1) What is Inflammation
Inflammation is a response to harmful stimuli including pathogens, damaged cells or irritants. It is a protective attempt by the organism to remove injurious stimuli and to initiate the healing process. Don’t confuse it with infection; caused by pathogens, Inflammation is rather the body’s response to the pathogen itself. Inflammation is necessary for wounds and infections to heal.
However, chronic inflammation has been shown to lead to diseases (i.e. hay fever, periodontitis, atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and even cancer). Although inflammation can be both acute or chronic, prolonged inflammation (Chronic) leads to a progressive shift in the type of cells present at site of inflammation and is characterized by simultaneous destruction and healing of tissue from inflammatory process.
Importantly, in our society where 55-65% of adults are overweight/obese, excess weight, specifically in the omental area (surrounding the organs) has been linked to increased inflammation, likely due to infiltrates in the liver and other organs and the metabolic activity of the fat itself.
Evidence suggests that the diet that we consume can influence our inflammatory pathways, either by increasing inflammation or increasing anti-inflammation (i.e. decreasing inflammation).
2) Foods that increase inflammation (i.e. foods to limit).
Many foods have been implicated in increasing the body’s inflammatory response, often because the body perceives them to be pathogens. Our gut cells evolved long before the onset of agriculture, so many of the products of agriculture tend to elicit an inflammatory response in many people.
- Breads, rolls, baked goods
- Candy, Cake, Cookies, Crackers
- Cereals (except old fashioned oatmeal)
- Corn bread & muffins
- Corn syrup
- Croissants, Doughnuts
- Egg rolls
- Fast food
- French Fries
- Fruit juices
- Fried foods
- Hard cheese (except for feta and grating cheeses, such as Romano and Parmesan)
- Hot dogs
- Ice cream, frozen yogurt
- Jams, preserves
- Pancakes, Pastry
- Pie, Waffles
- Pita bread
- Snack foods (i.e. potato chips, pretzels, corn chips, rice cake, etc.)
- Soda, Sugar
- Tacos, Tortillas
General rule is that the more highly processed a food is (i.e. refined carbohydrates, saturated fats), the more it will increase inflammation via cytokine release, so limit your exposure to processed foods.
Additionally, the fat from sick animals (conventionally farmed) is linked to a host of inflammatory conditions and other health challenges. So limit your exposure to fat content from conventionally farmed animals.
Omega-6 fats are also pro-inflammatory. Rich sources include corn, safflower, sunflower, cottonseed and soybean oils. These are essential fats, but the optimal ratio between anti-inflammatory (omega-3 oils) and these pro-inflammatory omega-6 oils is 1 part (omega-3):4 parts (omega-6). In North America, unless we are intentionally choosing more omega-3 fats, we tend to consume closer to 1 part (omega-3):10-20 parts (omega-6). This obviously imbalances the body’s inflammatory pathways to favor pro-inflammation processes. Over time, this can lead to diseases whose etiologies are likely due to inflammatory pathways (mentioned above). It could also aggravate said conditions (worsening symptoms).
3) Foods that decrease inflammation (i.e. foods to focus on).
On the contrary, there are many foods that have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body. Many of these food items are those that gut cells and the body would recognize, because they were present during the bulk of our genome adaptation (i.e. hunter-gatherer span).
Aside from specific identified inflammation reducing foods, it is important to choose foods that provide energy and essential nutrients and do NOT increase inflammation. These follow:
Carbohydrate sources: Vegetables and Fruits mostly unprocessed; Quinoa, Wild rice and Old fashioned oatmeal (Scottish large chunks). These are the optimal choices. Next, if you consider whole grain products, there will be some inflammation, but less compared with highly processed foods (listed above).
Omega-3 fat rich foods including oily fish (Wild caught Salmon, Herring, Sardines, Arctic Char, Anchovies, Mackerel, Lake Trout are among the best). Meat and Eggs from exercised (truly free range or run animals) and fed their natural diet (i.e. cows = grass) also have more favorable fatty acid profiles compared to conventionally farmed ones that tend to be not exercised and sick.
Monounsaturated fats are also greatly anti-inflammatory and a great source for fat energy. Among the richest sources of these are olives, avocados, most nuts and seeds and their unrefined oils. Tip: the cheapest, extra-virgin version of olives and avocados are the whole fruits themselves, not the oils. You also get fiber with the healthy unrefined oils when consuming the whole olives and avocados.
Five foods that are rich in anti-inflammatory compounds are:
· Wild caught salmon
· Shitake mushrooms
· Green Tea
· Extra Virgin Olive Oil
· Sweet Potato
The optimal targets for fat intake are as follows:
A) Trans fats – None – check the label and be sure it states truly zero. Any increases risk of heart disease, so avoid.
B) Saturated fats – limit to < 25 g / day. Eliminate those from conventional animal products because often toxins are stored here and sick animals would have higher levels of bad fats. Whenever possible try to choose exercised, naturally fed animals and even certified organic if you can.
C) Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats. Choose somewhere between 1:4 or 1:1 ratio between these respectively. Decide where you will fall in that range based on your inflammation levels. If you have more inflammation in your body then target closer to 1:1 ratio vs. 1:4.
Optimally we need the follow for each:
Omega 3- minimum of 2-3 g/day, with 2-4 servings/week coming from animal sources (i.e. oily fish (above) or seafood). The other days of the week, you can choose them from plant sources (i.e. ground flax seed or walnuts).
Omega 6 – If you are taking in 1:4 ratio relative to omega 3, then shoot for 8-12 g/day of these (otherwise increase omega 3 and meet in the middle somewhere).
D) Monounsaturated fats – these will be the primary focus of your fat intake after you know that you’ve eliminated trans fats, are limiting your saturated and are getting your appropriate target for omega 3 and omega 6 fats. Most people require between 50 and 100 g of fat/day, depending on your calorie target and what percentage of your energy needs your fat will comprise. So these will make up the difference in your fat intake goal.
4) Sample Anti-inflammatory Meal.
Here is an example of an anti-inflammatory meal. You might have to adjust the portions in order to support your weight management goal.
3-4 oz Wild caught salmon – lemon, garlic & pepper seasoned + grilled (seared, and then cooked in tinfoil)
2 cups Steamed Broccoli + Spinach
2 Tbsp Olive oil + Balsamic vinegar dressing
½ cup steamed mushrooms + onions in 1 Tbsp Olive oil.
1 cup Green tea steeped for 2-4 min.