How inflammation wreaks havoc on your health
What do inflammation and Godzilla have in common? Gundersen registered dietitian Chris Swan explains.
One simple analogy to better understand the damaging effects inflammation can have on the body is to compare it with the classic cinematic thriller "Godzilla." In the same fashion that the beast Godzilla wreaks havoc on unsuspecting cities, chronic inflammation rages in the body and over time leads to serious and life-threatening conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease and autoimmune disorders—just to name a few.
Like Godzilla, inflammation is a beast that needs to be tamed. But how?
What causes inflammation?
Many external factors such as the environment, toxins and stress contribute to inflammation. Other things include lifestyle choices like smoking; consuming excess alcohol; carrying extra weight; and eating a diet heavy in refined carbohydrates (white bread/crackers), fried foods, sugary foods and beverages, red and processed meats and unhealthy fats.
How can I prevent long-term damage from inflammation?
One of the best places to start is by ditching inflammatory foods and replacing them with anti-inflammatory items—namely whole foods. Think grains, nuts, healthy fats, spices and fruits and vegetables that are minimally processed. For example:
- Whole grains: One-hundred percent whole-wheat bread, pasta and tortillas and whole-grain breakfast cereals such as oatmeal all contain healthy fiber and nutrients to decrease inflammation.
- Fruits and vegetables: Produce contains powerful antioxidants that fight inflammation, no matter if the fruits and veggies are fresh, canned or frozen. Try adding colorful berries like dark red cherries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries to smoothies, fruit salads and breakfast cereals or enjoy them as healthy desserts. As for veggies, fresh greens such as kale, Swiss chard and spinach make delicious salads or ingredients in soups, stews and casseroles.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: These healthy fats work hard to reduce the effects of inflammation. Find them in salmon, trout, herring, walnuts, chia seeds and ground flaxseed. Chia seeds and ground flax seeds are great in energy balls for a healthy snack.
- Spices: Turmeric is one example of a spice that quenches inflammation, thanks to a compound it contains known as curcumin. Use turmeric to add flavor to scrambled eggs, soups, stews, casseroles and many Asian and Eastern dishes. Note: Many spices have blood-thinning properties as well, so consult with a physician before taking capsules of turmeric or large amounts of any spice, especially if you take blood thinners.
- Dried beans and legumes: A healthy gut biome leads to a healthy immune system. Consuming at least 1.5 cups of beans or legumes weekly adds fiber that's needed for the good bacteria in the gut to thrive and support a healthy defense system.
Now is the time to calm the savage inflammation beast, and there is no better way than one healthy bite at a time!