Inflammation is a natural process the body goes through when injured or ill- our immune system springs into action, bringing white blood cells and increased blood supply to the area that requires attention. This mechanism is amazing and welcomed when we have acute injuries or sickness, as it’s our body’s way of fighting back and getting us back on track to good health.
However, chronic inflammation is something that we are seeing all too often and is not a good thing. Our body can become chronically inflamed when ongoing stress, poor diet and unhealthy lifestyles put increasing amounts of pressure on our body and we begin to react to things that shouldn’t trigger an inflammatory response, or at least not an ongoing one. Autoimmune disease is a consequence of chronic inflammation- in autoimmune disease our body decides its own healthy cells are invaders, and so mounts an immune response to them. Examples of autoimmune disease include coeliac disease, Hashimoto’s and Rheumatoid arthritis.
Inflammation puts our body into a state of disharmony and imbalance, and research is now suggesting that chronic inflammation is potentially the root cause of various diseases, including depression, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, migraines, diabetes and insulin resistance to name a few. Some common signs and symptoms of chronic inflammation include headaches, joint pain, chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema, hormonal imbalances as well as fatigue.
So what foods contribute to inflammation? And what foods can we eat to promote an anti-inflammatory action in the body?
The following foods are commonplace in the average Western diet and have been shown to contribute to systemic inflammation. Trans-fats found in processed and packaged food (biscuits, store-bought cakes and pies are big offenders here) are extremely damaging to health and must be avoided. When grocery shopping stick to the outer aisles and avoid food that isn’t, well, food! These are the main offenders when it comes to contributing to inflammation:
• Processed food
• Processed wheat products
• Excess gluten
• A1 dairy
• Excess caffeine
• GMO soy and corn
• Vegetable oil
• Processed meats and meat products (deli meats and bacon)
• Highly sprayed fruits and vegetables– refer to the ‘Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen’ on Environmental Workers Group website to see what’s important to buy organic or pesticide-free where possible.
The Mediterranean Diet has been extensively researched for its health-promoting effects and it gets a big tick for being an anti-inflammatory style of eating. Studies suggest that following a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce the chance of developing inflammatory conditions such as autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. It is not a strict, boring diet but rather a style of daily eating (and living- siestas anyone?!) that promotes longevity and overall good health. The Mediterranean diet emphasises regular consumption of fresh fish, lots of vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, herbs and spices and plenty of good fats like avocado and olive oil. Red meat is eaten in moderation and red wine is consumed regularly, with food.
Stress puts the body into an inflammatory state and while short-term and acute stress is inevitable (and managed well by the body), chronic stress is detrimental. It places a huge burden on our digestive and detoxification systems as they get put on the back-burner whilst our nervous system manages the stress. If this goes on too long, inflammation ensues.
However please don’t stress over the stress!! We live in a busy world and we all have different levels of stress at one point or another. The trick is to learn how to manage stress and allow your mind to understand that it will exist, but doesn’t have to run our lives. Learning to meditate, whether it be through a weekly class, a guided app on your phone or through some form of body-practice such as yoga is not overrated! Setting aside some time at least once a week to begin with is your first step towards optimal health and a balanced body and mind, free of inflammation.
Self-care rituals are another way to manage your stress levels and check-in with yourself. Try dry body-brushing for a few minutes before your shower, an Epsom-salt bath or a walk around the block listening to your favourite music. Every little bit counts.
For more information on inflammation, diet and the mediterranean diet, here are a selection of articles from Darling Health for further reading. We also share a Mediterranean diet study on cardiovascular health https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.118.313348