In general medical terms, Inflammation is typically a good thing. It helps protect our bodies from damaged cells, irritants, and pathogens, and it even helps begin the healing process when we are sick or injured. But what if the inflammation isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do?
Normally, during the inflammation process, the body produces white blood cells and substances to protect us from infection with foreign organisms, such as bacteria and viruses. However, in some cases, the immune system will trigger an inflammatory response when there are actually no foreign invaders to fight off in the first place. This is the case for autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, eczema, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, asthma and psoriasis. It is when the immune system causes damages to its own tissues responding as if they are infected or somewhat abnormal.
Chronic Inflammation can also manifest through different symptoms such as body pain, skin rashes, excessive mucus production, low energy and poor digestion.
So how do you heal chronic inflammation? While some autoimmune diseases are of course more complicated and require different types of medical attention, one of the ways you can curb inflammation is through your diet. There are foods that are known to cause inflammation like sugar, dairy and simple carbohydrates.
We spoke with award winning Nutritionist and the bestselling author of Empowered By Food Ciara Foy on how we can prevent inflammation through nutrition, supplements that are helpful and foods that we should absolutely avoid.
What is inflammation and what happens to our bodies when we eat inflammatory foods?
Inflammation is the body’s response to injury. It’s a really important part of the body’s immune system and its response to infections. It’s the way that the body signals the immune system to start to come in and repair. This is what happens when you get a bug bite or bang your knee. You’ll notice swelling, bruising, and redness, for example. The five signs of inflammation are pain, heat, redness, swelling and loss of function. However, most degenerative diseases have their root causes in inflammation. For example, diabetes, heart disease and cancer are all inflammatory based disease.
When we eat a lot of inflammatory foods, it causes our immune system to always be responding and reacting, and so overtime, it causes a lot of free radical damage
When we eat a lot of inflammatory foods, it causes our immune system to always be responding and reacting, and so overtime, it causes a lot of free radical damage, which is damage to our cells. So what we want to do, any time there is pain or there is a degenerative disease, we are always looking to reduce inflammation. There are a lot of foods that can reduce inflammation. Most of the time, these are whole foods such as vegetables, fish oils, and lots of antioxidants. All your green veggies, berries, cruciferous vegetables, and the plant kingdom that will reduce inflammation and Omega-3s which are in chia seeds, flax seeds and fish oils. Those are some of the most powerful things to reduce inflammation. In addition to this, some spices like turmeric and the active ingredient in turmeric called curcumin. Curcumin is one of the most natural powerful anti-inflammatory substances that we know of and it can even be so powerful that it can be used to reduce pain, arthritis and even for period pains. Just like how you would pop an Advil, you can actually use a high-quality curcumin and it will reduce inflammation to the extent that it will reduce that pain
Foods that cause inflammation are going to be processed food, genetically modified foods, any processed sugars, too much animal proteins, deep fried foods and any processed grains. All of those things cause an inflammatory response because of how they impact our hormones such as insulin.
I keep hearing the term "endothelial cells" linked to inflammation. Can you give us some insight on this?
Endothelial Cells are regulators of inflammatory reactions. They prevent coagulation, they help control blood flow and the passage of proteins and other nutrients into blood and tissues that re going to help inhibit inflammation.
What can we do to prevent inflammation? What are some foods we should be consuming?
An anti-inflammatory diet is going to be free of any processed foods, deep fried foods, processed sugars, and sugars in general. Basically, any sugars that don’t come from fruits and vegetables should be avoided when you are trying to reduce inflammation. Vegetables first and foremost - lots of leafy greens and vegetables is the basis of an anti-inflammatory diet. Fish products, fish oils, nuts and seeds, those are also the kinds of things that are good to reduce inflammation.
Are supplements helpful for inflammation? If so, what are some of the top supplements we should be taking?
From a supplement perspective, the main things we go to are fish oil, omega 3 supplements and curcumin. Those are my go-to’s for that.
Do you have any other tips or insight on this topic?
The biggest thing to understand is that inflammation is the driving factor in most degenerative disease, so it should always be top of mind for everybody. I’m always working on balancing hormones and helping clients with their gut health, but an anti-inflammatory diet is always going to be number one when it comes to prevention. Many degenerative diseases are inflammatory based. When managing obesity or diabetes for example, it’s key to reduce inflammation as the cornerstone of treatment. The key really is to have lots and lots of fruits and vegetables. Think about getting back to the basics with your food, which means nothing processed, and everything you eat is as close to their original form as possible.
The biggest thing to understand is that inflammation is the driving factor in many degenerative disease, so it should always be top of mind for everybody.
You can also add animal proteins such as fish which contain Omega-3s. There is only a significant amount of omega 3 in beef if it’s grass-fed and commercial meat can be very inflammatory. You really want the majority of your plate – as in 50-75% – to be vegetables. Proteins should almost be a condiment. A good measurement is to have a quarter of it on your plate. You can also consume some good fats, which are anti-inflammatory as well. All of this is extremely helpful in reducing inflammation within our bodies.
Ciara Foy is an award-winning registered holistic nutritionist, author, weight-loss expert and Toronto-based mom to two young girls.