While you may not think you are at risk for developing chronic disease because your weight and Body Mass Index are in the good zone and you exercise regularly, have you taken a look lately at your diet? What you eat can wage a silent battle in your body and produce chronic inflammation.
Chronic Inflammation Response
Inflammation is the body’s natural immune response to injury or invasion by infection that releases white blood cells to the source of injury. While short-term inflammation is protective to initiate repair of an injury, long-term exposure to chronic inflammation leads to disease.
It may not be evident how your food choices work against your healthy habits, but chronic inflammation due to poor dietary choices may trigger pro-inflammatory cytokines. And that may cause the immune system to damage cells and ultimately lead to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and autoimmune diseases.
Immune System Connection
If your cholesterol levels are good, there isn’t anything to worry about, is there? It is actually more complex. A diet high in the wrong types of food launches a cascade of events and immune responses that disrupt the normal function of cells.
Arteries and veins can become damaged by inflammation. It is the immune response to the inflammation that eventually causes the plaque formation that results in cardiovascular disease.
Chronic inflammation is also being investigated for its role in the development of Alzheimer’s, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Crohn’s Disease.
A blood test for C-reactive protein (CRP) measures if there is inflammation present in the body, but further tests may be needed to determine the cause of inflammation.
Foods that promote inflammation contain trans fats, sugar, refined and processed grains, alcohol, animal fat, food additives, saturated fat, and some cooking oils. Diets high in fast food, processed foods and sugar and refined carbohydrates can cause cellular damage resulting in disease.
Limit intake of foods such as fries, doughnuts, biscuits and cookies. These foods are often cooked in vegetable oil that has had hydrogen added to make it solid for commercial use. This oil, also known as trans fat, identified on ingredient labels as “partially hydrogenated,” is one of the largest contributors to heart disease and stroke. Trans fat raises LDL-cholesterol or “bad cholesterol” and lowers HDL-cholesterol or “good cholesterol.”
Make Smart Choices
There is no single food that can reverse chronic inflammation. It is the cumulative approach to nutritional choices that may make the most significant impact.
- Inflammation-busters are foods high in antioxidants and polyphenols, vitamin C, vitamin E, prebiotics and probiotics, and Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Polyphenols are in fruits and vegetables, olive oil, tea and chocolate.
- Vitamin C, an antioxidant in many fruits and vegetables from peppers to citrus fruits may inhibit cellular damage. Resveratrol, a polyphenol in red wine also has anti-inflammatory properties. Similar properties are in fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and cherries.
- Coffee and dark chocolate (70% cacao or greater) contain flavonoids beneficial to the brain and bacteria in the digestive tract.
- Fruits and vegetables – at least 5 to 7 servings a day – are full of antioxidants to counteract inflammation. The greater variety of colors, the better for the immune system and to prevent cell damage.
Get the Skinny on Fats
Consuming Omega-6 oils, such as soybean and corn oil, can be one of the largest promoters of inflammation.
Too many Omega-6 fatty acids can activate the body’s immune response and cause plaque formation and artery damage.
Good fats, or unsaturated fats, can be helpful to increase the HDL cholesterol and decrease the LDL cholesterol. One food that is full of beneficial fat, or monounsaturated fat is avocado.
Unsaturated fat found in fatty fish, olives, almonds, walnuts, flaxseed, chia and hemp seeds is an optimal fat choice. Two 6-ounce servings a week of fatty fish is the recommendation.
In addition, try two tablespoons of ground flaxseed added to smoothies, yogurt or cereal. Or toss one ounce of walnuts for ALA (alpha-linolenic) acid and Vitamin E, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
The Mediterranean Diet is a model for reducing inflammatory markers such as CRP. It consists primarily of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and fish, with very little intake of red meat and dairy; moderate red wine consumption and cooking with olive oil.