Inflammation can cause a number of issues such as pain, swelling, redness, the damage of healthy cells, tissue, and organs, and more. It even plays a central role in diseases such as cancer, arthritis, diabetes, and asthma. (1) For many, it presents itself in the ways listed above, but for others, it can be silent, with minimal symptoms. When it comes to improving health, body composition, and performance, it is important to understand how to balance between pro- and anti-inflammatory mechanisms. While the pro-inflammatory response can lead to the classic symptoms such as non-traumatic muscular and joint pain, the anti-inflammatory mechanisms are responsible for the repair and regeneration of cells, helping the body to return to homeostasis.
In this article, we will discuss how to use nutrition as a way to support the body’s anti-inflammatory mechanisms by decreasing pro-inflammatory foods such as processed sugars and omega-6 fatty acids while increasing anti-inflammatory foods such as vegetables and fatty fish that contain omega-3 fatty acids.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation occurs when the body’s white blood cells and the substances they produce are increased in order to protect us from infection and foreign organisms. Acute inflammation is a crucial part of maintaining health and healing. It comes on rapidly, but is generally short-lived and occurs when you cut your finger, experience a traumatic injury such as a sprained ankle or broken bone and when your body is faced with a virus or bacteria.
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, begins with the same cellular response but morphs into a lingering state that persists for months or years because the immune response either fails to eliminate the problem or becomes activated even when there is no apparent injury or disease. There are many reasons why chronic inflammation occurs, such as lifestyle choices, diet, and even family history, but today we will discuss how nutrition plays a vital role in both increasing and decreasing the body’s inflammatory processes.
Recent studies have shown the effect that nutrition has on the inflammatory process. Based on these studies there are three specific dietary trends that have been linked to an increase in inflammation which includes the consumption of refined carbohydrates, a decreased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, and increased consumption of omega-6 fatty acids. (2)
The main dietary sources of refined carbohydrates include white flour, white bread, white rice, pastries, sodas, pasta, sweets, breakfast cereals, and added sugars.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids consist of fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines as well as certain nuts and seeds like flax, chia, and walnuts.
Omega-6 fatty acids
Omega-6 Fatty acids are found in oils such as safflower, sunflower, soy, peanut, and vegetable oils as well as certain nuts, meat, dairy, eggs, cereals, and whole-grain bread.
There is also some evidence that saturated fats found in animal products such as red meat and dairy products that are also high in omega-6’s may promote inflammation by binding to the transmembrane protein TLR-4, leading to the activation of the NF-kB pathway and products of inflammatory cytokines. (3)
Research that has been done on the role of nutrition in regards to inflammation and disease has identified foods and specific nutrients that affect inflammatory pathways. (4) Therefore, incorporating anti-inflammatory foods and restricting the intake of pro-inflammatory foods may be a promising approach to targeting inflammation in the body.
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet
This specific diet focuses on choosing foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids (listed above) as well as phytonutrient-rich plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and ancient grains. These specific types of foods have been shown to have modulatory effects on inflammatory cytokines and c-reactive protein (CRP) concentrations. (5)
C-reactive protein is a protein made by the liver when there is inflammation somewhere in the body. CRP is one measurement we review in our comprehensive blood panel that can give insight into whether or not someone is suffering from inflammation.
The anti-inflammatory diet also focuses on decreasing foods that cause inflammation such as refined carbohydrates and trans-fats (6). Blood sugar regulation has also been found to play an important role in regulating inflammation and therefore choosing carbohydrates that do not spike your blood sugar is imperative. Lastly, consuming a healthy balance of omega-3’s and omega-6’s (1:4) is essential in regulating inflammation within the body. With that being said, foods that are rich in Omega 6’s should not be completely avoided but eaten in moderation with intention. A diet too high in Omega-6’s without a healthy balance of Omega-3’s and phytonutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables will lead to bodily inflammation.
If you struggle with chronic joint pain, intermittent non-traumatic injuries, are having trouble losing fat, or are looking to improve your cardiovascular health, longevity, attention span, and more, it may be beneficial to take a further look into the foods you are consuming.
In summary, the key to managing inflammation through nutrition is to regulate blood sugar, focus on including foods that have anti-inflammatory benefits while avoiding foods that cause inflammation and having a better understanding of your specific food intolerances. Below we have a list of foods that will help you navigate your nutritional choices in a way that supports decreasing inflammation in the body.
Enjoy in Abundance
- Herbs and spices
- Healthy Fats and Oils such as avocado and coconut
- Ancient Grains
- Fatty Fish
Enjoy in Moderation
- Red Meat
- Refined Carbohydrates
- Processed fats
- Vegetable oils
- Processed Foods
Nutrition is a major pillar of success in regards to performance, health, getting out of pain, and improving body composition. If you are interested in learning more about how a personalized nourishment plan based on a thorough assessment can support your goals, click the link below to schedule a strategy session with a Central Athlete coach today. We provide more than just training and believe that a holistic and personalized design based upon nutrition, behavioral change, and intelligent training is crucial for the long term success of every individual.