By Staff of Forum Health Las Colinas
If you’ve lived for any length of time, you know the phrase, “You are what you eat.” But you may not realize just how true this phrase is: What you eat has everything to do with how well your body operates — or doesn’t.
Mark Hyman, M.D., the esteemed functional medicine physician and best-selling author, has said: “Food isn’t like medicine, it is medicine, and it’s our number one tool for creating the vibrant health we deserve.”
But how does this work exactly? And what keeps us from being as healthy as we want to be? It often comes down to one word: inflammation.
What is Inflammation?
It’s easy to understand inflammation when you think of how your body reacts to a virus or an injury. Inflammation is your immune system’s natural response to infection or physical trauma — and it’s necessary to survive. With this acute inflammation, your immune system sends white blood cells to the injury to start the healing process.
That’s not the type of inflammation we’re discussing here, however. What we’re talking about is chronic inflammation — the kind that you can’t see and may not even know is occurring. With chronic inflammation, your immune system continues to produce white blood cells to fight what it perceives as a continuous attack. Eventually, this inflammation damages healthy cells, tissues, and organs.
Many people discover they have chronic inflammation when they’re diagnosed with another disease or condition, such as an autoimmune disease or rheumatoid arthritis. But often you don’t even know you have inflammation — yet, this “hidden” inflammation is at the root of all chronic illnesses. And it can lead to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, dementia, depression, cancer, and much more.
Causes of Inflammation
Many things can cause inflammation, including hidden or chronic infections, stress, lack of exercise, and hidden environmental toxins or allergens. Yet, one of the primary culprits is the food we eat — specifically, a diet high in sugar, refined flour, processed foods, and inflammatory fats like trans fats.
These foods are also linked to poor gut health, which can cause a wide range of issues, like allergies, asthma, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. And over time, an unhealthy gut can leak toxins and harmful bacteria into the body. Also (and importantly), when your gut microbiome isn’t thriving, you can have malnutrition issues — even though you may be eating enough, or even too much, food.
Good Nutrition is the Key to Vibrant Health
Reducing inflammation and maintaining a healthy gut microbiome are essential for a healthy body. That’s why it’s vital to have proper nutrition. So, what does that look like, exactly? What should you be eating to combat inflammation and give your body a fighting chance? Here are the basics:
- Eat the rainbow. Whole plant foods have the anti-inflammatory nutrients that your body needs. So, eat a rainbow of colorful fruits and veggies — and make sure you fill half your plate with them at mealtimes.
- Choose whole foods. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients on a food label, don’t put that food in your body! Choose unprocessed, unrefined grains and legumes, and whole, fresh, REAL food.
- Get your healthy fats. Olive oil, nuts, and avocados are excellent sources of healthy fat, so add them to your diet and get rid of all that other unhealthy fat. Additionally, include salmon and other oily fish in your diet, as these are fantastic sources of omega-3 fats.
- Make sure your diet includes probiotics. Found in fermented foods, kimchi, unsweetened yogurts, and anything that contains live bacteria, probiotics are vital for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome.
- Check for food allergies. You could eat the healthiest diet in the world, but it may not be healthy for YOU because of an unknown food allergy! Gluten and dairy are common allergies, but you may have others. And you can’t know for sure without proper nutritional testing. After all, your body is unique, so you need to know exactly how it responds to different foods.