My last blog post introduced the first pillar of The Rustic Diet, Digestive Health. Today I want to talk a bit about the second pillar, Inflammation Lowering. In order to create a diet that promotes optimal health, lowering inflammation has to be a primary feature.
Inflammation is a normal and necessary process of self protection. When something harmful or irritating affects a part of your body, there is a biological process to try and remove it and begin the healing process. When you get a cut on your skin and you see redness, swelling, and feel heat this is the body’s way to heal itself. This is not bad and without it your wounds would never heal. The problem arises when this inflammatory process goes on for too long or if there is too much of it.
Chronic inflammation can last several months to many years and is now thought to be the underlying cause of many chronic diseases. According to a CDC article by Gary Egger, PhD, MPH, chronic inflammation could be the modern day equivalent of a germ theory for chronic disease. For most of history, infections posed the biggest challenge to human health. This challenge changed in the 19th century with the discovery of the germ theory. Public health, hygiene, and antibiotics changed the game. Today, chronic disease (heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, chronic respiratory problems, etc) have replaced infections as the major challenges for human health. Only since the early 1990’s have scientists started to link these diseases with a unifying underlying factor of chronic inflammation. Rather than healing disease or injury with classical acute inflammation, chronic inflammation creates an environment in the body that actually perpetuates disease.
The causes of chronic inflammation are largely a by-product of our modern, industrial lifestyle. This is likely why many common diseases today were rarely seen prior to the Industrial Revolution. There are many contributors to chronic inflammation; including poor diet, impaired digestion, unhealthy lifestyle, chronic stress, and environmental exposures. Egger G. In Search of a Germ Theory Equivalent for Chronic Disease Many of these pro-inflammatory factors we do have control over, which puts the power back into your hands. You can take steps today to reduce inflammation and prevent chronic, unregulated inflammation from causing disease in your body.
The Diet Solution
The good news is that diet can significantly reduce inflammation. This has been shown in various studies looking at inflammatory markers in the blood. Regardless of what specific diet you follow, there are three main principles that need to be included to keep inflammation at bay.
Phytonutrients are protective compounds found in the pigment of plants. The more naturally colorful your meal, the more likely it is to have an abundance of phytonutrients. I suggest a rainbow of colors every day coming from a variety of plants; fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, herbs, and spices.
Low Glycemic Starches
Carbohydrates are not all bad. They certainly have a bad rap though and they can definitely be overdone. Starches can be a healthy addition to meals but the quality and quantity of starch is very important. Choose low glycemic, high fiber starches such as quinoa, wild rice, farro, barley, beans, lentils, squash, and sweet potatoes to name a few. The Harvard School of Public Health has a good resource for more information and examples on the Glycemic Load of foods. Furthermore balancing your starches with protein, fat and vegetables will prevent the starch from spiking your blood sugar and producing an inflammatory reaction. The following plate is an example of how you might balance your starch with these other foods.
Thankfully our cultural relationship with fat is starting to change. More and more we’re understanding the importance of fat in the diet and how certain fats can actually help lower inflammation in the body. Omega-3 fats are some of the most important fats and unfortunately are not always a standard component of our diets. Some great sources of Omega-3 fats include cold-water wild fish, chia seeds, hemp seeds, ground flax seeds, and walnuts. Grass-fed and pasture-raised meats, poultry, eggs, and dairy foods can also be good sources of Omega-3s. Other inflammation lowering fats include avocado, olives and olive oil, nuts and seeds, and coconut oil. Healthy fats should not only be included on a daily basis, I would argue that they should be at every meal. Andrew Weil, MD is one of the original pioneers of the Anti-Inflammatory Diet and I still really like his Anti-Inflammatory Pyramid as a nice visual of specific foods to focus on. Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Pyramid
Take Home Message
Although inflammation may be at the root of many common diseases and even your health challenges, the good news is there is a lot you can do to control it. Start by identifying and removing what sources of inflammation you can, while bringing in colorful plants, low-glycemic starches and healthy fats. I also encourage you to check out my page on Inflammation and consider if the addition of an integrative nutrition expert could be the piece you’ve been missing. To receive more articles like this one plus inspiration, recipes, and more delivered straight to your Inbox each week, Join The Tribe. (This article was first published on 4/1/16)