Aches, pains, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, kidney failure. We hear about these illnesses and conditions constantly. In fact, the number of these cases is increasing across the world. This is why it's important to understand how inflammation works, so we can make responsible decisions now for the sake of our health (and quality of life) later. I said that exact line to someone a couple years back and they responded with, 'But I'd prefer to eat [insert here] and just die earlier - at least I would be enjoying life.' I have two things to say about this. Firstly, your life is not only about you, but those who love you. Secondly, it's not just a matter of dying younger, it's a matter of dying longer. So let's see what this is all about...
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation has a good side and a bad side. On the good side it supports the body to take care of cuts and bruises, and removes damaged tissue from the body. On the bad side, chronic inflammation causes the breakdown of tissues and cells, and is to blame for increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, kidney disease, cancer, and many other diseases. Less severe, but still undesirable, inflammation is also to blame for your aches and pains.
Symptoms of Inflammation
Most obvious is the state of having painful joints, the body’s inability to move or function as it was intended to, swelling, a constantly flushed face, and unhealthy hair and skin. Less obvious symptoms include obesity, poor gut health, and some experts question whether depression may be a symptom.
What Causes Inflammation?
Smoking, stress, poor nutrition, and lack of physical activity.
Inflammation from a Nutritional Perspective
A common nutritional cause of inflammation are Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs), which are absorbed through the intestinal wall and are stored in cells and tissues. AGEs occur in the body when sugars bound to proteins without enzyme activity. This causes proteins within the body to become stiff and dysfunctional resulting in damaged body tissues, e.g. what can damage arterial walls. AGE formation is fueled by a diet high in sugar, including foods that cause a high insulin response. Avoiding excess sugar (which is consuming more than 2 pieces of fruit and 2 teaspoons of honey per day), excess refined carbohydrates (pasta, white bread, pizza, sweeteners), and processed foods will help protect the body from AGE formation.
Oxidative damage is another nutritionally fueled marker for inflammation. You may have heard of free radicle molecules? These molecules are a natural by-product of breathing. During this process, they lose an electron and then 'steal' another electron from a different molecule to become stable. In doing this they damage other cells and tissues. When the body is under increased stress and is not receiving adequate amounts of anti-oxidants through diet, free radicle molecule damage can be more severe, thus increasing inflammation.
The good news is that good nutrition can reduce the inflammatory response. We have the power to influence our relationship with inflammation (and potentially our future relationship with illness and disease) by what we eat.
Research shows that the Mediterranean Diet (MD) helps to decrease inflammation. The MD is based on a lower carbohydrate, higher fat, and heavily plant-based diet. Essentially the MD consists of numerous plant-based foods including vegetables, fruits, some; whole grains, nuts, legumes, plenty of olive oil, moderate; fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, and a lower intake of; red meat and sugar. Studies show that inflammatory markers are lower in individuals on the MD.
Most note worthy about the MD is the lack of processed and refined foods. This is key for when it comes to protecting ourselves against inflammation and disease. Avoid processed foods, fast foods, take aways, and foods from packets, as much as you can. These foods add nothing to your life except convenience. I implore you to choose carefully when convenience is more important than health. I'm sure we'll all have times when convenience is more necessary, but hopefully they are few and far between.
Omega-3 vs. Omega-6 fatty acids
Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are important nutrients for metabolism, hormone balance, fetal development, healthy skin and hair and reducing inflammation. Obtaining the right balance of omega-3 to omega-6 is important when it comes to how well these nutrients will benefit the body. We always want our intake of omega-3 to trump our intake of omega-6. Unfortunately, Western diet is usually the other way around and we are getting too much omega-6. This is proving to be problematic for male fertility, as well as many other health concerns. Omega-3 fatty acids are known to be “less” inflammatory on the body, promoting reduced inflammation. Whereas, omega-6 fatty acids are known to be pro-inflammatory. To help reduce inflammation through diet, eat more omega-3 containing foods, which include cold water fish a couple times a week, loads of dark leafy greens, some walnuts, and flaxseeds. Try to avoid industrialised seeds oils found in processed and fast foods, as well as store-bought sauces and dips, as these are high in unhealthy omega-6 fatty acids.
Anti-oxidant Rich Foods
Incorporating anti-oxidant foods into your diet will reduce the effect of free radicle molecule damage, thus decreasing inflammation. Anti-oxidant foods include; berries, walnuts, brazil nuts, dark green leafy vegetables, other green vegetables, sweet potatoes, orange vegetables, green tea, fish, some whole grains and legumes.
Bottom line: Follow a wholefoods diet and avoid processed and refined modern foods in order to reduce inflammation and your risk of illness and disease.
Feed, nourish, value yourself.
 Schwingshackl, L., and G. Hoffmann. "Mediterranean Dietary Pattern, Inflammation And Endothelial Function: A Systematic Review And Meta-Analysis Of Intervention Trials". Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases 24.9 (2014): 929-939.
 Bédard, Alexandra et al. "Sex Differences In The Impact Of The Mediterranean Diet On Systemic Inflammation". Nutrition Journal 14.1 (2015): n. pag.