2019 is official here, what is on your New Year resolution list? I hope stay healthy is on top of it and maybe eating healthy too! “You are what you eat” is not just a pitch by your mom, serval large long term studies published in the recent years show strong correlations of eating habits and health conditions. Did you know that certain foods can promote inflammation in your body? Yes, that’s correct. Certain foods and food ingredients bring about inflammation which can be bad for your health. Take a look at the table below:
Note: Omega-6 fatty acids are essential fatty acids like omega-3 fatty acids like those found in flaxseeds, chia, fish oils etc. But the ratio between the two is what’s more important than the amount of omega-6 fatty acids, meaning that you have to consume more omega-3 fatty acids relative to omega-6 fatty acids.
You’ll notice that some of the food items are very familiar to you. You might be chowing down on one of them right now. How do they cause inflammation? Before we answer this question, let’s first define the type of inflammation we’re referring to.
When you accidentally cut yourself on a sharp object, your body responds by initiating acute inflammation, which is actually healthy. Acute inflammation recruits cells from your immune and circulatory (blood) systems to fight infection and stop the bleeding. Acute inflammation results in noticeable pain in the part of your body injured. The type of inflammation that’s harmful to your overall health is chronic inflammation. This type of inflammation is something that your body hardly notices until there’s enough damage to hold one of your vital organs hostage (heart, brain, liver, etc). The long-term consequences of chronic inflammation are disastrous to your health. Unfortunately, most processed foods we consume today contribute to chronic inflammation. Here are examples of how the pro-inflammatory foods and ingredients from the table above cause chronic inflammation:
- Processed red meats contain a substance called Neu5Gc. Your body recognizes this substance as harmful and produces proteins that fight it (antibodies). The produced proteins can also act as initiators of chronic inflammation. The more you consume processed red meat, the more of this substance that is produced and the longer the chronic inflammation occurs. Sadly, this may lead to cardiovascular diseases and even cancer.
Processed meats also contain nitrates and nitrites as preservatives to prevent bacterial growth. These compounds can form into harmful nitrosamines during high heat cooking. Nitrosamines are known carcinogens. So to avoid nitrosamines forming in your food, its best to cook at a low temperature over a longer period of time and choose only minimally processed meats.
- Trans fatty acids interfere with normal lipid metabolism and communication. They act as lipotoxins (fat poisons) and promote lipotoxicity affecting your brain, heart, liver, and pancreas leading to a pro-inflammatory state.
- Refined grains lack nutrients and cause an increase in the level of inflammatory proteins found in degenerative diseases. The higher levels of inflammatory proteins continuously target several vital organs until one of them decides to give up and manifest some form of damage and pain you can feel.
So what can you do? I think you know the obvious answer to this question. Consume less of them of course. Also, it’s best that you also load up on foods that are intrinsically anti-inflammatory to help combat the pro-inflammatory foods you consume. The below anti-inflammatory food pyramid diagram shows you some good choices. Like I said, everyone’s body is different and everyone’s needs are different, I don’t necessary recommend the dosages listed in this diagram, but it is a good guide on choosing the foods that process anti-inflammatory power.
People with Food Sensitivities/Intolerances Should be More Careful about Pro-Inflammatory Foods
Do you have a food sensitivity? You may want to be extra careful in your choices of food with respect to inflammation. People with food sensitivities may already have a heightened or agitated immune system. This means their immune system is capable of responding in a manner out of proportion to the food or food ingredients and stimulates chronic inflammation. This reaction combined with existing chronic underlying inflammation results in a form of cell damage and ultimately impairs the organ targeted. Food intolerances can develop from foods containing dairy, gluten, histamine-rich foods, salicylate-rich foods, lectin-rich foods, and more. Yes, it can vary from person to person.
In conclusion, it’s best to eat more anti-inflammatory foods compared to pro-inflammatory foods. It’s almost impossible to remove all of the pro-inflammatory foods in a typical diet, but by eating more whole foods, as they are found in nature and avoiding the processed foods, you will be doing your body a huge favor. Use the table and list we featured here as guides. If you have a certain food sensitivity or intolerance, take extra care when choosing which food to eat. There are always healthier choices, and you don’t really have to spend that much. Most chronic diseases like cancer, cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes are linked to or have chronic inflammation. This should be reason enough to lower your pro-inflammatory food intake significantly.