There’s a new dirty word in town; INFLAMMATION! We hear it all the time, but what does it really mean, is it harmful, and what can you actually do to improve it? Below you will find the nitty-gritty details on this HOT topic. Learn my top 10 lifestyle action steps to reduce chronic inflammation.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a natural process that occurs when the body works to protect itself from harm. The inflammatory response works both inside and outside of the body and helps to fight off infections, increase blood flow and nutrient delivery to wounded areas, and produces a pain signal to the brain. While acute inflammation is important and necessary for healing, chronic inflammation can be extremely damaging and has been linked to many serious illnesses and chronic diseases.
What causes chronic inflammation?
- Poorly managed blood sugar
- Diets high in simple carbohydrates
- Saturated and trans (hydrogenated) fats
- Excessive caffeine and alcohol intake
- Insufficient micronutrients and antioxidants
- Low fiber diets
- Having excess body fat
- Chronic stress
- Genetic predisposition
- Lack of physical activity
- Excessive intake of highly processed foods
- Too much omega 6 fats compared to omega 3 fats
- Excess toxins from internal or external sources
- Consuming foods that may trigger an immune response (i.e. gluten, dairy, etc.)
Look through this list. Do you identify with any of these risk factors for chronic inflammation? If so, read on to find out what you can do about it!
Who should be concerned about reducing inflammation?
Everyone should be concerned about lowering chronic inflammation in order to live a long and healthy life. However, certain populations should follow even stricter diligence about living an anti-inflammatory life in order to improve the outcomes associated with various disease states:
- Adrenal insufficiencies
- Overweight or obesity
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis)
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Chronic pain
- Any autoimmune disease
Ten Steps to Reduce Chronic Inflammation:
Change Fat Intake-
- Fats are not all created equal…some are beneficial and some are harmful to our health. To reduce inflammation, increase the intake of omega 3 polyunsaturated fats from sources like salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies, cod, herring, fish oil supplements, chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, or hemp seeds. Additionally, aim to include sources of monounsaturated fats from foods like avocados, extra virgin olive oil, and macadamia nuts. Equally as important, minimize your intake of inflammatory fats from processed vegetable oils, fried foods, hydrogenated fats (margarine, snack foods, etc), and excessive fatty meat intake.
- Tip: Make a healthy-fat salad each day that includes leafy greens tossed in salad dressing (rich in extra virgin olive oil), avocado, pumpkin seeds, and topped with baked fish.
- No matter if you follow a vegan or paleo style eating regimen, plant foods should make up most of your diet. Plant foods include all varieties of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes (beans, peas, and lentils). Include a variety of colorful, minimally processed plant foods throughout the day. Especially focus on non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, leafy greens, zucchini, Brussels sprouts, etc., with a goal of at least 5 servings daily as they are the most nutrient-dense and lowest in calories and carbohydrates. Plant material provides you with adequate intake of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients.
- Tip: Incorporate a green smoothie a few times per week like in this recipe.
Minimize Processed Foods-
- Processed foods indicate that a whole food has been changed either by heat or chemicals into a new form. Often, vital nutrients are stripped away from the original food and additives like colors, flavors, sweeteners, emulsifiers, etc. may be added. These foods tend to promote inflammation and add empty calories to the diet. To minimize your intake, try to shop for food from the perimeter of the grocery store and avoid packaged, shelf-stable foods that contain more than 5 ingredients whenever possible.
- Tip: Make your own “healthy” desserts so you can still have your cake and eat it, too! Try out some of these healthy dessert recipes.
- Living a sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for chronic inflammation. Get active throughout the day in addition to participating in regular exercise (i.e. swimming, jogging, aerobics, weight lifting, pilates). A 2012 study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found elevated markers of low-grade inflammation particularly in women when self-reported sitting time was increased. Additionally, low activity levels are often associated with increases in body fat, which is another risk factor for chronic inflammation.
- Tip: Achieve 10,000 steps per day, everyday by parking further away, using the stairs, taking the dog for a longer walk, joining a walking group, etc. Consider tracking your steps using a pedometer or other fitness device.
Lose Body Fat-
- Fat cells not only store excess energy for the body, but they are also metabolically active and can actually promote inflammation through the release of MCHII. Additionally, losing body fat, particularly in the midsection, releases more adiponectin, a hormone released from the fat cells that has anti-inflammatory effects.
- Tip: Measure your waist circumference on a monthly basis. Measure your weight and BMI on a weekly basis. What your measure you can manage!
Add Herbs & Spices-
- Herbs and spices not only make our food taste and smell delicious without use of excess salt and fat, but also contain high levels of anti-inflammatory phytochemicals. Turmeric and its active component, curcumin, is one the most studied of all anti-inflammatory spices. Additionally, ginger, garlic, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, rosemary, cloves, etc. are all potent anti-inflammatories that can be used to flavor your food.
- Tip: Add turmeric to your morning egg and sauteed veggie scramble. Add cinnamon to your coffee. Start an herb garden and use fresh herbs to finish rice and other cooked grains.
- During sleep, the body has the opportunity to heal and repair itself from the wear and tear placed upon it throughout the day. If we do not get adequate sleep, described as 7 to 9 hours per night, then the body cannot complete this vital process. This results in higher levels of chronic inflammation.
- Tip: Making sleeping a top priority! Stick to your sleep schedule like you would stick to any other schedule during the day. Try out some of these additional sleep tips.
Lower Toxic Burden-
- Toxins come into the body through the air we breath, the chemicals on our skin, and most importantly the foods we eat. They must be filtered out of the body to prevent harm. Overtime and with excessive exposure, toxins accumulate and promote inflammation. Reduce your toxin exposure by practicing avoidance or moderate consumption of caffeine, alcohol, and medication. Staying hydrated is another strategy to reduce toxins as you’ll have regular bowel movements and toxin elimination.
- Tip: Avoid exposure to potentially harmful chemicals found in your products (i.e. soap, moisturizers, shampoo, sunscreen, shaving cream, etc.) by switching to products that are approved by the EWG.
- First, recognize that stress is not just a feeling, but also a physical response impacting the body. Excessive and chronic stress is associated with poor blood sugar regulation, obesity and weight gain, immune system suppression, and poor digestive capacity. Also, we are less likely to engage in health related behaviors and as a result sleep, exercise, and healthy eating habits often fly out the window. Additionally, we often crave more sugar and processed foods, only further increasing the deleterious impact of stress on chronic inflammation.
- Tip: Pick out your top 3 favorite ways to have fun and smile and do these activities every day to reduce stress. Consider watching a funny tv show, listening to stand up comedy, talking to a friend, taking a dance class, singing in the car, watching silly youtube videos, etc.
Remove Allergenic Foods-
- Now for the icing on the cake…Once you have done all of the previously stated steps, there is one last thing to consider to reduce chronic inflammation. Certain foods, even healthy ones, may trigger a heightened immune response, promoting inflammation. Consistently consuming these foods provokes inflammation that may cause harm. Food allergies are pretty easy to identify, but you may also consider food sensitivities that promote this same pathway.
- Tip: Try out an elimination diet for a few weeks and see how you feel. Often, people don’t even recognize how bad they were feeling until they start feeling better!
In conclusion, inflammation is a natural process in the body that promotes healing, but excessive and chronic amounts may also promote harm. Extinguish the inflammation fire with proper diet and lifestyle changes. While it may sound simple, changing food choices, lifestyle habits, stress response, and body weight takes time and effort. If you need help implementing any of these recommendations into your daily routine, please contact me today for personalized nutrition coaching. Get the support, tools, education, and resources you need for success!