If anyone has had chronic pain, they have likely heard of the term “inflammation.” What many of you may not realize is that this inflammation, when it is chronic, may be keeping you from achieving your ideal weight as well.
Regarding your body, inflammation means that the immune system is in overdrive. This is good for the short term like when fighting an infection. However, when this becomes chronic it is not good. Chronic inflammation causes the release of compounds like cytokines that can cause a host of health issues. Think chronic pain like joint pain, inflammatory bowel diseases, allergies, and skin rashes, etc.
But how does low grade or chronic inflammation cause weight loss resistance? One mechanism may be how inflammatory cytokines can down-regulate hormone-sensitive lipase, an enzyme involved in the mobilization and breakdown of stored fat. Additionally, inflammatory compounds have been shown to cause the release of more fat and sugar into the bloodstream by the liver, making it easier for the body to build fat tissue.
Before we go further, I want to share a quick word about exercise. It is important to realize that exercise increases oxidative stress in the body, but only briefly. This can actually be a good thing. But if someone’s immune system is out of balance and they are in an inflammatory state, intense exercise may actually make things worse. On a similar vein, many people may go to the gym every day to lose the weight, working hard, yet they still don’t achieve the desired results. In these cases the answer is to first reduce the inflammation in the body with nutrition. Only then will exercise help to speed fat loss.
So let’s take a deep dive into a few food based solutions that can reduce your chronic inflammation so you can lose the weight and feel your best.
Number 1: Eat in diversity. As I said in a previous blog post about Gut Health, having a diverse diet is very important for maintaing a healthy gut, thereby keeping a balanced immune system (most of the immune system is located in the gut) and consequently lowering inflammation. The immune system is “social” and is happy when it can interact with a wide variety of foods.
People that go on very restrictive diets and eat the same things day in and day out will likely make their inflammation worse in the long run. If the gut / immune system is only introduced to limited foods, such as processed yogurt or even the same vegetable every day, it can get “paranoid”, and spark inflammatory processes. In my nutrition practice, many of my clients struggle with this one - eating the same thing every day can be very convenient. However, just think of all the delicious foods out there to try!
Number 2: Eat inflammation reducing foods. This is a no-brainer. Just think plants like vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Some of my favorites are: blueberries, spinach, and turmeric (a spice). Blueberries taste great and have polyphenols and nutrients great for blood sugar balance. Spinach is full of not only vitamins but key minerals like magnesium and iron. Turmeric has been shown to be not only helpful for inflammatory conditions like arthritis, but weight loss as well. There are many more foods out there that reduce inflammation like beans, pumpkin, oats, oranges, and even proteins like turkey (for the nutrients such as zinc, B vitamins, and amino acids that are needed for immune balance).
Number 3: Maintain a balanced blood sugar. Excess sugar consumption is inflammatory. Additionally eating too many starches or even eating too much protein can disrupt blood sugar balance, triggering an inflammatory cascade (Yes, a high protein diet may rebound, sabotaging weight loss goals).
Number 4: Avoid processed foods! They are quick, cheap and convenient. But unfortunately, due to their long shelf life, they are full of preservatives and can cause inflammation.
Number 5: Caution with wheat, dairy, and eggs. They are the most common inflammation promoting foods for people. Please note, I feel these foods have health benefits and may be enjoyed. However, if someone has an immune imbalance avoiding or minimizing these foods for a while is a often a good idea. They contain proteins that are hard to digest and can irritate the gut.
Number 6: Go beyond nutrition. Many lifestyle choices, such as getting that extra hour of sleep, meditation, or even laughter, can have an anti-inflammatory effect.
So the next time you are at the supermarket, be adventurous and buy that vegetable, fruit, seed or grain you have never tried before. Your immune system will thank you.