Why am I inflamed and what can I do about it?
Ahh, inflammation. Often called the war within, it is the devil that can be behind so many diseases and common ailments. From serious disease such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer to the more common diseases that are extremely debilitating such as inflammatory bowel disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome, auto-immune disease and many more. Common presentations of inflammation that I see in clinic are tiredness and adrenal exhaustion, bloating, hormonal imbalance, acne and headaches. More often than not, inflamed people have gained weight, are ageing prematurely, and feel tired, achey and sluggish.
Acute inflammation is a protective type of inflammation employed by the body for such things as fighting infection or to heal a sprain, but chronic inflammation is not so protective. Once chronic inflammation starts it is like a ball rolling down a hill; it is very hard to stop. I believe, and research is confirming, that inflammation is a driver of disease in the body. While chronic inflammation is complex in its causation, on a basic level there are things in our diet which increase inflammation.
FOODS WHICH INCREASE INFLAMMATION:
- Refined sugar and flour, colours and preservatives, processed foods, excesses of red meat, alcohol and bread, fried foods and saturated fats. These foods are often considered to be more acidic. This is a basic list, but in short, the foods that many people over indulge on are inflammatory.
FOODS WHICH DECREASE INFLAMMATION:
- Vegetables, fruit, legumes, healthy fats, herbs and spices, nuts and seeds, fish and unrefined complex grains. These foods are often considered to be more alkaline.
So in short, natural and unprocessed foods that are high in fibre and nutrients are anti-inflammatory, while processed and refined foods are inflammatory.
If you are already inflamed , what can you do about it? It’s time to adopt a healthy diet focused on foods which will reduce inflammation. You can still indulge once in a while but you need to re-train your taste buds to like healthier, anti-inflammatory foods because of course the acidic inflammatory foods are very tasty and if you eat these a lot you will want more. You need to break this cycle by adopting an 80:20 rule – eat an anti-inflammatory diet 80% of the time and indulge 20% of the time (when you are out with friends etc).
Can an anti-inflammatory diet be tasty or is it just going to be bland? Yes it can be really tasty! You get the flavours from the anti-inflammatory herbs such as Ginger, Turmeric, Saffron, Galangal, Cumin, Basil, Mints and many more. Delicious tasty vegetables are added, good fats, garnishes such as coriander, seaweed, seeds and all of a sudden we have great looking dishes that are also tasty. Protein is important in the body so an anti-inflammatory diet needs this. Good sources of protein are eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds, complex and high fibre grains such as quinoa and black rice, tofu, and if you eat them, chicken, turkey, fish and eggs. Red meat can be included but I recommend twice per week only.
The way you eat is important in reducing inflammation too. Eating in general is basically an inflammatory process as each time we eat so much energy in the body goes into breaking down the food (more so if it is a difficult to digest, inflammatory meal). If you are someone who overeats it is time to start shrinking your stomach and learning to leave a little on your plate rather than going back for seconds. If you tend to graze all day this has to stop. Research is showing that in order to reduce inflammation it is best to give your body some period of the day (and night) where you give your digestion a break so that the body can go about some general housekeeping. Stick with high nutrient, high fibre, protein rich meals that will fill you up and don’t graze in between.
Exercise is important too of course for general health, toning and weight management but have a look at you exercise practices as well. Exercising too hard and too often without having some rest days can increase ageing and inflammation. I am a huge fan of exercise, and of pushing yourself within reason to train hard and get the best out of your body but I do see cases where people are training really hard twice per day or every single day of the week without a break. Unless you are an athlete and are able to rest all day and eat a really high level anti-inflammatory diet to compensate, these practices can be inflammatory. Exercise four times per week is perfect and it’s good to combine some cardio and weights in my opinion.
I am passionate about reducing inflammation in order to feel better, lose weight, prevent and treat disease, and of course look your best. If you suffer from chronic aches and pains, repetitive injuries, weight gain and pre-diabetic metabolic syndrome (often seen as weight gain around the middle) you are inflamed. If you have endometriosis, polycystic ovaries, auto-immune disease, acne you are inflamed. If you are just simply feeling old, adrenally exhausted and constantly feel tired and sluggish, you are also inflamed. I have written my recently published book ‘Feel Great and Look Your Best : Anti-Inflammatory Recipes’ to provide down to earth advice obtained over 24 years in clinical practice and simple and absolutely delicious recipes to help you to reduce inflammation.
Your body will thank you for it!
You can buy the book here:
Photo above is the ‘Radicchio Salad’ recipe in my book. Takes just minutes to make, is incredibly anti-inflammatory and delicious!