Thursday, 9 March 2017

6 Dietary Changes You Can Make to Combat Inflammation

Acute inflammation occurs as a result of our bodies' healing process and is beneficial when we are trying to heal a cut, for example. Chronic inflammation on the other hand, is a long term response whereby the acute inflammatory processes fail to heal our injury or infection. This type of inflammatory process can be a risk factor for conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The impact of dietary habits on inflammation are still not completely understood. However, there is evidence to suggest that some foods have the capacity to help reduce and combat inflammatory processes. There is by no means a magical food that will serve as a cure all to inflammation, although there are several dietary changes you can make that have been shown to have a positive impact on inflammation.

Key players that impact inflammation: 

  • Vitamins E & C: 
Both are powerful antioxidants which help protect our bodies against free radical damage. Vitamin C has been shown to reduce the amount of pro-inflammatory compounds in our bodies, while vitamin E has shown potential in aiding pain reduction and stiffness in those suffering from arthritis.

Vitamin E sources: oils, nuts, and seeds
Vitamin C sources: fruits and vegetables such as: bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, guava, kiwi, pineapple, & grapefruit, oranges
  • Saturated & Trans Fat:
Not all fats are created equally. Saturated and trans fats, can stimulate inflammatory processes in our bodies while unsaturated fats, such as omega 3, can actually help combat inflammation. Saturated fats are often solid at room temperature; think of butter, lard, shortening, or fat around cuts of meat. Exceptions to this are items like coconut oil or whole milk, which are liquid at room temperature but contain high amounts of saturated fat. Trans fat is mainly found in processed baked goods (donuts, cakes, icings). Saturated and trans fats not only contribute to inflammation in our bodies, but also negatively impact heart health.
  • Omega 3 Intake: 
There are three types of omega 3 fatty acids: ALA, DHA and EPA. DHA and EPA are found mainly found in fatty fish (salmon, herring, trout, mackerel, sardines) and fish oil supplements. ALA is found in flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseed oil, and canola oil.

Regular intake of omega 3 fatty acids can help to inhibit pro-inflammatory cytokines. EPA & DHA have a greater impact on reducing inflammation than ALA, although ALA still contributes to counteracting inflammatory processes.

If you are thinking of choosing an omega 3 supplement, first look for a Natural Product Number to ensure the product has been tested and meets government standards. Aim to chose a supplement that has between 250-500mg of both EPA and DHA. Adults are safe to consume fish oil supplements in quantities up to 3000mg per day.
  • Polyphenols: 
Polyphenols are compounds found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, tea, dark chocolate, & olive oil.
Many polyphenols show anti-inflammatory effects and can help to prevent free radical formation.
  • Carbohydrates
Carbohydrate rich foods can be classified into low and high glycemic index (GI) foods. The glycemic index is a scale from 0 -100 that ranks carbohydrate rich foods based on their ability to increase our blood sugar. These foods are all compared to the standard: white bread, which has a rating of 100. The effect that specific foods have on our blood sugar depends on how they are digested.

Low GI foods are digested more slowly and do not rapidly spike our blood sugar. Low GI foods are also often higher in fibre.

Low GI foods include: All bran cereal, sweet potatoes, steel cut oats, milk/yogurt, legumes like chickpeas and lentils, apples, etc.
High GI foods include: potatoes, white rice, white bread and bagels, instant oats, etc.

High fibre, low GI foods have a beneficial impact on inflammation, not to mention are often loaded with vitamins and minerals, fibre, and phytochemicals.
  • Prebiotics and Probiotics: 
Both prebiotics and probiotics increase the activity of anti- inflammatory processes in our guts and can subsequently help combat inflammation.
Prebiotics are non-digestable carbohydrates that create optimal growing conditions for the beneficial probiotic bacteria in our colon. Fructans are a common type of prebiotics found in asparagus, bananas, garlic, leeks, onions, artichoke, and in some whole grains.

Probiotics, aka good bacteria, are essential for gastrointestinal health and play a large role in our immune function. Foods that are rich in probiotics are: Kefir, yogurt, kimchi & sauerkraut (consume these in moderation due to sodium content), and kombucha.

6 Dietary Changes to Help Combat Inflammation

So all that background on the key components in our food that impact inflammation is great, but how are we going to put it into practice? Below I have provided 6 changes you can make to your diet to help combat inflammation. Start by incorporating one suggestion and once you have that one down pat, choose another. Aim to work your way up to all six!
  1. Increase your fruit and vegetable intake: Aim for 7-10 servings of fruit/vegetables per day or strive to have half your plate loaded with veggies or fruit at each meal. 
  2. Choose whole grains: Try to chose whole grains whenever possible. Swap out white bread, pita, rolls, etc. for whole wheat varieties, substitute white rice with brown rice, and ditch your sugary breakfast cereal for a whole grain, high fibre option. 
  3. Incorporate more meatless meals: Try out a 'Meatless Monday' by replacing your go-to meat with lentils, chickpeas, or beans. Make a stir fry with chickpeas instead of pork, use lentils instead of hamburg in a pasta sauce, or add black beans to your quesadilla instead of chicken. 
  4. Load up on fatty fish: Try adding fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, trout, or herring, to your diet at least 2-3 times per week. Wild varieties will have a higher omega-3 content than farmed varieties. 
  5. Snack on nuts: 1/4 cup of nuts like walnuts and almonds make a great mid-day snack and are loaded with good-for-you fats. Choose unsalted, plain varieties to keep your sodium consumption in check.
  6. Get cooking with olive oil: Virgin olive oil is loaded with heart healthy, anti-inflammatory fats. Drizzle olive oil over salmon with a sprinkle of dill, or combine olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a quick homemade salad dressing.

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