When you get hurt — twist an ankle, fracture a bone, stub a toe — you probably will see some swelling. This is part of the natural healing process. The inflammation is a sign that your immune system is jumping into action and drawing white blood cells to the damaged area. However, chronic inflammation is not such a good sign. When the swelling doesn't go away, your body is fighting the healing process.
Many people do not even realize they have chronic inflammation because it can happen internally, often occurring in the gastrointestinal tract leading to painful bloating, diarrhea or constipation, gas, and a swollen tummy. It's essentially an internal imbalance of your body's chemicals and immune system.
There is no test to detect this type of inflammation, but there is one common denominator — people with poor health habits tend to have higher levels of inflammation.
"What you feed your body has amazing effects on your health," says Shayna Komar, a licensed and registered dietitian at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. "Inflammation caused by processed foods is especially damaging and is a precursor to many diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer."
In fact, 80 to 90 percent of all cancers are caused by environmental factors, and of these, 30 to 40 percent are directly linked to diet, according to the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research. Komar knows you can't control your genes, but you can control what you put into your mouth. So in an effort to avoid chronic inflammation and the many diseases that may come with it, Shayna recommends staying away from these foods:
1. Highly-processed foods
Processed foods contain refined ingredients and artificial additives that are not generally good for our bodies, like high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors and preservatives, refined carbohydrates and trans fats.
2. High-fat meats
Processed meats like hot dogs, bacon, sausage, salami and all deli meats are very high in unhealthy fat.
"Even if you buy a high-quality deli meat, it is still processed meat. And if you consume it regularly over a lifetime, the impact adds up," says Komar.
3. Fried foods
Foods that are deep-fried are usually cooked in cheap, hydrogenated oils, which turn into trans fats – the most dangerous type of fat. Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels.
4. High sugar
Sugar is found in most foods, natural and processed, so it's important to be aware of the fact that it is lurking in abundance in your diet. High sugar intake has been directly linked to diseases like heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
5. Animal products
Animal protein, from meats and dairy products, is hard for the body to metabolize. This places a heavy burden on the kidneys, making it hard for them to eliminate waste products.
6. Omega-6 fatty acids
A healthy diet contains a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Keep in mind that packaged cookies, cakes, frozen foods, and cheaper foods, in general, contain higher levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which have been proven to promote inflammation. According to one study, the typical American diet tends to contain 14 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation. Komar recommends striving for a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in salmon, walnuts, flax seed, omega-3 eggs, etc.
7. Refined carbohydrates
Refined carbohydrates like sugars, white rice and refine or enriched flours, which are found in pizza crusts, bagels, most breads, crackers, packaged cereals, cookies, cakes, etc., actually lead to inflammation. In contrast, "whole" carbohydrates like unrefined non-flour whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans all have anti-inflammatory properties, not to mention many more nutrients and antioxidants.
Komar doesn't believe there is one magic food that is the key to a long, healthy life.
"The healthiest way to eat is to ensure you are getting a lot of variety in your diet. And make sure the veggies and fruits you eat have deep, dark color. This means they are high in antioxidants, which protect your body's cells at many different levels."
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