One of the latest buzzwords in nutrition is Inflammation, which is the body’s attempt to protect itself. Many of us have seen internet images of bulging bellies, or fluffy midriffs with a claim such as, ‘Click here to find out what 5 foods are causing inflammation in your body,’ If it were only that easy!
We have all experienced inflammation in response to a cut or injury. When a cell gets injured it releases a chemical signal and we see the response in the form of redness, heat, swelling, and pain. What is interesting and unfortunate is that inflammation happens inside of us when there is injury to the blood vessels. When the endothelium (inner lining of the blood vessels) is chronically inflamed it is very problematic. The endothelium regulates how well the vessels dilate and constrict, how well the blood clots, fluid’s balance, and whether or not substances stick to its surfaces – like cholesterol. When inflammation is an immune response, it is never “shut off” and there can be permanent damage. It is the underlying cause of many age-related diseases.
Many things cause chronic inflammation; the scariest comes from cytokines, which are signaling molecules that cause inflammation. Cytokines are produced when there is abdominal or visceral fat surrounding vital organs (vs subcutaneous fat – fatty tissues lying directly under the skin). As someone’s girth grows, their number of cytokines increases as well as their potential for damage.
It all sounds pretty ominous – however we have some control over it. The foods we choose to eat, or not to eat affect inflammation. Currently, the ‘Western’ type diet is high in red meat, processed meats and foods, sweets, fried foods, saturated and trans fats, and refined grains. These, of course, lead to the increased visceral fat, cytokines, and chronic inflammation. To reduce it, we must eat more fruit, vegetables, legumes, fish, nuts, olive oil and whole grains (Mediterranean Diet). Additionally, high fiber carbohydrates show an inverse association with inflammation. So even though you can’t stub your toe and help it by eating an apple, you should try anyway!