Inflammation’s Effect on the Body
Whether or not inflammation is the villain or the hero in your body’s story depends on context. The army of white blood cells your immune system sends to protect you from infection and injury may cause momentary pain, but once the cut closes or the sickness passes, the inflammation is over. This is called acute inflammation: the healing side of inflammation. The inflammation we want to avoid, however, is chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is when white blood cells start attacking the body, thinking that it’s infected even when it’s not. Essentially, it’s too much of a good thing. Arthritis, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s– these illnesses are caused and accelerated by chronic inflammation. In some instances, chronic inflammation is the cause and effect of an illness, like obesity.
With obesity, the fat cells that collect in certain parts of the body are perceived as a threat by the immune system and, therefore, white blood cells are sent to attack the “invaders” causing the chronic inflammation. The more unhealthy fat you gain, the more your body will work against itself, resulting in a vicious cycle.
Preventing chronic inflammation is important and the first step towards fighting it is to know which foods are anti-inflammatory and inflammatory so you can add or avoid these foods in your diet.
Foods that cause Inflammation:
(Note: most of the foods mentioned are fine when consumed in moderation. It’s only when they are eaten in excess that issues can arise.)
- Fried Foods (and some vegetable oils): french fries, fried chicken, even fried vegetables– these foods might have some healthy fats but they can still lead to inflammation.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup, Added Sugars, Artificial Trans fats and Refined Carbohydrates: sugary drinks, pastries, margarine, processed sweets– it’s not a secret that these foods aren’t good for you but they can be more dangerous than you think, especially considering their addictive qualities. Try substituting snacks like cookies and pastries with fresh fruit or dark chocolate: this will help curb your cravings for something sweet and maintain balance in the body.
- Processed Red Meat: hot dogs, bacon, deli meats– all these foods have an increased amount of saturated fat due to the high level processing they go through. If you’re adding a meat to your plate, try to stick to whole, unprocessed alternatives.
- Excessive Alcohol: too much alcohol consumption damages the body and leads to chronic inflammation. This widespread inflammation can effect every part of the body’s functioning.
Foods that are Anti-Inflammatory:
- Leafy Greens: spinach, kale, collard greens– these vegetables are packed with Vitamin K, a key ingredient which helps curb inflammation.
- Herbs and Spices: what we use to season our food with can add antioxidants to our diet. Turmeric, which is high in curcumin, has been shown to have significant anti-inflammatory properties.
- Berries: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries– all these fruits contain ample amounts of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which slow down inflammation and reduce the risk of disease.
- Whole Grains and Legumes: similarly, these ingredients are high in fiber and antioxidants, helping the body to digest food and prevent the onset of inflammation.
- Nuts, Fatty Fish, Avocados, and Extra Virgin Olive Oil: healthy fats and omega 3s– these foods give your body the fat it needs for proper functioning and brain health. Their abundance of nutrients, vitamins, fiber, and fatty acids also help fight off inflammation.
The easiest way for us to take charge of our bodies and fight off chronic inflammation is to evaluate what we’re eating and make simple changes to our lifestyles. Putting in the effort to change out a soda for a smoothie or a candy bar for a handful of dates is worth it. These small choices have compounding effects on our bodies over time and can prevent many illnesses in the long term. Although inflammatory foods tend to be cheaper and more accessible, simply moderating your intake of these foods and swapping in a few alternatives can have drastic results.