Welcome to 2018! Have you made a new year’s resolution yet for this year? If not, maybe it’s time to set a resolution for a nutritional lifestyle change. Two of the most important areas to look at in regards to nutrition according to Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN, CLC, registered dietician and nutrition expert for Good Morning America, are gut health and foods to control inflammation in the body.
A Little About Inflammation
Inflammation is not always a bad thing. It’s simply the response from the immune system to infections, allergens, stress, injury or toxicity. It can become a bad thing however as Mansour Mohamadzadeh, PhD, director of the Center for Inflammation and Mucosal Immunology at the University of Florida, explains when the immune cells go overboard and chronic inflammation results. With chronic inflammation, the body actually starts attacking itself instead of just the foreign invaders it is supposed to protect you from. According to associate professor and immunology researcher at Georgia State University, Timothy Denning, PhD, immune cells can even start identifying the friendly bacteria in the gut as foreign invaders and attacking the intestines. This can lead to chronic conditions such as Leaky Gut Syndrome and Crohn’s disease as well as keep the body from digesting well and breaking down foods efficiently into the nutrients the body needs to perform optimally. Chronic inflammation can affect almost every part of the body from the skin showing as psoriasis to problems with teeth, respiration and so much more. It can also lead to serious conditions such as cancers, diabetes, and heart problems. Most of the time inflammation is treated with steroids or immune suppressive agents which may help some with the pain and some other symptoms, but does not address the cause of the inflammation or repair damage already done from it.
Nutritional Solutions to Inflammation
In a nutshell, to guard against chronic inflammation, start cutting out foods in your diet that have added sugars, salts, and saturated and trans fats. Instead, opt for whole foods with a minimum of processing including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, good fats such as omega-3 fatty acids, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and lean proteins. Getting a baseline of the types of foods you currently include in your diet by keeping a food journal of what you eat throughout the day, can help you see areas where you need to improve. If you find you crave a sugary snack in the afternoon to keep going, start looking for a healthier alternative such as these tasty snack bars that will satisfy your sweet tooth while providing you with healthy whole food ingredients. Some other tips to help you improve your diet and fight inflammation include:
Probiotics – Since your gut health is important for immune system function and digestive system function, this is a vital area to address with your improved nutrition new year resolution. You probably know that adding fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, sour pickles, and miso can help support the colonies of friendly bacteria that live in the intestines. But you also need to look at what you do that can kill off your natural probiotics such as types of medications you are taking. For example, antibiotics and antacids are two types of medications that are known to destroy your friendly bacteria. Be aware if you are taking medications like these, are under lots of ongoing stress or exposure to environmental pollutants, you may need to boost your intake of probiotic foods or supplements. Reduced amounts of probiotics in your system can lead to an increase in free radical damage to cells and inflammation. If you need to boost your probiotic levels and can’t do it with foods alone, adding high quality probiotic supplements such as acidophilus and bifidus can help.
Prebiotics – Probiotics are important, but to keep these friendly bacteria healthy, they need to be fed with prebiotics which are basically carbohydrate fibers called oligosaccharides that humans can’t digest but that good bacteria living in the gut thrive on. You find these in most types of fruit, legumes, whole grains, and foods with inulin. Some good prebiotic foods include Jerusalem artichokes, jicama, chicory root, garlic, onion, dandelion greens, asparagus, leeks, whole wheat, and bananas. If none of these are to your taste, then you can also get probiotics and prebiotics in this powdered algae supplement as well as the nutritional benefits of AFA bluegreen algae, digestive enzymes, and antioxidant-rich wheat sprouts.
Antioxidants – Antioxidant vitamins, minerals, and enzymes arm your body with protection to fight off damage from free radicals and repair damage caused by them. Including lots of antioxidant foods in your diet is another way to help fight inflammation, boost immune system function, prevent disease and give you a nutritional edge. The best food sources for antioxidants are brightly colored fruits and vegetables such as berries, broccoli, spinach, kale, carrots, sweet potatoes, kiwi, bell pepper, and tomatoes. And did you know that microalgae was one of Earth’s first antioxidants? Since it has a wide spectrum of pigments, it also offers more protection that single antioxidants, making algae supplements a good choice when you need an antioxidant boost.
Deal With Stress – Stress is a big deal when it comes to dealing with inflammation in the body. When you are stressed the body releases cortisol which can add to inflammatory states. Along with setting a nutritional goal for your new year resolution, you might also need to set one for reducing stress. If meditation and breathing techniques work for you then great, but if those don’t work for you then find a hobby, schedule time for regular trails rides or time spent brushing your horse, join a sports team or come up with something you can do that relaxes you and gives you a break from the daily grind.
Herbs – There are several herbs that have been found to be useful in dealing with inflammation. Find ways to add these into your meals instead of always using salt and pepper. Turmeric, boswellia, ginger, rosemary, wintergreen mint, sage, cinnamon and cloves have all been found effective in reducing inflammation.
You will find that making changes in your nutritional habits will have a lasting impact on your health. Start small picking just one or two things to change at a time so that you will be more successful. Too many times we make a new year resolution only to become discouraged and give up within a short amount of time. Make this the year you find success by making the switch to whole foods and leaving all the processed, refined, junk and fast foods in the past. Remember slow and steady wins the race. Don’t try to make all the changes you need to at once. Just pick a place to start and stay with it until it feels natural. I hope some of these tips help you make a decision on steps to take to make 2018 your healthiest year ever.
Bruno, PhD, Jeffrey, Eat Light and Feel Bright