A Proper Diet Can Reduce Chronic InflammationJul 31, 2023 09:31AM ● By Alora Frederick, RDN, LDN
Chronic inflammation drives forward the development of health issues like autoimmune conditions, cancer, metabolic disorders and neurological diseases. Sources of chronic inflammation vary greatly and include a continuous pathogenic infection, chemical exposure or recurrent acute inflammation from other sources. One particularly prevalent source is the regular intake of pro-inflammatory, highly processed foods. Therefore, it’s imperative to address dietary sources of acute inflammation to lessen the inflammatory load for disease prevention and overall wellness.
Free radicals are unstable molecules that cause cellular damage and are intimately connected to inflammatory processes. Food sources that contribute to free radical production include high- glycemic foods, hydrogenated oils and some plant-based oils, alcohol and processed meats like sausage, hot dogs, deli meat and bacon. High-glycemic foods are processed carbs that have their fiber and inherent nutrients removed which leads to a spike in blood sugar after consumption. Hydrogenated oils are used by food manufacturers because they keep food fresher for longer. The label will plainly state “hydrogenated oil” so avoid this at all costs.
Safflower, sunflower, cottonseed, soybean and corn oil have higher omega-6 to omega-3 ratios which contribute to inflammation. They become especially problematic when used repeatedly for frying because they get damaged in the process leading to free radical production in the body. Note the distinction between processed meats and meat as a general term. Unprocessed meat is actually a source of antioxidants like zinc and selenium, which downregulate inflammation. It’s also worth noting that gluten causes inflammation in the body for those with either celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Other individuals will have different degrees of inflammatory response to gluten. The gold standard is an elimination diet and then reintroduction to monitor symptoms and gauge the inflammatory response.
Antioxidants are molecules that stabilize free radicals and prevent them from overwhelming the body’s ability to regulate them. It’s important to both limit free radical-promoting foods and also consume adequate antioxidants which can be as simple as prioritizing whole food intake. Isolated antioxidants only get us so far, but antioxidants found in foods are amplified by other naturally occurring chemicals in the food. These compounds team up for even more profound anti-inflammatory effects. For example, vitamin C, an antioxidant in strawberries, works synergistically with flavonoids and polyphenol compounds that are also in the fruit.
Antioxidant-rich whole foods are both plant- and animal-derived. Regular consumption of herbs, colorful fruits and vegetables, high-quality meat, seafood and dairy products ensures a balance of antioxidants to free radicals in the body. Naturally, the higher the degree of inflammation, regardless of the source, the higher the need for antioxidants in the diet.
Specific conditions that are driven by inflammation and therefore alleviated by an anti-inflammatory diet include but are not limited to acne and other skin conditions, PMS and other menstrual issues, sleep disturbances, body aches and pains, premature aging and more. Antioxidant intake is critical in the management of more benign conditions like these along with the prevention of more severe disease states.
Each individual has a different threshold of tolerance for inflammation in the body. Consuming gluten-containing toast and a summer ice cream on the same day may be below someone’s threshold of tolerance and not pose a major issue for their body. Yet for another individual that combination may push the level of inflammation in the body past a tipping point. Be mindful of our baseline level of inflammation while monitoring dietary sources of antioxidants to support wellness.