Dietary Inflammation Offenders
There are two kinds of inflammation – the good one and its evil twin. The good one is the type that is generated when a bruise occurs or the body wants to mobilize its forces to fight against an invasion (fever, redness/swelling).
The evil twin is systemic and chronic in nature, and is often exhibited in autoimmune disorders (psoriasis, IBS, etc.), as well as implicated in the etiology of many diseases. Chronic inflammation is characterized by unusually high levels of circulating biochemicals such as C-reactive Protein (CRP), advanced glycation end products (AGEs) and cytokines.
And as with so many things in the human body, chronic inflammation may worsen – we don’t feel it – as we age. The fact that we don’t notice it happening is fearsome. Knowing that it may be there, however, is the first step in trying to corral and reduce it.
Diet can certainly play a part. There are inflammatory-producing foods and while they are ubiquitous, they aren’t too hard to avoid. And the good news is that there are many foods to enjoy that won’t increase inflammatory chemical load, and may actually help reduce it.
If the list below looks familiar, they are pretty much always on the Top 10 Food Public Enemy list. Here, they are repeat inflammation offenders:
Fried foods – Foods are fried typically with a heavy amount of vegetable oil. These oils are rich in omega-6 EFAs. Although we do need omega-6 for overall healthy functioning, too much can cause a cascade of inflammation chemicals. The idea here is to strive for a 1:1 balance of omega-6 EFAs and omega-3 EFAs (so eat your fish, folks): many of you are walking around with a ratio that some researchers have shown to be 20:1 to 30:1.
When foods are fried with vegetable oil, they create AGEs. These also are found in foods that are dried, smoked and grilled. Studies overall have shown that when people omit fried and processed foods from their diets, inflammation markers correspondingly lowered.
Sweets (sugar laden foods and beverages): Flooding the body with glucose often results in a load that the body cannot process expediently, so the glucose that is waiting to be processed can cause an increase of cytokines (pro-inflammatory messengers). People who regularly consume high amounts of sugar have been shown to have high levels of CRP.
Refined carbohydrates (white flour products (pastries, pastas, breads). All those tasty carbs start out as wheat but are “refined,” meaning they have the slow-digesting fibers removed. Eating these foods as you know will cause the blood sugar spike (see above) that leads to higher concentrations of CRP, but also higher levels of PAI, another inflammatory marker, are found in those whom refined carbs are a diet mainstay.
Non-organic red meats: Livestock that are typically given antibiotics and diets to make them bigger (and fatter) result in their meat containing higher inflammatory-producing saturated fats. Additionally, they contain arachidonic acid (an omega-6 EFA), contributing to the aforementioned EFA imbalance.
Processed meats: Who can resist a delicious, fulfilling deli sandwich as the ultimate lunch? But those processed meats not only are high in saturated fats they also contains elevated amounts of AGEs.
Saturated Fats: Many foods found in the list above are high in saturated fats, which can cause inflammation in fat tissue (white adipose tissue). Since white adipose tissue stores energy, they will release pro-inflammatory biochemicals as they get bigger and bigger (meaning as you get fatter).
So yes, staying away from these foods as much as possible is one effective way of controlling systemic inflammation. So, what do eat?
The Mediterranean Diet – which we wrote about in February’s blog — is one of the healthiest, enduring anti-inflammatory diets that is, shall we say, quite satisfying. Eat brown rice and/or quinoa instead of white rice, multi-grain pastas and breads, and do not add sugar to anything if you can help it. Follow this for a full year while refraining from the above list of Inflammatory Offenders and see how your next physical checkup improves. Also see how great you feel.