Last post we discussed how inflammation works in the body and how food affects the inflammatory response. This week is far less doom and gloom while we focus on what you can do to prevent it. There are ways to reduce that inflammation and its effects!
Spot hidden sugars — and avoid them!
Sugar contributes to inflammation in a number of ways including:
- Irritating the gut lining causing inflammation and allowing substances into the bloodstream from the digestive tract that don’t belong there (this is known as “Leaky Gut”).
- Excess sugar increases insulin resistance forcing your body to work over time to produce hormones to rebalance, which results in metabolic waste – aka inflammatory compounds.
- Sugar contributes to weight gain; as we gain weight in excess, fat cells expand beyond their capacity and send out signals to the immune system that something is wrong and ignite inflammation.
Now, notice I didn’t say “don’t eat sugar”. In an ideal world, sure, maybe we don’t eat sugar ever. But that’s not the world we live in and frankly, a world without French macarons is not one I want to be part of. BUT you can reduce your sugar intake (and therefore inflammation) by identifying hidden sugar in processed foods. And then avoid, avoid, avoid.
Check the labels of the foods you buy and identify any sneaky hidden sugars. High fructose corn syrup. Sucrose. Glucose. Fructose. Caramel. Fruit juice. These are just SOME of the sneaky names sugar hides behind.
When you see ingredients like these make a conscious decision: “do I need to buy this grocery store tomato sauce (packed with added sugar)? Or is this something I can make at home?” *Hint: it is something you can make at home (sugar free chocolate layer fudge)…
Reduce refined grains
Whole grain kernels contain three parts: germ, bran and endosperm. Refined grains start their lives that way but are refined down (milled) into a fine powder to improve texture and shelf-life. During the milling process the germ and bran are removed — this removes all the fibre and most vitamins and nutrients.
Grains are digested in the body and metabolized as glucose. Without fibre, refined grains metabolize at a much faster rate and spike blood sugar drastically. Refined grains essentially have the same effect as excess sugar!
“Whole wheat” or “enriched” is not necessarily better. The processors simply took out all the good stuff (fat & fibre – germ, bran, vitamins) and added back in synthetic vitamins which are more shelf-stable. Opt for sprouted grains or sour dough, they have a much less drastic effect on blood sugar levels.
Identify your allergens!
Allergens, sensitivities, intolerances — there are varying degrees of severity when it comes to foods that are hard to digest and each person is different.
What it comes down to is this: there may be foods that for one reason or another your body has identified as a “foreign invader”. When you’re chronically ingesting something the body feels the need to fight, you are setting off an immune response. Consider an elimination diet or allergy testing to find out if there’s anything your body is reacting to.
The odd “non-self” food here and there isn’t necessarily going to set off a multiple-alarm fire in your body for the average person (exceptions for specific conditions, like in Celiac Disease of course), but the continual ingestion with no time for your body to combat, repair and rebuild is where we find chronic inflammation and all of its potential drastic damage.
Fish are friends AND food… increase your Essential Fatty Acid intake
In a study by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre, patients taking anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs — which come with a whole host of side effects) introduced 1200mg or more of omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) for 75 days. As a result, 88% said that they saw an improvement in pain and would continue to take fish oils. The study found that omega-3 EFAs were as effective as ibuprofen in reducing arthritis pain.
The mechanism behind this is that the fatty acid composition of a cell influences the inflammatory response. Omega-3s can act like an on and off switch for the inflammatory process. They are called essential fatty acids because they can only be obtained through our diet!
Spice up your life!
(8-Year-Old Me is literally jumping for joy that Adult Me just used that phrase IRL…)
Turmeric — contains an ingredient called curcumin — a powerful antioxidant, neutralizing inflammatory compounds left, right and centre. Pro tip: combine it will black pepper, to increase absorption.
Cinnamon — helps to activate insulin receptors — essentially the opposite of the aforementioned “insulin resistance” caused by sugar.
Ginger — prevents free radicals that cause inflammation. It acts like anti-inflammatory drugs, but without al the damaging side effects! Try swapping your afternoon coffee for ginger tea.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
I need to remind myself of this… every. single. day. Stress is extremely inflammatory.
Cortisol is our “stress hormone”. When we’re stressed our bodies produce more cortisol. Cortisol increases our production of glucose. Therefore: stress = our body needs more fuel, aka sugar = (well, you know what happens with excess sugar).
In addition to making glucose in our bodies. Cortisol also shuts down our immune response. So we’re getting all the damaging effects of too much sugar and none of our body’s natural ability to combat the inflammatory effects of it.
7. Get a good night’s sleep
The same system responsible for modulating our sleep-wake cycle is also responsible for modulating stress and immune function — and therefore our inflammatory response.
Think about any vacation you’ve gone on and how many times you’ve gotten sick as soon as you arrived or as soon as you return home… your circadian rhythm was off, and so was your immune function. Inflammation spikes when our sleep patterns are off.
For a good night’s sleep:
- Get 7-9 hours per night (too much sleep will spike inflammation as well!)
- Set a routine: go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time. Creating small rituals like journalling and sipping tea like Holy Basil, will help you develop a habit and reduce stress
- Turn off electronics at least one hour before bed. No screens! Let your natural circadian rhythm kick in without confusing it with manufactured light
- Speaking of light, sleep in complete darkness to keep your body on the proper sleep-wake cycle
- As a general rule don’t eat right before bed, as you digest and absorb your food, your blood sugar will rise and give you energy. If you’re eating right before bed and then waking up through the night, this could be why!
There’s loads of ways to reduce inflammation, but don’t worry about trying to change everything all at once. No use stressing about not stressing… just implement a few changes here and there and note how your body feels different when you take these steps until it all comes naturally.