The Inflammation Series: Part 1
Chronic inflammation: the root of all evil. That may sound hyperbolic, but it’s true *for the most part.* Let’s take a step back: Have you ever had a sore throat, the common cold, or a sprained ankle? Paper-cut? Think we’ve all been there… When you experience any trauma or infection, your body releases an inflammatory response in order to defend itself — the brain sends ‘cytokines’ (think of them as ‘healing warriors’) to solve the pain-point. This is a survival instinct, and your brain is the MVP in running this process. Once the problem is resolved, your body returns to a neutral state. That’s the inflammation we want and need, the good inflammation *deep-dive on cytokines here to appease your inner nerd.*
What we want to avoid is chronic inflammation — an excess amount of inflammation that persists in your body. Let’s call it bad inflammation. “An increasing body of evidence shows that chronic inflammation causes and advances many common diseases. Inflammation has long been a well-known symptom of many infectious diseases, but molecular and epidemiological research increasingly suggests that it is also intimately linked with a broad range of non-infectious diseases, perhaps even all of them,” (The Inflammation Theory of Disease) including allergies, asthma, depression, anxiety, and autoimmune disorders like diabetes, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, heart conditions, or rheumatoid arthritis (more inflammation-talk from Dr. Hyman here). Bad inflammation manifests itself differently depending on two key factors: your genetic predispositions and external, environmental influences — everything from the food you eat to how you manage stressful situations.
So how do we prevent excess inflammation? Food + environment. Your body is extremely smart, adaptable, and powerful. If you give it the right environment to work with, it can tackle *almost* any problem. It sounds silly, but imagine you have a garden… stick with me here. Plant seeds in the garden. The seeds will flourish, or perish, depending on how well you tend the garden: are you watering it daily? Is it receiving enough sunlight? Of course, there will be occasional factors beyond your control, like the next door neighbor’s dog that trespasses and tramples a patch of flowers, or a rainstorm that floods the soil *excuse my unimaginative garden analogy, I’m a city-girl at heart.* Ultimately, the garden will replenish itself and thrive so long as it has a strong foundation, so long as it’s core needs are being met consistently.
Now who guessed it? Yes, your body is the garden *feeling cheesy — who’s playing John Mayer in the background?* Consistency is key here. If you make regular, healthy choices, you are giving your body a strong foundation — a chance to defend itself from the occasional external disturbance that triggers inflammation. Whether that disturbance be ingesting toxic food *think sugar and all-things-processed,* one-too-many drinks *because it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere,* a stressful situation, or even a physical injury.
We’ll get into managing environmental factors in a future post, but for now, what foods can we incorporate into our daily lives to reduce unnecessary inflammation? Some of my current go-to’s include:
Dark leafy greens. If they showed up on your dating app, this is the one you’d want to ‘super-like’ *swipe RIGHT please.* They’re the full-package you’ve been looking for all your life. Seriously, they’re filled with antioxidants, vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, calcium *cows eat greens to fortify their strong bones, not milk,* iron, fiber, folate, vitamin K, and potassium — these nutrients supercharge the brain *your inflammation-management MVP.* Greens are cancer-preventing, bone-protecting, and immunity-building — not to mention they fight belly-bloat, promote glowing skin, and help balance your blood-glucose levels *AKA less cravings, chicas!* Need I say more? Try adding a few handfuls of mixed greens to your post-workout smoothie or swapping the grain-base for a salad-base from your local lunch-spot.
Fermented foods. How many times have you been told to take probiotics? *Insert every doctor visit that ends with an antibiotic prescription.* Fermented foods are the all-natural probiotic. They contain a healthy dose of live microorganisms that your body needs for optimal health (think improved immunity, weight management, heart health, and brain function…more science to back this here). My current fermented food-crush is Hawthorne Valley’s Caraway Sauerkraut — if this flavor isn’t your thing, there’s tons of others that I urge you to try! Let me know if you have any favorites.
Turmeric. Have you seen the ‘golden latte’ featured in your local cafe? Turmeric is a key anti-inflammatory spice. Replace your afternoon coffee with a turmeric latte or sprinkle the spice into any of your cooked dishes for a pop of flavor (and color). Also grind some black pepper into the mix, as the pair will allow you to better digest turmeric’s beneficial properties *cytokine healing warriors will thank you.*
AVOID: Sugar, Dairy, & Processed Foods. This section honestly requires an entire article (future post with more sugar & dairy swap suggestions to come). These are three proven food types that are guaranteed to increase inflammation in your body, so let’s find tasty ways to replace them. Ever notice a pimple pop up after eating a sugary dessert or experience a hangover after a night of too much alcohol? That’s your inflammatory response system signaling! We all indulge in guilty pleasures sometimes, but if you make a conscious effort to reduce your intake of these foods, I guarantee you will notice a difference in your mood, skin health, and energy levels (as does Dr. Will Cole in his book The Inflammation Spectrum). We’re all a work in progress so for now, try swapping the following:
Replace white cane sugar and artificial sweeteners like equal, splenda, erythritol or xylitol with natural sweeteners like monkfruit, stevia, coconut sugar, or dates. These options are just as sweet but don’t come with the morning-after guilt. Caution: Be wary of the “zero-calorie,” “sugar-free” shiny labels on packages *yes, I’m asking you to swallow the red pill — any Matrix fans?* These processed foods often contain artificial sweeteners that are associated with increased risk of diabetes and cancer. The FDA states: “Commercially produced sugar alcohols are added to foods as reduced-calorie sweeteners and are found in many sugar-free and reduced-sugar products…Food manufacturers may voluntarily list the amount in grams (g) per serving of sugar alcohols on the Nutrition Facts Label.” AKA the “sugar-free,” “low-cal” labels are only valid if you’re choosing to swallow the blue pill.
Go for an organic oat or nut-based milk. Note: When opting-in for the alternative-dairy options, look out for a clean nutrition label. I’d make sure there are no unnecessary additives or sneaky sugars by checking the list of ingredients *kindly ask the barista if you can check the alt-milk carton on your next coffee-run.* If you have a sweet-tooth, you can always add a spoonful of raw honey, coconut sugar, or monkfruit.
Trade white rice for cauliflower rice (and throw some turmeric or bone broth in — makes for a delicious dish that happens to be anti-inflammatory approved!) You can do the same with pizza. Caulipower Pizza happens to have a tasty pizza dough replacement — my pizza-loving friends agree!)
Note: Each body is different. Some people react better or worse to these ingredients. You know your body best, so try out some of the suggestions and see how you feel. Send over some of your favorite guilty-pleasure swaps too!
P.S. Do you have landscape photos that you’re willing to share? I would love to feature them (and you!) in my upcoming posts. If so, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!