Many of us are aware that, as we reach 50 and older, specific health concerns become more prominent. Concerns for diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, stroke and heart disease, stress and depression, cancer, Alzheimer’s, arthritis and osteoporosis, and even flu and pneumonia are on the rise. What many of us may not know is that the cause of many of these diseases is rooted in systemic inflammation that happens over time. The good, and the scary, news is: we have more control over that inflammation than we may realize.
The foods we eat each day either contribute to inflammation or they decrease it. Popular experts, such as Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. Mehmet Oz (also baby boomers!) outline anti-inflammatory diets in great detail and share that readily on the internet. Many detox diets and popular healthy eating diets are built around anti-inflammatory foods.
Learning to actively decrease inflammation within the organ systems means both adding healthy foods on a daily basis and eating less and/or eliminating unhealthy foods. Inflammation happens when the body responds to injury, illness, or foreign substances by flooding the area with chemicals emitted by the white blood cells and increased blood flow to “protect” the area. When chronic (or long term) inflammation occurs, the system stays on “high alert” for an extended period of time and, eventually, exhausts itself and can no longer act as a defense system.
When considering what to avoid or eliminate, begin with what you intuitively know. Processed foods are often one of the biggest culprits in creating inflammation, due to additives, such as sugar, salt, and oils, as well as preservatives and color and flavor enhancers. High fat foods such as many animal proteins, fried foods, refined flours and oils can have a highly inflammatory effect. The body responds to all of these as toxins. The best way to teach yourself to make better choices is by simply reading ingredient labels on packaging. Aim to make this practice second nature and you automatically gain more control.
Plant-based eating, notoriously, assists the digestive system in breaking down and eliminating inflammation-causing foods, but also supports the body’s protective systems to minimize the negative impact of chronic inflammation, by decreasing it. Generally speaking, the darker the color, the richer the nutrients and the more support it provides. Dark leafy greens, rich, vine-ripened berries, nuts and seeds are loaded with vitamin c and zinc, which directly supports the immune system and optimal brain health. Avocados, bananas, and coconut provide potassium, magnesium and healthy fats, which support calcium absorption and lubricate the arteries. Beans, nutritional yeast, whole grains and fermented, unprocessed soy add excellent amounts of protein and B vitamins, promoting muscular strength and energy. All plant-based foods add healthy fiber to the diet, which helps move the inflammatory foods out more efficiently. Of course, keeping the body well hydrated with water and herbal teas makes eliminating what we don’t need a much more comfortable process.
As we often hear touted, Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food.” We have the power to drastically reduce inflammation in our body simply by making healthy food choices throughout the day. Inflammation often goes unnoticed because we can’t see what’s happening, until something breaks or goes awry. By instituting healthy food choices before injury or illness occurs, we have the power to stop inflammatory development in its tracks.