A look at what causes inflammation, what it can do to our bodies, and how to control inflammation through what you eat
When you hear the word “inflammation,” what comes to mind? For many of us, it probably conjures thoughts of our body’s common response to blunt injuries or infections, like swelling after a bumped knee or a sore throat when we’re sick.
These are examples of our body’s self-limiting attempts at fighting against things that want to harm us. This type of acute inflammation is an innate part of our body’s immune response; without it, infections, wounds, and other types of tissue damage would be unable to heal. For all intents and purposes, acute inflammation is necessary and beneficial for an effective recovery process.
Regular, sustained inflammation, on the other hand, is invisible to the naked eye and occurs when your body’s natural defenses remain in a constant state of alert. Over time, sustained inflammation can start to damage healthy tissues, organs, and cells, and eventually lead to a variety of unwanted health conditions, including weight gain and obesity.
What is the correlation between weight gain and inflammation?
Roughly 40% of American adults, about 93 million people, are obese. And since obesity is associated with a much higher risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer, this is more than just a cosmetic issue; it’s a health epidemic.
Inflammation and weight gain are connected in two ways:
- Poor habits such as sedentary behaviors, unhealthy diets, and consuming high amounts of processed foods and sugar will eventually increase the number of fat cells that are stored in our bodies. High levels of fat cells (which leads to weight gain) eventually trigger our bodies to turn on their natural defenses, and over time, lead to sustained inflammation
As the body continues to store fat and cause persistent weight gain, our fat cells expand beyond their capacity, which becomes another source of ongoing inflammation
- So, inflammation breeds body fat, and body fat breeds more inflammation – a vicious cycle impacting our overall health, well-being and ability to be active.
Controlling inflammation through diet
Some of the most powerful tools for combating sustained inflammation are the foods that we consume through our diets. Consistently choosing the wrong foods can lead to weight gain and accelerate the inflammation process; however, by choosing the right anti-inflammatory foods, you can effectively reduce the level of inflammation in your body, and significantly lower your chances of inflammation-induced health issues down the line.
Here are two recommendations for fighting inflammation through your diet:
- Reduce Refined Carbohydrates and Excess Sugars
Ian Spreadbury, a researcher at the Gastrointestinal Diseases Research Unit at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, recognized the distinct connection between inflammation and weight gain and developed a useful index for identifying the best anti-inflammatory foods.
His theory is that refined carbohydrate density, or the percentage that a certain food is made of refined carbohydrates, is one of the most important variables when it comes to a food’s potential to cause inflammation and weight gain. The more refined carbohydrates jammed into a given gram of food, the more likely it is to cause inflammation, and subsequently, weight gain.
Unfortunately, modern food processing only adds to the level of refined carbohydrates found in our foods today, creating what Spreadbury refers to as acellular foods, or pure, structureless sugar or starch.
To minimize inflammation that may be caused by what you eat, reduce your consumption of:
- Fried foods
- White bread and other refined carbohydrates
- Processed meats
- Highly-processed packaged foods
- Instead, choose whole grains and complex carbohydrates high in fiber over refined sugars and grains.
- Eat More Whole Foods
There are numerous studies that indicate that diets rich in vegetables and fruits are closely tied to lowered levels of inflammation. Therefore, to reduce inflammation in the body, we need to veer away from highly-processed convenience-oriented foods and instead focus on eating whole foods in their natural state.
Some of the best anti-inflammatory foods include:
- Most vegetables, but specifically green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and collards
- Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and tuna
- Fruits, including berries, oranges, and cherries
- Nuts and seeds, particularly walnuts and almonds
- Olive oil
In addition to helping reduce inflammation, a more natural, less-processed diet can have positive effects on your emotional and physical health, which can ultimately lead to a much higher quality of life.