Inflammation: If you follow health news, you probably hear about it often. When is inflammation helpful? How can this be harmful? What steps can you take to mitigate it?
What is inflammation and how does it affect your body?
If you are not familiar with the term, inflammation refers to a reaction of the immune system to an infection or injury. In these cases, the inflammation is a beneficial sign that your body is struggling to repair itself by sending out an army of healing white blood cells. As the injury heals or the disease is brought under control, the inflammation goes away. You’ve probably seen this happen with a minor ankle sprain: the initial swelling goes away within a few days as the injury heals.
But inflammation also occurs without serving any healthy purpose, such as when you suffer from chronic stress, have an autoimmune disease, or have obesity. And instead of solving a problem and backing off, inflammation like this can last for a while, damaging the body, and potentially leading to health issues like arthritis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and cancer.
This is why inflammation has taken center stage in recent years and why strategies to reduce it are so popular. Many of these anti-inflammatory recommendations relate to your diet.
Can changes in your diet reduce unnecessary inflammation in your body?
The truth is, there are still a lot of unknowns regarding diet and its connection to inflammation and disease. What is clear is that a healthy diet can help improve overall health and longevity. There is also some evidence to support the idea that eating a multitude of nutritious foods can reduce inflammation. For example, people who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables tend to have lower levels of a substance called C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation inside the body.
In addition, some research has found a link between diets high in foods that promote inflammation and a higher risk of certain health problems. For example, a study on Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that people who ate pro-inflammatory foods, including red and processed meat, refined carbohydrates, and high-sugar drinks, were more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those who regularly ate anti-inflammatory foods , such as leafy greens, beans, and tea.
It may be too early to draw a direct line between the foods you eat and the levels of inflammation in your body. Fortunately, foods that seem to reduce inflammation tend to be good for you for other reasons as well. So, focusing on consuming these foods can benefit your body in several ways.
5 food swaps to help fight inflammation
A complete overhaul of your diet is a challenge, so experts advise making smaller changes over time. Trying a series of simple swaps can contribute to better long-term health.
Below are five substitutions you can use to reduce the number of inflammation-promoting foods in your diet.
- Instead of a plain bagel with cream cheese, add a slice or two of whole grain toast drizzled with olive oil. Whole grains contain substances that help promote the growth of healthy bacteria inside your body. These bacteria can then produce compounds that help fight inflammation. Consuming olive oil on a regular basis also has its benefits: in addition to anti-inflammatory effects, it can also help lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels.
- Instead of a carbonated soda, try a cup of green tea. Green tea contains substances called catechins, a flavanol believed to fight inflammation. (Just be careful not to load your cup with sugar.)
- Instead of a corn muffin, replace it with a handful of unsalted mixed nuts and an apple. Nuts provide a number of health benefits, including providing a dose of healthy fats, protein, and (depending on the variety of nuts you eat) phytochemicals. These phytochemicals contain antioxidants, which help remove harmful substances called free radicals in the body. They are believed to have anti-inflammatory properties as well. Fruits such as apples also contain fiber and phytochemicals.
- Instead of a steak and a baked potato, grab a serving of salmon with a side of broccoli. Omega-3 fatty acids from salmon and other types of fish, such as tuna, sardines, and mackerel, have been linked to better heart health, possibly due to their anti-inflammatory properties. Broccoli is also a good source of fiber and is rich in vitamins C, E, K, and folic acid. It also contains carotenoids, a phytochemical.
- Instead of a slice of cake, toss a fruit salad with different types of berries. Fruits like berries are rich in vitamins and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals.
Anti-inflammatory post-5 food swaps first appeared on Harvard Health Blog.
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