Inflammation: If you follow health news, you probably hear a lot about it. When is inflammation helpful? How can it be harmful? What steps can you take to curb it?
What is inflammation and how does it affect the body?
If you're not familiar with the term, inflammation refers to an immune system response to an infection or injury. In these cases, inflammation is a helpful signal that your body is fighting to repair itself by sending out an army of healing white blood cells. As the injury heals or the disease is controlled, the inflammation subsides. 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 a health purpose, such as when you suffer from chronic stress, have an autoimmune disease, or are overweight. And instead of resolving a problem and receding, such inflammation can persist for a long period of time, damaging the body and potentially leading to health problems such as arthritis, heart disease, Alzheimer's, depression, and cancer.
This is why inflammation has come to the forefront in recent years and why strategies aimed at reducing it are so popular. Many of these recommendations for reducing inflammation are related to diet.
Can changes to your diet reduce harmful inflammation in your body?
The truth is that there are still many unknowns about diet and its connection to inflammation and disease. What is clear, however, is that a healthy diet can improve overall health and longevity. There is also evidence that eating a variety of nutritious foods can reduce inflammation. For example, people who eat lots of fruits and vegetables tend to have lower levels of a substance called C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation in the body.
In addition, some studies have found a link between a diet high in pro-inflammatory foods and an increased risk of certain health problems. For example, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that people who consumed pro-inflammatory foods, such as red and processed meats, refined carbohydrates, and sugary drinks, were more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those who regularly turned to anti-inflammatory foods, such as green leafy vegetables, beans, and tea.
It may be too early to establish a direct link between the foods consumed and levels of inflammation in the body. Fortunately, foods that seem to reduce inflammation are also good for you for other reasons. So, if you focus on eating these foods, your body is likely to benefit in more ways than one.
4 foods that help fight inflammation
Completely changing your diet is challenging, so experts advise making small changes over time. Trying a series of simple changes can translate into better health in the long run.
Here are four substitutes you can use to reduce the number of pro-inflammatory foods in your diet.
Instead of a plain bagel with cream cheese, have a slice or two of whole-grain toast with olive oil. Whole grains contain substances that promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the body. These bacteria can produce compounds that help counteract inflammation.
Consuming olive oil on a regular basis also has benefits: In addition to its anti-inflammatory effects, it can also help lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels.
Instead of a carbonated soft drink, try a cup of green tea. Green tea contains substances called catechins, a flavanol believed to fight inflammation. (Just be sure not to load your cup with sugar).
Substitute a handful of unsalted mixed nuts and an apple for a corn muffin. Nuts provide a number of health benefits, including a dose of healthy fats, protein, and (depending on the type of nut consumed) phytochemicals. These phytochemicals contain antioxidants that help eliminate harmful substances called free radicals in the body. They are also believed to be anti-inflammatory