As a naturopathic doctor, I focus on the whole person, not just the symptoms or diagnosed illness. Every person who comes into my practice has one thing in common: inflammation. Inflammation is present in every illness – some causes we can control and some we cannot without medical intervention. But wouldn’t you like to reduce it as much as possible or even PREVENT it? Here’s the good news: you can.
Since the Industrial Revolution, we are exposed to a lot more toxins than our ancestors. We can’t always control the quality of the air we breathe, or even sometimes the water we drink, but we can control what we eat which can have a huge overall effect on our body’s level of inflammation. So today, I would like to talk about 5 things you can do to reduce your inflammation through diet:
1. Find and eliminate food sensitivities.
Food allergies and food sensitivities are very different. Allergies you would likely know of by now and can cause very serious reactions. Sensitivities however can cause more vague symptoms that you don’t necessarily recognize right away, but over time, can cause a lot of inflammation that can amplify symptoms from other illnesses. Blood testing can be done, but they aren’t as accurate as it really depends on the state of your immune system and when you ate the food(s) in question.
Therefore, the best way to find your food sensitivities is to do an elimination diet. Eliminating the foods in question (most commonly gluten, cow dairy, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish) for 8 weeks gives your body a chance to recover from chronic inflammation. You may not even notice much of a change in your health during the actual elimination.
However, after you re-introduce those foods after 8 weeks, one at a time, every 3 days (as it can take up to 3 days for symptoms to show up), you may notice some really obvious symptoms that were hard to identify before.
The most common reactions are fatigue, tummy upset (cramping, bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea), skin rashes (eczema or even hives), brain fog, increase in mucus production or sinus irritation and even joint pain. By identifying and eliminating those foods from your diet long-term, you are significantly reducing your levels of inflammation and helping to reduce the severity of symptoms from other causes.
2. Eat dark, leafy greens.
Dark, leafy greens like kale, chard, spinach and even Romaine lettuce are a great source of vitamins, minerals and fiber and can even help reduce cholesterol. Greens are also a source of calcium, a common worry for people eliminating dairy, and are high in vitamin K, which significantly aids in calcium regulation and bone density. and your body’s natural detox pathways so they can function effectively, helping to eliminate unwanted toxins and inflammation. Plus, they’re super yummy and you can literally put them in anything from soups to smoothies.
3. Don’t fear the fat.
There’s been a LOT of confusion around fat over the years and I am so pleased that it has now been proven in conventional media and research that fat is not the enemy! Good fats from nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut, fish and even grass-fed meat and butter can be very anti-inflammatory and yes, they can even help you lose weight. “Fat-free” and “non-fat” products tend to include high fructose corn syrup or sugar in the top 3 ingredients to make them taste better, which brings me to number 4…
4. Eliminate sugar as much as possible.
By sugar I mean the white stuff. Or the syrups, or the nectars, or the brown stuff for those thinking “organic” or “raw” sugar is better. Sugar is sugar. Yes, there are natural sugars in fruits and veggies and the more sugary options should be used in moderation too (bananas, dates, dried fruits).
But sugar causes a LOT of inflammation in the body and can even suppress your immune system for hours – not something you want when you’re sick or trying to avoid getting sick, right? So eliminating sugar as much as possible can significantly reduce you inflammatory load and can help reduce your risk of diabetes, fatty liver, heart disease, cancer and more.
5. Pay attention to your fluids.
This is a big one and often goes overlooked. You can really make a huge difference in your health by what you drink. In my practice and in my social circles, it can be hard to find people who regularly drink enough water. Clean, filtered water should be the main drink for everyone – yes, even kids.
So many people suffer from chronic dehydration that can cause a slew of issues over time including headaches, kidney/urinary symptoms and more. Sodas and fruit juice can be 140 calories per can of pure sugar. Coffee drinks can have over 500 calories in one drink!
And coffee substitutes or energy drinks can be just as bad. Alcohol is also pure sugar to your bloodstream and can pack a punch sugar/calorie-wise, depending on the type and amount consumed. I can’t tell you how many people tell me they can’t lose weight even though they eat well and it turns out they are drinking 1000 calories or more a day.
I’m not saying (black) coffee or (red) wine is bad for you once a day – but I am recommending you look at all aspects of what you put into your body when you are struggling with inflammation, illness or weight. The culprit may not be (just) the foods, but the drinks.
It really does matter what we put into our bodies. It can have a huge effect on how you feel regardless if you are struggling with chronic illness(es). Prevention is key. If you start practicing now, hopefully you will not have to ever struggle with chronic illness. If you are currently chronically ill, discuss this with your doc and commit to this for 3 months and I guarantee you will feel better. Save the money you are spending on supplements and multivitamins and invest that money into your diet. You can’t erase all the effects of a bad diet with a pill, but you can significantly change your health and prevent illness with a healthy diet. Reducing inflammation through diet can lead to increased energy, reduced tummy troubles, sleeping well and much more – who doesn’t want that? But it does take work for those who aren’t used to it. Luckily, we are in a time where people are waking up and realizing we are what we put in and on our bodies. We’ve got so many great resources now, including Paleo Demystified, where you can access recipes , meal plans and even grocery lists. The power is in your hands and there are millions out there ready to support you!
Disclaimer: This article is for general wellness education only and is not meant to take the place of medical advice from your healthcare provider. Always discuss any diet changes with your doctor before attempting them yourself.