Health Matters - Eat to beat inflammation
By Kiersten Ahlm
Inflammation is a hot topic these days. Rightfully so, as it has been linked to everything from diabetes to arthritis to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. What is it exactly? According to the Cleveland Clinic, inflammation occurs when your body “encounters an offending agent” (viruses, bacteria, foreign agents), activating your immune system, which then sends out inflammatory cells, trapping this foreign agent or healing damaged tissue. There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic.
Acute inflammation occurs in response to a sudden irritant, such as when you stub your toe. The inflammatory response is your body’s way of healing said toe, thus allowing you to get on with your life. This is the good kind of inflammation.
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, occurs when your body sends out these inflammatory cells, even when there is no “offending agent.” Common causes of chronic inflammation include certain medications, a sedentary lifestyle, chronic stress and … you guessed it … the modern diet.
We are living in a time where convenience is king. This is especially true with what we eat. We reach for that quick, packaged fix so that we can go about our day. But these are the foods that will eventually lead to inflammation. I am talking mainly about sugar, refined carbs and fried foods, but vegetable and seed oils have also been linked to inflammation, along with red meat and alcohol. The good news about red meat is that it does have health benefits and if you stick to grass fed beef, it’s full of omega-3s which are anti-inflammatory.
Food allergies and sensitivities can also lead to inflammation. Gluten is certainly at the top of this list. Some common symptoms of a food intolerance are achy joints, redness, swelling of the hands and feet and fatigue. If you suspect you have a food allergy, keeping a food journal can help you pinpoint the culprit. If you find that certain foods cause you discomfort, talking to your doctor about doing an elimination diet could be well worth it.
When I work with clients, I always try to help them focus more on what they can eat. It helps them feel less deprived. Also, sometimes making that connection of eating for nourishment can be a game changer in mindful eating. That being said, let’s talk about foods that can help fight inflammation.
Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines are all great sources of omega-3s, which I mentioned before, help fight inflammation. Our bodies don’t produce little miracle workers on their own, so getting them through our food is important. The American Heart Association recommends eating two, three-ounce servings of fatty fish per week.
Don’t like fatty fish? No worries! Flax seeds, walnuts and egg yolks also contain omega-3s, just not as much. I put flax seeds in my smoothies and you can’t even taste them. Walnuts are a great addition to oatmeal, salads and pesto! And I don’t think I need to sing the praises of the egg.
Is there anything the avocado can’t fix? Such a great source of healthy fat, which is key for soothing inflammation. They also contain both soluble and insoluble fibers! I love them in salads, on toast — I even put them in my smoothies for a little extra oomph.
I know mushrooms are cringe worthy to some, but I am not talking about the slimy ones you get at the salad bar. I’m talking about hearty, woodsy, delicious ones like lion’s mane, shiitake, portobello … so many good ones. I love roasting them — it really brings out their flavor! If you really can’t stand the thought of a mushroom, there are some great mushroom powders you can add to your … you guessed it … smoothies.
Green tea is another miracle worker. Not only can it help with inflammation, but it has also been shown to help prevent type 2 diabetes, improve brain function and even burn fat. I love it hot with a little lemon or iced with a little mint and ginger.
People don’t typically link spices with nutrition, but some are extremely beneficial to our health. One of the oldest medical systems in the world, Ayurvedism, which began in India, has used spices for anything from improving digestion to mental health. I think most people have heard of the wonder spice, turmeric — it’s a rock star when it comes to fighting inflammation (especially when paired with black pepper). So are cardamom, rosemary and cinnamon. There’s a bonus when cooking with spices — you won’t need as much salt!
Eating a diet rich in diverse plants is also key in fighting inflammation. When we eat real, whole foods, we feed those good guys that live in our gut, strengthening the immune system, which in turn, helps fight inflammation.
The bottom line is this — lowering inflammation in your body could increase your energy levels, relieve some of your aches and pains, and even help protect you against the impact of certain diseases. Even if you don’t eliminate those inflammatory foods — hopefully this article will help you be more conscious of adding some of the beneficial ones. If you’re already doing all the right things — awesome — spread the word!
Kiersten Ahlm is an integrative nutrition coach who specializes in blood sugar balance. To find out more about her services, check out her website at www.kahlmcoaching.com.