Paula Porter, CNP, NNCP
If you hang out at The Root of Health for a day, you will very likely hear a number of our practitioners talking about inflammation. Many people think of inflammation as a response to an injury – an acute physical response of redness, swelling, pain. It is that, but it is also a more broad condition, and this is where inflammation starts to really be a “bad guy”.
Inflammation isn’t necessarily bad. It is a critical component of our immune function, and it protects us from pathogens, as well as promotes healing from injuries. When inflammation is controlled by the body, it isn’t problematic. Unfortunately when it isn’t under control, inflammation can become systemic and chronic. The Functional Medicine approach to inflammation lies in trying to understand WHY it has gotten out of control. Finding the root causes of inflammation is critical to healing.
Most chronic diseases are linked in some way to out of control inflammation. It is a very serious root cause that plays a role in chronic pain, heart disease and stroke, cancer, auto-immune conditions, arthritis, and more.
When attempting to calm down the inflammatory response, it is critical to look at WHY the body is producing so much inflammation in the first place. I am going to discuss the foods that play the biggest role in inflammatory conditions. Our diets are fundamental to the healthy balance of our bodies, and when we eat a lot of inflammatory foods, things tend to go wrong over time.
1. The foods we eat have a huge role to play in inflammatory conditions. The following foods are the main contributors to systemic inflammation:
SUGAR: desserts, pastries, chocolate bars, sodas, even fruit juices. Processed sugars trigger the release of inflammatory messengers called cytokines. Sugar goes by many names so look out for any word ending in “ose,” e.g. fructose or sucrose on ingredient labels.
REFINED CARBOHYDRATES: White flour products (breads, rolls, crackers) white rice, white potatoes (instant mashed potatoes, or french fries) and many cereals are refined carbohydrates. Processed carbohydrates trump fat as the main driver of escalating rates of obesity and other chronic conditions. These high-glycemic index foods stimulate inflammation.
GLUTEN: Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley and any foods made with these grains. Gluten is a common allergen and promotes inflammation. We meet so many people who are not tolerant of gliadin, the protein in these gluten containing grains that causes the immune response.
DAIRY: Pasteurized cow milk is the number one allergenic food, meaning that most of us can’t tolerate it. When we repeatedly feed our bodies a food that we are unable tolerate, inflammation results from damage to our gut lining.
TRANS FATS: Known to trigger systemic inflammation, trans fat can be found in fast foods and other fried products, processed snack foods, cookies, donuts, crackers and margarine. Avoid foods with partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredient labels.
SEED OILS: If you still cook with corn, sunflower or canola oil, you should stop! These oils are very inflammatory due to their over processing. Cooking with avocado oil is a great alternative.
ASPARTAME and OTHER ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS: Aspartame is a non-nutritive, intense artificial sweetener found in more than 4,000 products worldwide. It is a neurotoxin, which means it affects the brain. If you are sensitive to this chemical, your immune system will react to the “foreign substance” by attacking the chemical, which in return, will trigger an inflammatory response. If you go “sugar free” by adding in these chemical sweeteners, you aren’t doing yourself any favours.
ALCOHOL: Alcohol is a burden to the liver. Excessive use weakens liver function and disrupts other multi-organ interactions and can cause inflammation. It is best eliminated or used in moderation.
The best nutritional advice to combat inflammation is to stick more closely to a diet of whole foods – lots of vegetables, some fruit, clean animal protein, minimal grains. A Paleo diet is a largely anti inflammatory diet as it avoids grains and dairy. If you know that you are sensitive to certain foods, it is important to avoid them (even if you love them!). Keep sweet treats as special occasion foods, not every day foods. While some of these changes can seem overwhelming or too difficult, the benefit of making the change will be quickly seen – less pain, better sleep, better tolerance to stress, more energy, and the list goes on.