Inflammation is a normal process of the body that protects the body from damage by killing pathogens, initiating tissue repair processes, and helping to restore homeostasis at infected sites. Short, temporary inflammatory responses are called acute inflammatory responses, while a long-term state of inflammation is called chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation occurs with the loss of regulation of inflammatory response. To put it plainly, the body doesn’t maintain homeostasis, or return to “normal”. When the inflammatory state becomes excessive, that’s when the body’s tissue can become damaged and disease can occur.
Cases of chronic disease have increased and research has shown the connection between prolonged inflammation and the development of those chronic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. As a result of these findings, foods or dietary elements have been further studied to determine their effects on inflammation.
Some foods seem to predispose the body to inflammatory conditions (which are discussed in Foods that Cause Inflammation) and others seem to be useful in therapy by exerting anti-inflammatory effects (which are discussed bellow).
Though chronic inflammation is not caused by any one lifestyle factor, certain diet characteristics are associated with higher levels of inflammatory biomarkers or instances of chronic disease. If your goal is to eat in a way that decreases inflammation, try to avoid the following:
Excess calorie intake
If you consume more calories than your body requires, your body will store that extra energy in adipose tissue, or fat. Adipose tissue is made up of adipocytes, or fat cells. Smaller fat cells in lean individuals promote homeostasis, while enlarged fat cells promote inflammation. Adipose tissue responds to increased fat cell mass by secreting pro-inflammatory molecules.
Aside from the fact that high carbohydrate intake is associated with obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes, reducing foods that are low in fiber and high in starch and sugar has shown to improve inflammatory biomarkers in the blood. Diets rich in refined carbs are thought to stimulate pro-inflammatory molecule production. The recommendation for carbohydrate in the diet is 45-65% of total calories.
Low fiber, high starch foods to avoid include: white bread, russet potato, pretzels, saltines, mac and cheese from a box.
Trans fatty acids are thought to act on cell membranes and induce an inflammatory response. Researchers have seen trans fatty acids pass through blood vessels twice as fast as other forms of fatty acids, causing them to clump together and bind to arterial walls. Foods that are often high in trans fat that should be avoided include: potato chips, french fries (unless that fast food chain has switched the oil), margarine, microwave popcorn, non-dairy creamers, shortening, crackers, and frozen dinners. Be sure to check the nutrition label as well as the ingredient list for “hydrogenated oil”.
There is a large body of evidence pointing to the pro-inflammatory effects of saturated fatty acids, which contribute to the development of metabolic syndrome. Inflammation is stimulated through various mechanisms. The Dietary Guidelines for American recommend less than 10% of total daily calories come from saturated fat. Popular foods high in saturated fat include cheese, pizza, beef, and grain-based desserts.
Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids
Omega-6 fatty acids are similar to omega-3 fatty acids in that they are both essential fatty acids, meaning that the human body cannot produce them and they must be acquired through dietary sources. They produce signaling molecules with differing effects when eaten and broken down in the body. Omega-6 fatty acid results in pro-inflammatory signaling molecules. Though they are necessary to health, they average American consumes considerably more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3. Foods high in omega-6 fatty acids include: vegetable oil, mayonnaise, corn chips, fast foods, pastries