Inflammation sounds like a big and scary word, but what exactly is it? In order to have a better understanding of what actually goes on in our bodies, we need to be able to distinguish between the two types of inflammation: acute and chronic.
Acute vs. Chronic Inflammation
Acute inflammation happens when our bodies experience some sort of tissue damage. When you get a paper cut on your finger and the area around it gets red, swollen, and painful — that’s acute inflammation. It’s just a natural part of our immune system, our trusty defence against foreign invaders like bacteria. And it only lasts for a short period of time, until the wound is dealt with.
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, occurs when this kind of immune response persists over an extended period of time, ranging from months to years. It is silent, with no externally visible signs, which makes it tricky to identify. The problem comes when this immune response can damage our healthy cells and organs in the long run. Chronic inflammation has been linked to and plays a role in many common diseases such as diabetes, arthritis and cardiovascular disease.
So when we’re talking about reducing inflammation through diet, we’re really talking about reducing chronic inflammation.
Probably the most well-known example of an anti-inflammatory diet is the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to decrease biomarkers of inflammation in many studies1, 2. But we don’t necessarily need to stick to one diet, the key here is to understand the 3 main principles behind this beneficial way of eating.
1. Incorporate a variety of fruits and vegetables
We’ve been told to eat our fruits and vegetables since we were children so I don’t think this one needs much explaining. Dark leafy greens, like spinach and kale, and colourful berries, like cherries and blueberries, are especially important since they’re packed with antioxidants and polyphenols.
2. Increase fibre with legumes and choose whole grains whenever possible
Some great options include lentils, pinto beans, brown rice, oatmeal, whole wheat bread and pasta. Eating lots of legumes and whole grains help us increase our intake of dietary fibre, which is associated with decreased inflammation in those dealing with chronic diseases as well as healthy adults and adolescent 3, 4.
3. Get healthy fats from olive oil, fatty fish, and nuts and seeds
If you’ve wondered why olive oil is considered such a staple for some of the world’s healthiest populations, it’s because olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat (aka the “good fats”) as well as antioxidants. Similarly, fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, are high in omega-3 fatty acids and it’s recommended to have a serving on your plate twice a week. Nuts, like walnuts and almonds, and seeds, like chia and flaxseeds, are also easy ways to incorporate more anti-inflammatory foods into your snacks and meals.
In summary, to fight inflammation through your diet:
Eat MORE of: fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fatty fish, nuts and seeds
Eat LESS of: refined carbohydrates, ultra-processed foods, foods that are overly sweet or greasy
So if you want to reduce your baseline inflammation, to alleviate symptoms from a chronic disease or just to boost your energy and wellness, take a look at what you usually eat on a day to day basis. What are 3 small changes that you can make right now to incorporate more of these nourishing foods into your diet?
Written by Alison Lin (Food, Nutrition and Health Student @ UBC)
Reviewed by Iolanda Danielis, RD
Images from Unsplash