Cooling foods are your best defense against tissue damage
What is inflammation? Technically speaking, it's a local response to cellular injury marked by capillary dilatation, leukocytic infiltration, redness, heat, and pain and is a mechanism for initiating the elimination of noxious agents and of damaged tissue. Some of that probably seems familiar - dilation (swelling) redness, heat and pain are what we all know as an inflammatory response. The rest is basically saying that your body is reacting to injury by addressing the damage with the intent to repair or remove it. This is generally helpful, except when it's not. When damage is severe or is inflicted repeatedly, the inflammation response itself can start to cause the damage and we need to mediate the situation before it gets out of hand.
This is by no means a straight forward topic. There are so many situations that elicit an inflammatory response that I couldn’t possibly address them all here, so instead I’ll focus on the most typical inflammatory responses from common causes such as poor diet or pain from repetitive or sports injuries. When I see a client for targeted pain or symptoms that are often caused by general inflammation, a dietary clean-up is always the first part of the process towards getting better. Any serious illness should always be addressed by a physician first.
That clean-up process starts by eliminating foods from the diet that exacerbate inflammation and by adding foods that have been shown to help reduce inflammation. Let’s run through the fundamentals that need to be addressed:
Hydration is crucial, especially in the case of joint pain. The lubricant in joints is mostly made of water so if you’re dehydrated this lubrication becomes less effective and joint friction can occur. Water is also responsible for flushing toxins from our bodies. If you’re dehydrated then water may be extracted from various parts of the body - including joints - in order to support the most vital functions. Water is also part of your body’s general detoxification process so if you’re dehydrated then toxins may accumulate in tissues – again, including joints - causing further pain and inflammation.
When unstable oils (particularly processed seed oils like peanut or safflower) are heated to a certain point they become unstable and are easily oxidized. This oxidation can create free radicals in the body that then cause oxidative stress. That can then lead to inflammation throughout the body, including joints and artery walls. The latter can itself lead to a myriad of health problems from weight gain to cardiovascular disease. The oil itself can also be an issue before it even hits the burner, with some nasty substances being used in the processing (see image above). This leaves organic, cold pressed, unrefined oils as the best option always. Avocado oil is a great option for cooking as it has the highest smoke point of all cooking oils and has a light, neutral flavour. Olive oil is a great option for low heat, MCT oil can handle a little heat (like hot coffee) and flax oil is great for cold use such as for dressings or for drizzling.
You’ll need 4 to 5 servings per day of vegetables and you should have some with every meal. Consume lots of root vegetables like beets, carrots, and yams, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and brussels sprouts, dark, leafy greens like kale, arugula and spinach, along with garlic, onions, fresh herbs and mushrooms daily. These are all loaded with vitamins, minerals and compounds that will be helpful in reducing inflammation. Some people might be sensitive to a category of vegetables called nightshades, the most common of which are tomatoes, potatoes, bell peppers and eggplant. If you eat these often it’s worth cutting them out for a week or two and then reintroducing them to see if you notice a difference.
Despite what you may hear in the media, meat is not the enemy. Poor quality or improper preparation are the actual problems in this storyline. Low quality meats from factory farms are not balanced with the right omega fats and are often laced with traces of pesticide from animal feed as well as drugs administered due to unhealthy farm conditions. Grass fed, pasture raised and humanely treated animals that are fed their natural diets are a healthy choice, along with wild caught and sustainable seafood. Cooking meat at high heat or over flame that causes it to char can generate harmful compounds that are known to be carcinogenic. Grilling or baking at lower temps and not frying, and using marinades and spices for red meat will help.
This food category is actually an anti-nutrient. When conventionally grown grains like wheat and rice are refined and stripped of their outer casing they’re robbed of vital nutrients, enzymes and balancing minerals that prevent the remaining components from becoming toxic in our bodies. Cadmium can be found in the centre of grains and zinc in the covering. Zinc reduces the absorption of cadmium. Refining grains reduces the zinc, thus allowing an increased absorption of cadmium. Cadmium has the ability to displace zinc in tissues, inhibiting it’s important enzymatic and organ functions. Excess cadmium can then build up in tissues causing toxicity and tissue damage.
Refined grains also have a detrimental effect on metabolic health. White flour is digested more quickly than whole grain and is converted to glucose that is immediately absorbed, rapidly elevating blood sugar levels and inducing an insulin response. This response prompts the body to use whatever it can immediately and then store the rest as fat. If you happen to be running a marathon, no problem, it’ll get used up quickly. If you happen to be in a more sedentary state then you may have an issue with weight gain. These blood sugar fluctuations can also effect energy levels, mood, and over time can wear down the immune system. Try to keep your grain intake to no more than 20% of your overall diet and stick with things like whole grain bread, brown rice and alternative grains like quinoa, millet, barley, etc.
Every single person will have individual concerns, nuances, sensitivities and nutritional needs so this is by no means the end of this conversation but simply a good foundation of nutrition that will give you the best possible chance of addressing any inflammation in your body.