What are inflammatory foods and how do they affect the body’s functioning? Is there a way to control chronic inflammation in the body? This article talks about inflammation, the relation of diet and inflammation and food to stay away from.
What is an inflammation?
Inflammation is a body’s immune response to an infection or injury. It could be good or bad. Even though an acute inflammation could be uncomfortable with symptoms like pain, redness and swelling, it is necessary to have an inflammatory response, to defend the body by recognising the damaged cells, irritants and pathogens to initiate the healing process. However, when inflammation persists longer in the body than required, it could be harmful. More researches are being undertaken to understand the impact of acute and chronic illness on health and disease. Studies show that specific foods tend to be pro-inflammatory in nature, and these would encourage chronic inflammation in the body if consumed for a longer period. We can call such foods as inflammatory foods.
Chronic inflammation is one of the pathological features of many disorders like obesity, type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. It can also lead to auto-immune diseases including Rheumatoid arthritis, Inflammatory bowel disease, and Lupus, where the body falsely attacks itself, sensing the healthy cells as a threat.
The symptoms of chronic inflammation could be present in different ways like fever, fatigue, mouth sores, joint pain, chest pain, abdominal pain etc. However, it is always advised to take a consultation with a medical practitioner before coming to conclusions about any conditions. The inflammation levels in the body can be checked through a CRP, in other words, a C-reactive protein test. A C-reactive protein is a type of protein produced in the liver which gets sent to the bloodstream as a response to signs of inflammation. A higher level of CRP indicates higher risks for heart disease and stroke.
Diet and inflammation
Our food choices and habits play a major role in controlling the inflammatory markers in the body. Foods with high saturated fats, trans fats, and high glycemic indices are associated with an increased level of inflammation. The glycemic index is a value assigned to foods based on how slowly or how quickly those foods cause increases in blood glucose levels. Foods low on the glycemic index (GI) scale tend to release glucose slowly and steadily. Foods that are high on the glycemic index release glucose rapidly.
Here are 5 types of inflammatory foods to avoid
- Processed meat and other foods: While processing is a part of any packaged food, highly processed foods including meat products like ham and bacon have additives like salt, fat and preservatives that increase the inflammation in the body. Bacon, hot dogs, sausages etc are also considered highly carcinogenic due to the nitrate content. Additionally, ready-to-use packaged products like ketchup, salad dressings and juices have a high content of added sugar which is beyond the daily allotted amount. The sugary cereals and granola bars, which are branded and marketed as healthy, raise the glucose levels in the blood and spike up the inflammation.
- Foods with high saturated fats and trans fats: These increase the blood cholesterol, in particular, the bad cholesterol in the body. Trans fats are associated with heart disease and are one of the unhealthiest fats you could consume. Meat and meat products like red meat, chicken and high-fat dairy products like whole milk, butter and cheese have saturated fats. Trans fats appear in food that contains partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. These are found in fried foods like french fries, doughnuts etc, baked goods and processed snacks like microwave popcorn.
- Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup: These are alike from a chemical standpoint, composed of glucose and fructose. Added sugar is one of the worst ingredients in our diet. These add unwanted calories, and sweetened beverages and foods high in added sugar like pastries, candies and cookies are associated with insulin resistance in the body, heart disease, fatty liver and diabetes. Insulin resistance occurs when the cells stop responding to insulin. In this condition, the pancreas produces even more insulin to lower your blood sugar levels. This leads to high insulin levels in your blood. Insulin resistance is linked to metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, which are among the world’s biggest health problems.
- Refined carbohydrates: These are low in fibres and other nutrients like vitamins and minerals, however, not low in calories. During the refining process, the bran and germ, that are the nutritious parts of the grains, are removed. The high glycemic index in refined grains and sugars lead to rapid spiked in the blood sugar levels and these could trigger inflammation in the body. Refined carbohydrates are found in white bread, pasta, pastries, white rice, white flour etc.
- Red meat: Studies show that red meat increases the CRP or C-reactive protein levels in the body, a marker for inflammation. Recent studies also show TMAO or trimethylamine N-oxide found in red meat is linked to various inflammatory conditions including cardiovascular diseases. Additionally, the saturated fats in red meat lead to oxidative stress and further inflammation in the body.
We know about the major inflammatory foods to avoid. So what should we be eating instead? Carefully selecting foods that are anti-inflammatory in nature while avoiding foods that are pro-inflammatory is central to an anti-inflammatory diet plan. The best way to fight inflammation is by following a whole plant-based diet, rich in healthy fats and phytonutrients, with foods like whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. This also helps in maintaining a stable glycemic response. Studies show that inflammatory components in the plant-based diet are inferior, also these foods are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that help in fighting chronic inflammation and the resulting diseases.