By Sally J. Feltner, MS, PhD
A lot of recent attention has been paid to the role of lifestyle in many chronic diseases (lately referred to as underlying causes of mortality in the Covid-19 viral pandemic). Deaths due to this virus have been strongly associated with age, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes to name a few. Many people with the viral infection have reported to have had at least one or two of these chronic conditions. Obesity alone has been known to be associated with low-grade inflammation.
Recently, we have changed our ideas about diet and heart disease. Many doctors still think the high fat, high cholesterol diet of the last decade was to blame. However, this is a simplified view that dismisses the research that now supports the possibility that heart disease is mediated by other biological events other than cholesterol, including oxidative stress (free radicals), insulin sensitivity, endothelial dysfunction and blood clotting mechanisms and most importantly low-grade inflammation.
(FYI – endothelium is the tissue which forms a single layer of cells lining various organs and cavities of the body, especially the blood vessels, heart, and lymphatic vessels.)
We should be aware that inflammation is a double-edged sword. Inflammation in the body is necessary to protect us from infections and cancer and when appropriate from diseases. In its acute state as when you cut your finger, its reactions are self-limiting and resolve rapidly; the process is meant to heal and repair tissue damage. However, when inflammation is inappropriate it can get out of hand and contribute to disease especially chronic diseases. That is when inflammation can become your enemy. We call this low-grade inflammation. In this type, the inflammatory response needs be controlled or managed or at least short lived. Should it continue, persisting cytokines of the immune system can produce excessive damage, leading to a number of diseases.
(FYI – cytokines are small protein chemical messengers used by immune defensive cells that affect other cells and the immune response to an infectious agent.
It is thought that accumulating degrees of oxidative stress, and low-grade inflammation can result in what is now commonly called the “cytokine storm.” Septic shock can result from a cytokine abundance, leading to death.
Recently, it is thought that positive dietary choices you can make can help to reduce low grade inflammation and prevent this process. Your inflammatory biomarker status can be measured by a simple blood test. The most used is one called high sensitivity C-Reactive protein (hsCRP).
The goal of this blog post is to guide us to the right anti-inflammatory foods to reduce our risk of illness. Consistently, pick the wrong ones, and you could accelerate the inflammatory disease process.
Foods that allegedly promote inflammation – try to limit these foods as much as possible:
Refined carbohydrates such as white bread and pastries; choose whole grains instead.
French fries and other fried foods
Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages
Red meat (burgers, steaks) and processed meat (hog dogs, sausage)
Margarine, shortening, lard (high levels of trans fatty acids)
Foods that allegedly reduce inflammation – include in the diet as much as possible
Tomatoes rich in lycopene and carotenoids – healthy phytochemicals
Olive oil – rich in monounsaturated fat and phytochemicals
Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, collard and other greens – a randomized German study showed that 8 servings of fruits and vegetables for 4 weeks in men had lower levels of hsCRP.
Nuts like almonds and walnuts – high in monounsaturated fats
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines – Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids reduced inflammation.
Fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges
Fiber consumption was associated with less inflammation in seven studies, using hsCRP as a biomarker.
No one food can be the “magic bullet” for good health. A Mediterranean diet is a good example of a diet that reduces low-grade inflammation and at the same time appears to reduce the risk of heart disease. It is a diet pattern that has been studied extensively and without a doubt scores high in the healthy column.