Inflammation is the process by which the body responds to injury, and is part of the body’s immune response. Inflammation is typically differentiated into two types: acute and chronic inflammation. Acute inflammation typically occurs in response to injury, and involves the body’s white blood cells creating redness and swelling around the affected area, and works to prevent further damage and heal the injury. On the other hand, chronic inflammation refers to long-term inflammatory response that can be present for several months and even years. Causes of chronic inflammation include chronic injury, autoimmune disorders, and long-term exposure to irritating stimuli, such as polluted air. In addition, it is thought that factors such as obesity, smoking and alcohol use can contribute to the development of chronic inflammation. Some common symptoms of chronic inflammation include fatigue, rashes, fever and abdominal pain. Chronic inflammation also plays an important role in contributing to chronic pain, and changing your diet to an anti-inflammatory one can be an effective strategy to reduce chronic inflammation and alleviate pain. Here are some tips for adapting an anti-inflammatory diet by incorporating more foods which reduce inflammation, and eliminating foods which can promote inflammatory processes in the body.
- Incorporate more omega-3 fatty acids into your diet
The long-chain polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, alpha-linoleic (ALA), eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) acids are essential for our health. Although the human body can synthesize most of the types of fats it needs from other fats or from raw materials, the body cannot synthesize its own omega-3 fatty acids. Whereas alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) can be derived from plant oils, EPA and DHA are originally derived from microalgae and can be found in fish and marine oils. Omega-3s are important structural components of cell membranes, in particular in the brain and in the retina of the eyes. In addition to their structural function, omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in the body’s immune system. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful in preventing the harmful effects of inflammatory processes on the body, and has been investigated by scientists as a potential alternative treatment to anti-inflammatory medications. Scientific research has shown that consuming omega-3 fatty acid significantly lowers several inflammatory markers in the blood. Foods rich in omega-3s include fish, such as sardines, salmon and mackerel, walnuts, flaxseeds and canola oil.
- Eat more foods rich in antioxidants
Antioxidants are molecules that fight free radicals, which are substances that can damage our DNA and are associated with many health problems, such as cancer, heart disease and chronic inflammation. Polyphenols are naturally-occurring micronutrients produced by plants, which act as potent antioxidants and have many health benefits. There are over 500 different types of polyphenols, which are contained in plant-based foods. Major sources of polyphenols include fruit and berries, such as oranges, pomegranate, and blueberries, and vegetables, including spinach, broccoli and asparagus. Nuts, seeds and spices, such as curry powder, are also great sources of polyphenols. Finally, beverages such as coffee and tea are also considered to be important sources of polyphenols.
- Choose sources of complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains
The typical Western diet is high in refined sugars, which have many negative effects on the body, including increased inflammation and diabetes. In contract to refined sugars, which quickly enter the bloodstream and result in a sugar “high,” complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, have a low glycemic index. These foods are considered to be anti-inflammatory and are also metabolized slowly, providing you with a steady supply of energy for many hours. In addition, foods high in complex carbohydrates are typically high in minerals and antioxidants, providing additional benefits to your health. Examples of these include whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa and buckwheat, vegetables and beans.
- Cut out pro-inflammatory foods
The best way to adapt an anti-inflammatory diet is to cut out foods that actually cause inflammation in your body. Examples of pro-inflammatory foods include foods that are high in refined sugars, such as soft drinks, and other high-sugar processed foods that contain high-fructose corn syrup. It is best to eliminate foods high in refined carbohydrates, such as white pasta, white rice and white bread from your diet, since they are also considered to contribute to chronic inflammation. Other foods to avoid as part of an anti-inflammatory diet include processed snacks, such as chips, and processed meats.
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
Although moderate consumption of some types of alcohol, such as red wine, has been associated with some health benefits, excessive alcohol consumption can result in severe health problems. Research studies have demonstrated that inflammatory markers are increased in people who regularly consume alcohol, and that the increase in inflammation was proportionate to the increase of alcohol consumption. Currently, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction strongly recommends a limit of 2 standard drinks a day for women and 3 standard drinks a day for men.
- Choose healthy fats
Trans fats are dietary fats that are produced as a by-product of hydrogenation, which is the process used to turn oils into solids to preserve them longer. Consuming foods high in trans fats increases the amount of “bad” LDL cholesterol in the body, and create inflammation which is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions, including chronic inflammation. Another type of fats, saturated fat, is contained in foods such as red meat and dairy products, and dietary experts currently recommend reducing the total consumption of saturated fats to under 10% of calories a day. On the other hand, there are also “good” fats, and include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and are contained in foods such as olive oil, avocados, sunflower oil, and most nuts.