Understanding Inflammation

June 01, 2011

Understand inflammation before marketers use this term to tempt you to buy packaged goods you don't actually need

SupermarketGuru has talked a lot about inflammation in the past, primarily focusing on some great foods, vitamins, and minerals for prevention, but as this term becomes more popular for food marketers (i.e. front of package claims) SupermarketGuru wants you to understand what inflammation actually means.

So what is inflammation? We encounter the inflammatory response quite regularly when we get a bug bite or a bruise or an accidental cut or scrape. Inflammation includes local redness, heat, swelling, throbbing, and pain. It is a natural part of the body's healing response, signaling the body to bring nourishment and increased immune activity to the injury site or infection. Although an acute inflammatory response is necessary, chronic inflammation can damage the body, overwork the immune system, and cause illness. Stress, genetic predisposition, lack of exercise, poor dietary habits, and exposure to things like secondhand smoke, can all contribute to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is triggered by an over expression or lack of control of normal protective mechanisms, and luckily can be greatly subsided through dietary choices and lifestyle changes.

Many believe that chronic inflammation is the root cause of many illnesses - including heart disease, some cancers, and Alzheimer’s. In a review in Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases researchers noted that “obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes are associated with a pro-inflammatory state, which in turn is associated with increased cardiovascular risk”. According to FoodNavigator.com, chronic inflammation has also been linked to a range of conditions linked to heart disease, osteoporosis, cognitive decline, type-2 diabetes, and arthritis.

How to combat inflammation? Head to your supermarket! There are many nutrients readily found in some of our favorite foods that have been studied to successfully decrease the markers of inflammation. First up, omega-3 fatty acids; these are found in fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines, and cod, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia and hemp seeds as well as soybeans, brussel sprouts, and cabbage.

Other potential anti-inflammatory nutrients include vitamins C and D, folic acid, resveratrol and lycopene. Vitamin C is found in most fruit and vegetables, while vitamin D can be obtained through exposure to sunlight, fortified milk, or naturally in sardines and butter. Folic acid is found in spinach, asparagus, lentils, fortified breads and more. And as many of us know resveratrol is found in red wine, and thus in the skin of red grapes, as well as mulberries and cocoa powder. Lycopene is found in tomatoes, watermelon and guavas. Acai and pomegranate are also being studied for their anti-inflammatory effects.

Eating to combat inflammation includes choosing from a variety of fresh (or frozen) fruits and vegetables, fatty fish, lean meat, whole grains and legumes and keeping processed foods to a minimum. Experimenting with fresh herbs and spices will also boost your anti-inflammatory response and make your food more tasty and delicious.