The Fire Within

The right food can help reduce chronic inflammation

By Alison Stanton

Inflammation: the good, the bad and the ugly

The acute inflammation process is a natural part of the healing process, says Tracy Garrett, RDN, CDE.

Tracy, who is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator at Sun Health Center for Health & Wellbeing, says inflammation typically lasts for about 24 to 48 hours. This occurs as the body’s normal immune response to invaders such as harmful bacteria, toxins or tissue injuries.  The response changes blood flow, increases cell permeability and activates white blood cells to devour the offenders.

But not all inflammation is good.

“The inflammation that we are concerned about from a health standpoint is the chronic, low-grade type that doesn’t go away after a few days,” Tracy says, adding that when this occurs, there can be a negative impact to the body.

A number of health conditions have been linked to chronic inflammation. These include cardiac disease, cancer, dental issues, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, bowel and digestive disorders, mood disorders and allergies. 

“Most age-related diseases have some connection with underlying inflammation,” Tracy says.

Controlling inflammation through the diet

While chronic inflammation can be caused by things over which we have no control — for example, a genetic predisposition — Tracy says diet can also be a trigger.

“We can definitely control what we put in our mouths,” she says. “In the past, individuals chose foods based on taste and maybe caloric contents. But nutrition is not just about calories; it’s about how foods impact our bodies.”

Reducing inflammation starts on our plates

As Tracy notes, in order to lower inflammation, it is wise to learn which foods are rich in anti-inflammatory properties and strive to eat those as often as possible.

“I often ask, ‘Are you spooning in health or havoc?’ What we put into our mouths matters and being healthy is about more than what the scale tells us,” she says, adding that plant-based foods, including whole grains, fruits, veggies and high-quality sources of lean protein are great places to start.

On the flip side, avoiding foods that are highly refined or that are high in sodium, added sugar or animal fat may help to reduce chronic inflammation, Tracy says.

“If we know which foods can increase or decrease inflammation, we would be wise to choose accordingly.” 

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