How food can mitigate chronic inflammation and diseases
In fitness, 80% of your success is made in the kitchen. This means that a critical component of achieving the body you desire and optimizing your health and wellness comes from the food you eat every day.
Our dietary choices are in a unique position to influence our overall health, including inflammatory processes in our body. Today, more than 50% of deaths across the globe are related to chronic inflammation. Diseases like diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and many more are all linked to inflammation.
Foods high in antioxidants, minerals, and other essential nutrients have the ability to fight off inflammation. At the same time, an unhealthy diet can trigger a cascade of events that promote inflammation throughout the body, resulting in immune diseases, chronic pain, and disorders.
If nutrition is crucial for health and fitness success, what can we do to optimize it? How can we leverage our food to elevate our well-being, and what type of food or dietary habits should we avoid to prevent chronic inflammation in our body?
This article will dive deep into the science of nutrition, its impact on inflammation, and how we can prevent chronic diseases and pain through the right eating habits.
Inflammation is a normal response of the body to stress and injury and an essential immune defense process to get rid of anything foreign— such as microbes and harmful chemicals.
However, when inflammation becomes too much or uncontrolled, it becomes harmful and can lead to major diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and even depression and brain cognitive decline.
In physical health, excessive inflammation can lead to increased risks of injuries or a delayed healing process. When you have persistent inflammation, it can weaken your muscle tissues and joints and predispose you to develop chronic pain, which can hinder your physical performance and progress in the gym.
Excessive inflammation can lead to serious health consequences overtime.
Chronic inflammation can affect different aspects of your fitness:
Food is medicine. One of the most effective tools to combat inflammation and prevent its lasting effects is to eat nutritious foods. Tons of studies have proven that natural whole foods have anti-inflammatory effects that can boost our health— even better than pharmaceutical drugs.
1. Anti-inflammatory compounds
When there is an imbalance between free radicals (unstable molecules that can damage cells) and antioxidants in the body, oxidative stress occurs, which can also trigger chronic inflammation.
Foods with anti-inflammatory properties are abundant with antioxidants that fight off free radicals, bringing balance to your health and preventing excessive inflammation throughout the body.
Recent studies have revealed that our gut microbiome has a significant role in our health, from stabilizing our mood, improving our immunity and even regulating our inflammatory response.
Probiotics, prebiotics, and fiber-rich plant-based diets can help support healthy gut microbiomes and optimize gut health.
Certain foods can also affect fluctuations in hormone levels, which can also influence your body’s immune response. For example, a diet high in sugar can lead to insulin resistance, which is linked to increased inflammation throughout the body.
Food has a direct effect on our immunity, gut health and hormones.
Changing diet is a challenging task. However, you should be mindful of minimizing the following in your diet, especially if you are suffering from chronic inflammation:
These foods activate key markers of inflammation in the body that can damage the intestinal lining and harm your gut health over time.
Not surprisingly, these foods are also the primary culprits linked to increased risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. After all, high levels of inflammatory markers are needed to develop lifestyle diseases.
The higher your inflammatory markers, the greater the risks for chronic diseases.
Overeating, whether because of habits or as a stress response, will always lead to weight gain and build up of fats. Fat cells are not just storage for excess calories; they also actively produce and release proinflammatory proteins, contributing to an endless cycle of inflammation.
Overconsumption can also lead to imbalances in gut microbiota, known as dysbiosis. The gut microbiome is crucial in regulating the immune system and inflammatory responses.
An imbalance in this delicate ecosystem, often caused by a diet high in processed foods and low in fiber, can lead to increased gut permeability ('leaky gut'), allowing inflammatory substances to enter the bloodstream, thus promoting systemic inflammation.
Skipping fruits and vegetables in one’s diet is a missed opportunity to take advantage of their anti-inflammatory benefits.
Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, which play a significant role in combating inflammation. They contain compounds such as flavonoids and carotenoids that help neutralize free radicals, reducing oxidative stress, a key driver of inflammation.
A diet lacking these essential nutrients can make the body more susceptible to oxidative damage and the subsequent inflammatory response.
Eating the same foods over and over hurts your gut health. A healthy gut is key for controlling inflammation. When your diet lacks variety, your good gut bacteria starts to decline. And those microbes are vital - they help form a protective gut barrier and regulate the immune response.
Without good bacteria, bad bacteria can take over. This imbalance can trigger more inflammation and fuels inflammatory disorders and autoimmune diseases.
Eating too many acidic foods can spark inflammation, especially if you have certain health conditions. Acidic foods lower the body's pH levels, making it too acidic. This acidic environment stresses the body and triggers an inflammatory reaction.
Acidic food diets are often low in fruits and veggies. These alkaline foods provide calcium, magnesium, and potassium - critical minerals that neutralize acids.
Without enough of these minerals, the body stays stuck in an acidic state of inflammation. This subtle but chronic inflammation can contribute to osteoporosis, muscle loss, immunity issues, and more over time.
Cooking method also plays a crucial role in your health. Baking, steaming, and fast stir-fry are recommended to reduce inflammation.
On the other hand, cooking meat, especially grilled red meat, creates compounds associated with cancers and plaque formations in the heart and blood vessels.
Dietary habits are also a choice. You still have control!
Anti-inflammatory foods contain key nutrients and compounds that help control inflammation. Recent studies revealed that a Mediterranean and plant-based diet can minimize inflammation in the body and reverse the effects of chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and more.
Here are some examples of anti-inflammatory food you can include in your diet:
Oily fish like salmon, sardines, and tuna are rich in omega-3 fats that powerfully counteract inflammation. Omega-3s reduce inflammatory protein production and prevent plaque build-up in arteries, decreasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
All berries provide antioxidants like anthocyanins. Antioxidants fight free radicals that activate inflammatory reactions. The phytonutrients in berries are known to decrease inflammatory markers, prevent cancers, and improve heart health.
Here’s a plan for women that can help fight inflammation:
And for men:
Spinach, kale, and other greens contain an anti-inflammatory carotenoid called lutein. These veggies also provide flavonoids and vitamin E to control inflammation and protect our cells from free radical damage.
Leafy vegetables also provide crucial fiber for healthier digestive motility and gut health.
Contain sulforaphane, these cruciferous veggies can suppress inflammatory enzymes and also deliver fiber to nourish healthy gut flora.
More importantly, some studies suggest that these veggies can have protective benefits in the brain and may prevent cognitive decline in older adults.
Varieties like maitake and cremini pack profound anti-inflammatory powers stemming from complex polysaccharides. They inhibit inflammatory mediators while protecting against cellular damage.
Shiitake mushrooms’ lentinan is approved as an adjunct cancer therapy in Japan and China thanks to immune stimulation and inflammation modulation.
Rich in oleic acid, avocados help reduce systemic inflammation. The healthy monounsaturated fats also support joint cartilage and gastrointestinal health.
Omega-3 fatty acids in nuts reduce cytokine production and liver inflammation. The amino acid arginine in nuts boosts nitric oxide to relax blood vessels.
This blue-green algae contains the antioxidant phycocyanin, which inhibits COX-2 enzymes. It also decreases histamine for allergy relief.
The isothiocyanates in moringa reduce free radicals, while polyphenols like quercetin block inflammatory enzymes. Moringa also has cholinergic properties to limit inflammation.
A green algae, chlorella contains the anti-inflammatory omega-3 ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Chlorella Growth Factor and other peptides also restrict inflammatory genes TNF-a and IL-1b, among others.
One of the key steps in managing inflammation and preventing chronic diseases is to optimize our diet and food habits. Being mindful, avoiding foods that can harm you, and incorporating anti-inflammatory foods are essential to maintaining your health and staying fit in your fitness journey.
Remember: the foods we choose to eat daily are not just fueling our bodies; they are also crucial in shaping our health outcomes, both in the short and long term.