Generally speaking, the standard American diet and lifestyle are inflammatory. Inflammation is linked to low energy/fatigue, acute illness and chronic disease. Thus, to address these concerns and optimize our health, we must actively reduce inflammation in the body by reducing our exposure to toxins, eating an anti-inflammatory diet, exercising, and managing stress.
Inflammation is an immune response; it is the way the body responds to imbalance, stress, injury and infection. For example: when we get a cut it gets inflamed and red, or when we have the flu we may feel puffy and warm. These are signs of inflammation, a necessary process in healing.
What we’re experiencing on a large scale in this country is something called silent or chronic, low level inflammation. It is not necessarily something we can feel or see, especially when we are used to existing in an inflammatory state. However, inflammation is linked to feelings of lethargy, as well as weight gain, obesity, hypertension, arthritis, allergies, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
As explained above, we are genetically predisposed for inflammation when our body is under stress (and we do need this inflammatory response at times). This genetic predisposition, in combination with the high stress levels that many Americans experience—both emotionally, physically and chemically in response to environmental toxins, work/life related stressors, and the food we eat—is the perfect recipe for silent inflammation and disease.
At first glance, the situation appears grim, but with this knowledge, in combination with the burgeoning field of epigenetics (we can control gene expression with diet and lifestyle), comes the refreshing realization that if we can control stress, we can control inflammation and the onset of chronic disease.
The type of stress I’d like to focus on today is dietary stress; the physiological stress we put on our body when we eat the Standard American Diet (SAD).
1. It’s high in sugar and pulverized grains (flour products).
Sugar and pulverized grains lead to blood sugar imbalance and high insulin levels, an inflammatory state.
2. It’s high in omega-6 fatty acids and low in omega-3 fatty acids.
Inflammation in the body is regulated by these two essential fatty acids. Omega-6s and omega-3s compliment each other, having opposite effects: the body draws from omega-6s to construct pro-inflammatory hormones that increase clotting, cell proliferation, and blood flow to an area for healing and the body draws from omega-3s to produce anti-inflammatory hormones that reduce those functions.
Ideally we would be consuming these 2 fatty acids in roughly equal amounts—and it is thought that we were in Paleolithic times— however, as the American diet has changed the consumption of omega-6s has come to far exceed that of Omega-3s, some of the main culprits being soybean oil—found in the majority of processed foods—grain fed meat, and other animal products, such as dairy (high Arachidonic Acid, an omega 6).
3. It’s high in artificial foods.
The human body has trouble recognizing and digesting chemicalized, artificial foods, such as zero calorie sweeteners, food dyes and hydrogenated oils. These foreign bodies stimulate an inflammatory (or immune) response, just like any pathogen would.
4. Contains more cooked foods than raw foods.
Research shows that foods cooked at high temperatures produce advanced glycation end products (AGE), which contribute to the production of proteins that stimulate inflammation.
1. Read food labels and do your best to reduce or eliminate processed foods from you daily diet, especially those with sugar, pulverized grains (flour), highly refined oils (soybean, canola, vegetable), and artificial ingredients. Instead, choose blood sugar balancing foods like whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and vegetables.
2. Eat foods (or supplement) with omega-3s daily, such as cold water fish* (salmon, herrings, sardines, mackerel, bluefish, black cod), walnuts, hemp seeds and chia seeds.
* Keep in mind it is not recommended to eat fish more than two times a week because of the bioaccumulation of heavy metals. Parents, you should be even more vigilant with your children!
3. Balance out your consumption of raw and cooked foods—eat 50% of each meal raw. If you do like cooked vegetables, reduce the heat to medium or lightly steam.
For more information on an anti-inflammatory diet, check out Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory food pyramid.
Stay tuned for more natural ways to reduce inflammation in your body, increase your quality of life, and reduce your risk of disease.
Allie Andrews is the Founder and Program Director at OmBody Health. She is a Certified Health Coach, author, and has her Master’s Degree in Education with a focus in Corporate Wellness. Allie and her team have been transforming employee wellbeing since 2014. Learn more.