Inflammation is one of the biggest health buzzwords these days. However, it's loosely defined. In a nutshell, inflammation is your body's reaction to an offending agent - typically a form of stress.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation can be identified as a state of soreness, discomfort or imbalance related to stress in your body. Inflammation triggers your immune system, and its goal is to restore homeostasis in your body – a state of balance and harmony.
Stress isn’t just the emotions you feel when you’re overwhelmed, upset or frustrated. It takes several forms, including injury, exercise, allergies, dehydration, processing alcohol, life stress and chronic disease.
Inflammation is derived from the word "flame." When you picture something that's inflamed, descriptors like redness, warmth, pain and swelling come to mind.
This is true, as an inflammatory response is triggered to help injured and ill tissue return to a normal, healthy state. Think about the last time you experienced cuts, scrapes, sprains or a broken bone, or even when you’ve recently felt "puffy." Inflammation’s presence is what helped you heal.
You may even experience an inflammatory response post-exercise, especially if you resistance train or participate in high-intensity exercise. This is why you feel soreness the next day – or over a few days, depending on how strenuous your workout was.
Causes of Inflammation
Inflammation impacts your body both externally and internally. It’s necessary for our survival - as long as it stays protective. When an inflammatory response is too strong, it over-activates your immune system.
Inflammation gets dangerous when it's persistent and low-grade internally. This means that it's always present and constantly triggering an immune response. This circles back to that “puffy” feeling you may have experienced.
In fact, persistent and low-grade inflammation is the foundation for diseases related to metabolic syndrome, like obesity, irregular blood sugar, high blood pressure and arterial plaque buildup.
Persistent, low-grade inflammation also increases your risk for chronic disease, like type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer's disease.
Don’t fret – we don’t mention all of this to scare you. If you've been feeling "puffy" and bloated lately, don't be alarmed. As mentioned earlier, stress results from so many things. Inflammatory responses are natural and needed to restore balance, so we all experience them often.
Your Diet and Inflammation
There's another cause of inflammation we haven't covered yet:
You may also get that "puffy," bloated look and feel from your diet - particularly from consuming too many processed foods and artificial sweeteners. This also includes too much alcohol and not enough water.
But, we have good news. There's a way to combat icky, unnecessary internal inflammation.
You guessed it - it's through optimal nutrition habits.
There are several foods out there that may help protect your body from unhealthy amounts of stress. These foods may also build up a defense against excessive inflammation to help reduce your risk for chronic disease.
The goal of this eating pattern isn't to facilitate weight loss or body composition change, though you can pursue a transformation goal with any nutritional lifestyle. Instead, its goal is to fight systemic, also called internal, inflammation, minimize bodily stress and maximize your well-being with nutritious, flavorful and whole, nutrient-dense and natural foods.
Foods to Help You Fight Inflammation
The secret to anti-inflammatory eating is to make your plate as colorful as possible. Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients, which play a role in reducing stress on your body and helping it become more resilient.
Add the following whole, nutrient-dense foods into your diet:
- Colorful fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Plant-based nuts and seeds
- Beans and legumes
- Dairy, cheese and yogurt
- Olive oil
These foods have high nutrient potential, which will help you correct any nutrient imbalances or deficiencies. Low Vitamin D, low fiber and low omega-3 fats in your diet, plus poor gut health, are linked to persistent, low-grade inflammation and instances of metabolic disease.
With these whole, nutrient-dense foods, you’ll find:
- Micronutrients, antioxidants and phytonutrients in fruits and vegetables.
- Fiber in whole grains, beans and legumes.
- Omega-3s in fatty fish (like salmon) and olive oil.
- Probiotics in dairy products.
Foods That May Contribute to Inflammation
Just as there are several foods that combat inflammation, there are plenty that may contribute to it. As mentioned above, they mostly consist of highly processed foods and artificial sweeteners.
Do your best to limit the following largely processed items in your diet:
- Sugar-sweetened beverages, like soda and some juices
- Foods with added sugar
- Processed meats, like hot dogs, sausages and some deli meats
- Refined grains, like white bread
- Refined oils, like margarine
- Other highly processed foods, like those that are labeled "diet" or "low-fat"
If you don’t know where to start with fighting inflammation and incorporating anti-inflammatory eating into your lifestyle, schedule your complimentary nutrition consultation today.