugar, especially when separated from the fiber and other vital nutrients found in natural whole foods. For example, the natural sugars in an organic apple will provide satisfying sweetness while mixed with plenty of water, fiber and natural vitamins and minerals. Tropical fruits (bananas, mangoes, pineapples) should be limited to once a week since they have a much higher level of fructose than other types of fruit. Read labels carefully and stick to whole foods as much as possible.
Trans fats. These are listed on food labels as “partially hydrogenated oils”. There is no safe amount of trans fat, so don’t worry about how many grams you can have per day, just avoid them as much as possible. They are found in processed foods, baked goods, fried foods, creamers, premade cookie dough and more to promote longer shelf life. Read labels carefully to be sure you are not ingesting these. According to The Harvard School of Public Health, who published a review of multiple well controlled studies and randomized trials, it has been found that trans fatty acids cause systematic inflammation, as well as a multitude of other risk factors for chronic diseases.
Dairy. Dairy is one of the primary inflammatory foods for most people, although many are unaware they even have a sensitivity to it. More than half the population is unable to produce the enzymes required to break down lactose. Many people are so used to feeling tired or putting up with acne, headaches and sinus issues that they do not correlate these to the inflammatory process caused by dairy. You can test this for yourself by removing dairy from your diet completely for two full weeks and then adding it back in. If you notice a sudden breakout, headaches or bloating, these are signs that dairy is inflammatory for you.
What to add to help reduce inflammation?
Five favorite anti-inflammatory foods
Green–leafy veggies. We’ve all heard this one and it is tried and true. No matter what diet plan you may try, it includes green leafy vegetables. That is because they are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. Antioxidants are very important for inflammation reduction. Some antioxidants prevent oxidation of our cells and others are scavengers that go out and clean up cells that have already been damaged, keeping inflammation down. The fiber content in green leafy veggies regulates healthy digestion and weight management, which also helps keep inflammation at bay.
Broccoli. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables contain high levels of flavonoids, sulforaphane and many other beneficial compounds, which give them their powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Blueberries. They are full of anthocyanins, which are amazing antioxidants, and quercetin, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory. As an added bonus, quercetin has been shown to protect against oxidative stress in the brain, which in turn slows age-related memory and motor decline.
Bone Broth. If you haven’t tried this one yet, it is highly recommended. Bone broth contains glucosamine and chondroitin in a form that is very easy for the body to absorb, soothing achy joints and reducing inflammation. It also contains important minerals such as calcium and magnesium, which also reduce inflammation when they are combined.
Green Tea. Some of the many benefits of drinking green tea include weight management and prevention of cancer, heart disease and even Alzheimer’s. These are not the only amazing things green tea can do. It is also an extremely powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory due to its high polyphenol content.
More tips for reducing inflammation
De-stress. Take time throughout the day to re-center and let go of stress. Continuous mental, physical and emotional stress raises cortisol levels, which in turn causes low level chronic inflammation. Take a short walk outside, listen to calming music, snuggle a pet—do anything that will help you reconnect with what is real, here and now rather than the worry-wheel that may be in your head.
Get the right amount of sleep. Studies are showing that too much or too little sleep can contribute to inflammation. About 7 to 8 hours is the amount that most adults need. Less than 7 or more than 8 hours have been associated with increased levels of C-reactive proteins (the level of these proteins rise in response to inflammation).
Move your body. If you are feeling achy, this may sound counterintuitive, but movement is essential to reducing inflammation. Exercise increases blood flow and pumps lymph to allow accumulated toxins to leave the body more efficiently. Walking and basic stretching are great inflammation reducers.
By incorporating inflammation reducing foods, removing inflammatory substances and giving your body the rest and movement it needs, you can begin to experience new levels of well-being to help you live your most vibrant life.