So many of us pop anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil and Tylenol on a daily basis but what if the true solution was sitting in our fridge? If you suffer from achy joints, arthritis or frequent headaches this post is especially important for you!
We often think of inflammation as only occurring when we have an injury or arthritis but most of us are walking around with low-grade inflammation all the time. Inflammation occurs when our immune system attacks what it determines as foreign invaders in our body. This inflammation should only last a short period of time and then our body should return to normal, however because of our diet and lifestyle habits sometimes this inflammation does not go away.
Chronic inflammation is the building block of many chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease and autoimmune conditions.
This one probably doesn't come as much of a shocker. Sugar comes in many different forms and can be called so many different names but the sugar that I am talking about here is the white, refined sugar that is added to the foods we eat. The best way to limit or avoid added sugar in foods is to read the ingredient list. There will be naturally occurring sugars in fruits, vegetables and dairy products so sometimes just looking at the nutrition facts label will not allows us to determine whether or not a food contains added sugar or if the sugar on the label is simply from the fruits, vegetables or dairy products that the food contains.
The many names of sugar
If you remember from my previous post on reducing sugar intake, there are many “code names” often used by food manufacturers to “trick” consumers into thinking the sugar that their product contains is “healthy” or that there is no added sugar at all.
Here are some of the names that are often used for sugar. Keep these names in mind when you’re reading ingredient lists.
Agave nectar, molasses, cane sugar, confectioner’s sugar, date sugar, diastatic malt, florida crystals, galactose, golden syrup, icing sugar, maltodextrin, muscovado, refiner’s syrup, barbados sugar, brown sugar, caramel, corn syrup, demerara sugar, diatase, fructose, glucose, grape sugar, invert sugar, maltose, raw organic sugar, rice syrup, treacle, barley malt, buttered syrup, carob syrup, corn syrup solids, dextren, ethyl maltol, fruit juice, glucose solids, high-fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, panocha, sorghum syrup, turbinado sugar, beet sugar, cane juice crystals, castor sugar, crystalline fructose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fruit juice concentrate, golden sugar, honey, malt syrup, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, yellow sugar
Trans fats are the man made fats that use to be more frequently used in processed foods. Luckily, trans fats are now considered by the FDA to be harmful to our health and therefore they have been removed from many of our food products.
Make sure you’re using the right oils for cooking and that you’re using a good QUALITY omega-3 supplement if you're not consuming enough from fatty, cold water fish. When we consume damaged fat it causes inflammation in the body (this includes omega-3 supplements). Recent research has shown that 4 out of 7 omega-3 supplements sold in Canada contained damaged fats. This is why it is critical to ensure that your supplements come from a reputable company whose supplements are undergoing regular testing (preferably by a third party).
Underlying Food Sensitivities
This is one of the major causes of inflammation I see with my clients. This inflammation usually manifests itself as achy joints and headaches and the biggest food culprits are typically gluten and dairy. If you try removing the foods that contribute to inflammation in the body and increase your intake of anti-inflammatory foods but still experience some symptoms of inflammation I recommend eliminating foods containing gluten and dairy for two weeks and reassess how you feel.
Tomatoes contain something called lycopene. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant meaning it has the ability to combat free radicals in the body which otherwise would cause damage to other cells in our body. Food fact: the bioavailability of nutrients in most foods decreases when cooked (think: vitamin C is damaged by heat); however for tomatoes it is the opposite. When we cook tomatoes the bioavailability of lycopene actually increases.
Food sources of omega-3 fats include fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines, tuna, herring), walnuts, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds and chia seeds to name a few.
As we’ve discussed in a previous post, balancing the ratio of omega-6 fats and omega-3 fats in our diet is key. Omega-6 fats are pro-inflammatory fats and omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory fats. The ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats in our body is between 1:1 and 4:1. This ratio should keep us in an anti-inflammatory state and will help to prevent some of the chronic diseases listed above. However, most of us are walking around with an omega 3:omega 6 ratio of 1:15 meaning we are dealing with low-grade inflammation all of the time. This type of chronic inflammation puts us at higher risk of developing unwanted disease.
Chia seeds have been very popular in the media today and for good reason – this little seed is a nutritional powerhouse. Chia seeds contain the plant form of omega-3 fats and they are a great source of antioxidants. Flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and walnuts contain the omega-3 fat called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) that is converted into the useable fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Unfortunately, the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is estimated to be less than 5% in healthy individuals. Food fact: Flaxseeds MUST be ground in order to digest and absorb any of the healthy fats. The oil in flaxseeds is easily damaged by heat, air and light. I recommend storing ground flaxseed in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Recommended daily intake: In general, 1-3 grams of good quality omega-3 fatty acids per day is a good starting place (3 ounces of wild salmon delivers about 2 grams of omega-3 fat). According to American Family Physician omega-3 doses of 3 grams or more per day has been found effective at reducing morning stiffness and the number of joints that are tender or swollen in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. Remember - choose a high quality omega-3 supplement to avoid the inflammation-causing side effect of consuming damaged fats. I like the brand NutraSea and recommend it regularly to my clients.
Don’t fear the long word – anthocyanins are water-soluble flavonoids pigments that give the bright red-orange to blue-violet colors to fruits and vegetables. Research suggests that the health benefits of anthocyanins goes beyond the fact that they contain a significant amount of antioxidants and that some unidentified chemical properties make them potent anti-inflammatory foods (1).
Anthocyanin-rich fruits and vegetables include berries, red and purple grapes, cherries, red wine, eggplant, blood oranges, black plumbs and red cabbage.
Food fact: Red wines are higher in antioxidants (anthocyanins) than white wines because the anthocyanin is mostly found in the skin of the grape, which is used in the fermentation process when making red wine but not when making white.
Spice Up Your Life
Some of the most potent anti-inflammatory spices include turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne, black pepper and ginger. These spices have been used in ancient times as medicine for reducing inflammation and preventing illness. The research is not strong enough right now to suggest dosage recommendations so for right now just keep these spices on hand as easy additions to any meal! Food fact: When using turmeric for it's anti-inflammatory properties, add black pepper as well to increase absorption.
Do you have any other tips or tricks you use to combat inflammation naturally? Share them in the comments below.
Thanks so much for reading!
Yours in Health,