What do Kim Kardashian, golfer Phil Mickelson, and my husband David have in common? Although David might like to joke that it’s their celebrity status, the common denominator is actually their health. All three have been plagued by chronic health problems, but they were able to reverse them and greatly increase their quality of life by implementing an anti-inflammatory diet. Kim suffered for years from chronic, painful Psoriasis. Mickelson often found himself bed-ridden with debilitating psoriatic arthritis. And David had a variety of chronic issues, from painful neuropathy to severe back pain to arthritic hand and knee problems.
What Is Chronic Inflammation?
Although their health issues were different, they were all caused by the same problematic culprit: chronic inflammation. To be clear, not all inflammation in the body is bad. Short-term inflammation is part of the body’s defense system. It helps the body protect itself from harmful stimuli and to heal. When we get a fever, that’s a sign that our body is fighting off an infection. If we sprain an ankle, it will swell and get hot. We feel pain and limited mobility for a while. These symptoms of inflammation are actually a good thing, and they mean that your body is doing what it needs to protect itself from infection.
Chronic inflammation, however, takes a real toll on your body. Chronic inflammation is referred to as slow, long-term inflammation lasting for prolonged periods of several months to years. You might not notice it at first, but this form of inflammation can become serious and cause life-threatening problems over time.
“Think of chronic inflammation like a small, low-burning fire inside your body,” says Carolyn Williams, RD. “That fire is not going to go out unless you do something about it. If you continue inflammatory habits, that fire is going to spread and start another fire. The culmination of all these little fires burning in the background of your body is a diagnosis of diabetes, a heart attack, joint pain, or something else.”
Some Signs of Chronic Inflammation
The most obvious sign that you have a problem with chronic inflammation is pain. Are you living with pain every day, or more frequently than you’d like? This pain can show up in so many forms– back pain is pretty common. Joint pain is as well. Other signs of inflammation can include slightly elevated blood glucose levels and/or blood pressure, brain fog (which can indicate brain inflammation), depression, fatigue, skin issues, and even weight gain.
If left untreated, these small signs can turn into a life-threatening diagnosis. The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks chronic diseases as the greatest threat to human health. Here’s a pretty frightening statistic: Three of five people worldwide die due to chronic inflammatory diseases.
Inflammation is often called the ‘silent killer,’ but nutrition experts say that’s not really true. Our body gives us the clues we need, if we are paying attention. And, if you can address the inflammation, chances are good that you can slow the progression of disease and even reverse it, as David was able to do.
Where to Start: An Anti-Inflammation Diet
So how did David (and Kim K and Phil Mickelson) clear up their pain-causing inflammation issues? Through careful dietary and lifestyle changes. When it comes to chronic inflammation, what you eat matters! David started by eliminating the notorious inflammation culprits, including all gluten and sugar. “Added sugars of every kind are the number one culprit in increasing inflammation,” explains Lulu Cook, RDN. Processed foods also exacerbate inflammation.
Many experts recommend a plant-based diet. Cook continues, “There is a huge amount of research on the benefits of primarily plant-based foods for reducing inflammation. These high-fiber foods nourish our healthy gut bacteria, when they help reduce inflammation throughout the entire body. They also provide a wealth of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols that also support the many body systems that are involved in either increasing or reducing inflammation.”
As a Certified Functional Nutrition Counselor, I advise my clients that determining exactly which foods cause inflammation is a highly individual matter. That’s why an elimination diet is key– as we eliminate common food culprits and track results through food journaling, we are able to determine which foods they need to avoid to begin the healing process.
Some Anti-Inflammatory Food Recommendations
There are so many great choices when it comes to healthy and delicious foods that fight inflammation. Here are some of my favorites:
- Leafy greens
- Healthy oils
- Cruciferous vegetables
- Fatty fish
- Nuts and seeds
- Gut-health promoters, like bone broth, yogurt (if you can tolerate it), kombucha, and sauerkraut
On our website, we have several yummy recipes posted that help with gut healing and curbing the inflammation cycle. David’s favorites are roasted veggies. I make them up at the beginning of the week and he eats them throughout the week, even for snacks. My favorites are smoothies. I find if I incorporate a smoothie into my daily routine I have no joint pain, which is my first indication of inflammation in my body.
What You Eat Matters!
It’s clear that what you eat either makes inflammation better or worse. It’s also clear that this looks a little different for everyone. This means that it’s more important than ever to figure out which foods are okay for your particular body.
The good news is that although inflammation can be a serious health threat, there are many things we can do to both control and reverse it on our journey to optimal health.