The Life-Changing Potential of an Anti-inflammatory Diet
When I first start working with clients, many of them tell me that they eat healthy and shop at organic grocery stores — so, they don’t understand why they’re having health issues or aren’t able to reach their weight management goals. As we dig deeper and take a look at exactly what they’re eating, they’re surprised to learn that many of the foods that they thought were healthy are actually causing inflammation in their bodies. When we start removing inflammatory foods and adding in nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory foods, they’re generally amazed by how much better they feel from the inside out.
What Is Inflammation?
If you’re like many of my clients, you’ve probably heard of inflammation but you’re not quite sure what it is or has to do with the food you eat. Let me explain: in some cases, you want inflammation — it’s a healthy response by your immune system that’s designed to help you fight off pathogens like bacteria and viruses and help your body heal from injury. But in other cases, inflammation is harmful and can create serious problems — this happens when your immune system is triggered into a state of low level, chronic inflammation (this is the type of inflammation that’s at the core of nearly every chronic health condition).
So what does this have to do with food? There are several common triggers of chronic inflammation in the body, and food is one of them. (Some other common causes of inflammation are toxic chemicals, heavy metals, stress, and infections.) Food can impact the lining of your gut wall, which is bound together by proteins called tight junctions that prevent food and foreign substances in your digestive tract from leaking through. When you eat food that damages the lining of your gut, those tight junctions open and allow food particles and other substances to leak through, creating intestinal permeability or “leaky gut.” When that happens, the immune cells that are right below your gut lining identify the food particles as harmful foreign invaders and start reacting to them. As a result, you end up with food sensitivities, a whole host of food sensitivity symptoms and that chronic low level of inflammation I was talking about.
Unlike with food allergies, where a person’s immune system immediately reacts to food, food sensitivity reactions can be delayed anywhere from hours to days. Food sensitivity symptoms are different for each person and can vary based on the type of food a person eats. Food sensitivity symptoms can include: skin rashes, hives, excess sweating, fatigue, acne, gastrointestinal symptoms, headaches, migraines, mood issues, weight management issues, asthma, bloating, muscle pain, joint pain, water retention, runny nose and sinus problems among others.
On Inflammation + Nutrition
The best way to deal with this kind of food-induced inflammation is an anti-inflammatory nutritional approach. While this does include eating anti-inflammatory foods — that’s only part of it. It’s also critical that you remove inflammatory foods from your diet that are triggering food sensitivity symptoms. In other words, if you’re thinking about adding turmeric and ginger to your diet but you still plan to eat a diet that consists of artificial, processed or other inflammatory foods, you’ll be leaving out an essential part of this approach and you won’t get the results that you’re looking for. The key here is to remove inflammatory foods while simultaneously adding in anti-inflammatory foods.
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet
ELIMINATION: How do you figure out which foods to remove? An elimination diet is considered the “gold standard” for determining which inflammatory foods are causing food sensitivity symptoms. During an elimination diet, you take foods out of your diet that are common food triggers for large percentage of people. Some of the most common culprits are dairy, gluten, corn, nightshades, soy, eggs, sugar, refined vegetable oils, trans fats, processed foods, artificial foods, fried foods and foods cooked at a high heat, refined carbs (even if they’re vegan and gluten-free). Then, after a period of time, you slowly test them one by one to determine which foods are causing food sensitivity symptoms in you.
PERSONALIZATION: Because we all have a unique biochemistry, it’s important to personalize your approach to inflammation through an elimination diet. Also recognize that some of the foods that you might take out during an elimination diet can actually be healthy if you don’t have a problem with them (like red bell peppers, for example). So, if you don’t end up having a sensitivity to that particular food once you test it, there’s no need to continue to exclude it once you determine that you can eat it. It’s also important to remember that excluding particular foods may not be forever — when you reduce inflammation in your body and support the health of your gut, you may be able to add more foods back in down the line that you can’t eat when you first test them.
BALANCE: I’ve often talked about how I coach my clients to connect with how the food that they eat makes them feel in their bodies and to use that as the gauge for deciding what to eat. I’ve found this to be a really powerful way to easily stick to a healthy diet without feeling deprived. But this approach is really the most effective when you’ve removed inflammatory foods. In other words, I generally find that it isn’t until my clients have cut out inflammatory foods during an elimination diet and then tested them that they’re able to make specific connections to particular foods that may be causing symptoms and it’s these connections that make them want to stick to a healthier way of eating.
ACCLIMATION: While it might sound daunting to cut out inflammatory foods, after about a week of adjusting to it most people feel so much better they don’t want to go back to the way they were eating before. And, the good news is that the anti-inflammatory foods that I suggest you start incorporating in your diet not only help lower inflammation, they’re also delicious. I’m talking about foods like turmeric, ginger, wild Alaskan salmon, vegetables (especially cruciferous vegetables and dark, leafy greens), rosemary, oregano, berries, green tea, cacao, garlic, cinnamon, flax seeds, extra-virgin olive oil, olives, and walnuts. If you’re not used to eating these foods, start experimenting with recipes that incorporate some of these ingredients — I recommend trying to add in a few at each meal.
BABY-STEPS: This anti-inflammatory approach to food may be completely foreign to you.