When you think of inflammation, what comes to mind tends to be obvious symptoms: painful joints, swollen knees, and lower back stiffness. Although these are all indications of inflammation, you might be surprised to know that there are other, more hidden, symptoms–and some of them might be affecting you right now.
Why worry? You can’t necessarily feel hidden inflammation, but its long-term effects can cause problems. Internal inflammation can predispose individuals to stroke, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and, of course, arthritis. In this article, you’ll see how diet can increase–and reduce–the level of inflammation in your body.
Your body reacts differently to different types of foods. As an easy example, think back to your teen years. Did you suffer from acne? You may have noticed that consuming foods like fries, chips, and chocolate aggravated the acne, making it much worse. Conversely, a diet high in vegetables might have had a calming effect on the condition.
Why? Some foods trigger an “inflammation cascade” in the body. When these foods are ingested, the body produces inflammatory proteins that create what is known as a pro-inflammatory environment. This in turn predisposes the body to larger-scale inflammatory conditions like diabetes or arthritis.
The following foods can exacerbate inflammation in your body. While some are typical unhealthy fare, others might come as a bit of a surprise:
White sugar and refined carbohydrates. Those pastries aren’t great for your waistline or for your health. Studies show that diets high in refined flour and white sugar are associated with the presence of inflammatory proteins; they create a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which is an inflammatory condition.
Trans fats. You’ve probably heard about trans fats and their association with heart disease. Another problem: they’re also associated with boosting inflammation levels in the body! Remember that trans fats are created during the hydrogenation of oil, so watch out for many deep-fried foods, hydrogenated margarines, and foods made with shortening (particularly baked goods like cookies and cakes).
Peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, and paprika. Surprised? Although vegetables in general provide a wealth of health benefits in the form of nutrients and fibre, these few particular vegetables from the Solonaceae (nightshade) family may actualy exacerbate inflammation. Does this mean you should never consume them? Not necessarily, since unlike trans fats and refined carbohydrates they do have nutritional power. However, if you have a pre-existing inflammatory condition (osteoarthritis, for example), you might want to steer clear of these vegetables or keep your intake moderate. Watch for worsening of symptoms post-consumption, as not everyone’s inflammation is aggravated by this group of vegetables.
When cutting out the inflammatory foods from your diet, why not fill the empty space with anti-inflammatory foods? Not only will you decrease inflammation even further in your body, but you will also experience the anti-aging benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet!
Omega-3 oils. Fat is not all bad. In moderation, healthy oils full of the anti-inflammatory omega-3s are the way to go. They reduce inflammation, protect against heart disease, and make your skin happy! Fish oil is a common source of omega-3 oil (aim for 750 mg EPA per day), but if you’re vegetarian, you can find omega-3 oils derived from algae (containing EPA) or flax. Note, though, that flax oil does not directly provide EPAs; your body will have to do some conversions first.
Pomegranates and dark berries. In fruits, those dark colours mean only one thing: healthy. Purples, blacks, and dark reds found in nature’s fruits are a sign of anthocyanins, components that have strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Olive oil. The Mediterranean diet is right; olive oil is the healthier choice. Not only does olive oil have an anti-inflammatory component due to its oleic acid component, but it also protects the heart and keeps your skin looking younger. A note of caution, though: don’t cook on high heat with olive oil, as this denatures it and can nullify its benefits.
An anti-inflammatory diet can keep you looking and feeling younger and can help stave off certain chronic diseases. Check your diet: are you promoting inflammation?
Katie D’Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently practices in Ontario.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.