JBK Nutrition Notes: Inflammation – The Good, The Bad, and Foods that Reduce It!
It happens to all of us sometimes, you fall and bang up your knee, you get sick with some sort of infection, you tweak your back skiing. When anything happens that throws off the balance of our bodies and interrupts it with pain, injury, or illness, our bodies respond with inflammation.
Is Inflammation Bad?
While it gets a bad rap, inflammation isn’t all bad. In fact, it’s necessary. Inflammation is a natural response to injury, pain, illness, or stress, and it’s actually a key part of the healing process. Inflammation is our body’s way of fighting back in an attempt to heal itself from injury or illness.
Acute vs. Chronic Inflammation
The pain, swelling, redness, and warmth that you feel at the site of an injury or illness is inflammation, and it’s meant to help heal you not hurt you. We refer to this temporary inflammatory response as acute inflammation.
Inflammation is all well and good when inflammation presents in the body in response to illness or injury as a temporary response, but when inflammation becomes ever-present, when it is no longer an acute response but rather a constant feature of your physiology that is always existing and engaged, some very big problems arise. We refer to this condition, or this state of being as chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is at the root of a wide range of disease – from heart disease and insulin resistance to arthritis and autoimmune disease.
What Causes Inflammation?
So many things, from the food we eat to the lifestyle we live can contribute to inflammation. Here are some of the top offenders:
- Low quality Crappy oils – vegetable and seed oils like canola and safflower oils are high in omega 6 fats. High omega-6 consumption, especially when combined with poor omega-3 consumption, leads to inflammation in the body. Certain healthy whole foods like almonds and sunflower seeds are high in omega-6 and don’t need to be avoided for this reason, just aim to balance out your omega-6 consumption with omega-3 fats like those found in fatty fish and flax seeds.
- Refined sugar and carbs – Fake, processed foods full of refined sugar and grains are inherently inflammatory. This includes products like packaged breads and snacks, breakfast cereals, soda and other sweetened drinks, and fried foods.
- Sleep deprivation: Consistent lack of quality sleep is associated with elevated inflammatory markers. Aim to cut caffeine after noon, shut off electronics an hour before bed, use blue light blocking glasses if that isn’t possible, and add in a brief meditation to wind down at night. Ideally, get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
- A sedentary lifestyle: Many of us are stuck at desks all day and don’t move nearly as much as we’re meant to. A lack of activity is linked to systemic, low-grade inflammation.
- Overtraining: While not moving enough can contribute to inflammation, so can moving too much without incorporating rest. Exercise is stress on the body, and while exercise is overall very beneficial, you also need to allow your body time to recover between training in order to avoid chronic stress from overtraining.
- Alcohol consumption: Alcohol not only contributes to inflammation in the body, it also impairs the body’s ability to regulate that inflammation naturally. Alcohol also often comes packaged or mixed with other inflammatory ingredients like sugar, grains (in beer), and sulfites (in wine).
- Gluten and grain consumption: all grains as we know them today (not the unprocessed, unhybridized, soaked and sprouted varieties that our ancestors grew), particularly gluten-containing grains, are inherently inflammatory to the gut. As a modulator of the immune system, inflammation in the gut can lead to a range of autoimmune and digestive disorders.
- Lack of down time: Life is full of stressors – work, kids, bills, family, health, politics, etc. It seems like there’s always something causing stress and anxiety in your life, and over time, it can build up. Everyone needs a release or an outlet to get away from it all – a hike, a yoga class, a vacation, or meditation (no, NOT social media), or your body can have an inflammatory response to emotional stress.
What Foods Fight Inflammation?
Spoiler alert: many healthy whole foods are anti-inflammatory. Here is a list of the top 10 anti inflammatory foods.
- Fatty fish – We have the omega-3s in fatty fish to thank for their anti-inflammatory properties. As mentioned above, omega-3s can also help balance out the inflammatory properties of omega-6-rich foods.
- Warming spices – Spices like turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon are packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Other spices with “heat” like black pepper and cayenne pepper are also helpful. Our favorite way to get these spices in – the JBK Golden Milk!
- Garlic and other alliums – This class of foods, which also includes foods like onions and leeks, contains diallyl disulfide, an anti-inflammatory compound that limits the effects of inflammation. With loads of flavor and benefits, we love adding alliums to our savory dishes at JBK.
- Green tea – Green tea is full of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits – many of which are thanks to the compound it contains called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). EGCG inhibits inflammation by reducing pro-inflammatory cytokine production. New to green tea? Try our matcha latte that’s mellowed out with vanilla and almond or coconut milk.
- Dark chocolate and cacao – The antioxidants and flavanols in dark chocolate and cacao are to thank for its anti-inflammatory properties. Of course, chocolate often comes packaged with sugar, so consume in moderation if your chocolate of choice is extra sweet.
- Berries – Berries like strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are not only low in sugar and high in fiber, they also contain antioxidants called anthocyanins that have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Tomatoes – Tomatoes are high in the antioxidant lycopene, which has impressive anti-inflammatory properties.
- Olive oil – Extra virgin olive oil is an extremely healthy monounsaturated fat. Its anti-inflammatory properties are thanks to the antioxidant oleocanthal. Be sure to buy from a reputable source and ensure it is 100% olive oil (not a blend of oils) and that it is stored in dark glass.
- Cruciferous veggies – Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, and kale are rich in the compound sulforaphane, which can fight inflammation by reducing your levels of cytokines and NF-kB, both of which contribute to inflammation.
- Bone broth – Bone broth is full of amino acids, and two in particular, glycine and arginine, have strong anti-inflammatory effects. Bone broth is also incredibly nourishing for the gut, which plays a key role in your immune and inflammatory response.
The Bottom Line
Some inflammation in the body is normal and expected, but even low levels of chronic inflammation can lead to a cascade of disease. Do your best to keep inflammation in check by avoiding processed foods and constant lifestyle stressors and by choosing a wide variety of delicious, whole, healthy, antioxidant-rich foods!