Why is an anti-inflammatory diet important? Inflammation is directly linked to eight of the 10 most deadly illnesses in the United States. Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, heart disease, flu/pneumonia, diabetes, kidney disease, stroke, and chronic respiratory disease are all rooted in chronic inflammation. The body uses healthy inflammation as part of the healing process to help protect injured tissues and fight off illness. But when inflammation becomes chronic, its effects on the body as a whole can be devastating. Long-term, low grade inflammation can impact every cell and system in the body, precipitating everything from autoimmune illnesses like celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis to acne, depression, asthma, obesity, and osteoarthritis.
Inflammation is measured via blood tests which identify inflammatory markers. These markers can signal that the inflammatory process is under way, but not specific illnesses which may be developing as a result.
Certain foods in the Western diet can contribute to chronic inflammation. The Standard American Diet (SAD) tends to be high in calories, refined sugars and carbohydrates, industrialized fats like trans fats and hydrogenated oils, and processed foods. Over time, this contributes to a slew of health issues linked to chronic inflammation. Unlike the standard western diet, whole and natural food diets like the Mediterranean diet promote the elimination and prevention of chronic inflammation in the body. Which foods might comprise an anti-inflammatory diet?
As you start emphasizing an anti-inflammatory diet, it becomes easier to eliminate pro-inflammatory foods and substances from your routine. Whole foods and healthy fats are richly satisfying and flavorful, and with time you’ll naturally gravitate away from unhealthy choices. In the meantime, it helps to know which foods are causing the most problems. These are the top inflammatory foods to avoid:
Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Too much sugar can increase pro-inflammatory immune system messengers called cytokines. Sugar also suppresses the effectiveness of our white blood cells, leaving us more prone to illness and infections.
Artificial trans and hydrogenated fats, and processed vegetable oils like those from soy, corn, safflower, sunflower, and palm oil. These oils are high in inflammatory omega-6 fats, while low in beneficial omega-3s. Trans and hydrogenated oils are highly inflammatory, and have been linked to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and stroke.
Refined flour and carbohydrates have been stripped of fiber and nutrients. Refined carbs readily cause blood sugar and insulin spikes, which have an inflammatory effect in the body. Over time, the regular consumption of refined grains can increase the presence of inflammatory marker PAI-1 in the blood. Eating whole grains, on the other hand, can reduce the presence of this same marker, as well as the more well-known CRP (C reactive protein).
Artificial sweeteners have been shown to alter the gut microbiome, and increase the risk of glucose intolerance. When our bodies can’t metabolize glucose properly, it results in the release of inflammation promoting cytokines. Artificial sweeteners also promote the proliferation of bad bacteria in the gut, and disrupt the anti-inflammatory activity of beneficial gut bacteria.
Heavy alcohol consumption has been linked to elevated CRP levels — the more excessive the alcohol consumption, the greater the risk for increased CRP levels in the blood.
Processed meats are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, and stomach cancer. Common types of processed meats include hot dogs, bacon, sausages, lunch meats, ham, smoked meats, and jerky. Processed meats are high in advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which are formed when some foods (including meats) are cooked at high temperatures. AGEs are known to cause inflammatory changes that contribute to disease.
Remember that certain lifestyle factors also elevate your risk for chronic inflammation. By getting regular exercise and embracing an anti-inflammatory diet, you’ll be making great strides towards protecting your health, longevity, and quality of life in the long term.