Depending on who you ask, you might find anti-inflammatory recommendations that encourage complete elimination of sugar and carbohydrates to decrease inflammation. As is frequently the case, though, those recommendations are likely unnecessary extremes and everything is case-by-case. For one thing, you can probably achieve the anti-inflammatory benefits you’re looking for while still including well chosen, nutrient dense complex carbohydrates. Secondly, why over-restrict if we can still enjoy some tasty treats in moderation? That’s how we balance meeting health goals and living a life we love! So what does the research actually say about carbs and inflammation?

Multiple studies have linked consumption of concentrated sugar and simple carbohydrate consumption with increased levels of inflammation.1-2 A long time ago I talked in this post about what happens when we eat carbs and how we break them down into blood sugar to use as fuel. Those fuels are stuck in the blood until insulin comes around to let them in to our cells. High blood sugars, especially over the long term, correlate with inflammation in several types of tissue in the body, including fat cells.3

A strong link has been drawn between chronic inflammation and insulin resistance.4 This is a vicious cycle because (as you may remember from this post) insulin resistance means that blood sugars get stuck in the blood without a way out, causing fat storage and inflammation. Stored fat then produces inflammatory factors which make insulin resistance worse! Not fair.

So what can we do about it? Well, we can aim to cut inflammation off at the pass by changing parts of our lifestyle and the foods we eat to combat inflammation and give our cells a helping hand with that blood sugar. With regard to carbohydrates, we can do a couple of things specifically:

  1. Focus on eating more complex carbohydrates than simple carbohydrates like sugar. What does that mean? Well, complex carbohydrates are long chains of sugars that take much longer to digest, break down, and enter our blood, thus making our blood sugar much more stable (and preventing inflammation from blood sugar spikes). Simple carbohydrates are individual sugars or tiny chains of sugars that break down very quickly and enter the blood rapidly, causing a sharp spike in blood sugar that is inflammatory. Complex carbohydrates like whole grains, beans, and vegetables are connected with lower levels of inflammation.5 Same goes for high-fiber carbohydrates like fruit.

Photo from wearewhatweeat1.blogspot.com

 

2. Avoid eating too much carbohydrate at once. Just like with diabetes, the key to preventing carbohydrate-induced inflammation is keeping the blood sugar from going too high. Eating controlled amounts of carbohydrate throughout the day can help keep your energy up and your inflammation down.

  1. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/94/2/479.short
  2. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/mi/2013/509502/abs/
  3. http://www.jbc.org/content/280/6/4617.short
  4. https://www.jci.org/articles/view/19451
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17391554

Today marks the end of my first week following an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. I haven’t posted much this week because we were busy (or actually, quite un-busy) camping and relaxing with family this weekend! So far, anti-inflammatory is going pretty well and I’m enjoying the food I’m eating. It’s not really any more expensive than our food usually is.

What’s working well: Activity has been so easy with the beautiful weather! We spent the weekend (besides lounging and reading in hammocks and lawn chairs) kayaking and playing volleyball, badminton, and croquet. The other big key to easing anti-inflammatory eating is keeping my mindset focused on two things: 1) I focus on the importance of getting in anti-inflammatory foods – it’s not just about limitations and restrictions, and 2) thinking about the effect that all of the anti-inflammatory foods have on my body. It helped me to think about those consequences, then I still might decide the food was worth it to me to eat, but I had a balanced perspective and it was typically easier to avoid treats I really didn’t care about as much and limit my portions of those I did. Here are some photos of foods I ate throughout the week:

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Some struggles I’ve had: Choosing food this weekend was definitely tough! We assigned meals to different family members for camping so I didn’t have a ton of control over what was available at each meal. I chose as best I could by loading up on the veggie and fruit and limiting any entrees, sides, or desserts that were particularly high in sugar or saturated fat. Thankfully, my family is relatively health-conscious so there tended to be plenty of fruit or veggies available. My aunt made some lavender lemonade that was TO DIE FOR and we had a birthday party during the weekend as well, so I had tiny bits of treats spread out throughout the four days. I scraped the frosting off of a small piece of cake and chose only bites of the superb homemade ice cream my brother and sister-in-law made. The holiday weekend was definitely more “pro-inflammatory” than the rest of my week, but hey, that’s life! Check out the photos below to see some of the meals and snacks I ate this weekend.

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I started my anti-inflammatory diet last night! Dinner #1: Indian-style curry, loaded with anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric and cinnamon. The anti-oxidants in these bright spices have been shown to reduce inflammation. Read on for an intro to understanding inflammation.

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is the body's natural response to a variety of things it does not like – being injured, being exposed to toxins, or stress. It can also happen in relation to our lifestyle or the foods we eat. When the body is inflamed, a myriad of inflammatory factors are released, which can lead to unpleasant consequences like pain, diabetes, or artery blockages.

Our bodies are always moving along a spectrum of inflammation in response to all the things that we eat, do, and are exposed to throughout the day. Some inflammation can be healthy and is part of the body's immune response, but as a whole, Americans tend to have higher-than-helpful levels of inflammation due to the Standard American Diet (also known as SAD). Many of the foods that are easily available, inexpensive, and common in America tend to promote inflammation, while foods that can combat inflammation are less commonly eaten. Decreasing our overall level of inflammation can improve the quality of our lives as well as bode well for long-term health. Chronic inflammation is linked to dementia, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic disease.

What does anti-inflammatory eating consist of?

Well, that partly depends on who you ask, as research is constantly developing in this area. Growing research suggests that the following things are linked with higher levels of inflammation:
  • Saturated fats: butter, meat fat, dairy fat
  • Omega-6 fatty acids: corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil
  • Excessive carbohydrate and/or sugar intake
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Inactivity
  • Stress
  • Poor sleep
  • Overweight/obesity
The foods and habits listed below are linked with lower levels of inflammation:
  • Monounsaturated fats: avocado oil, olive oil, nuts
  • Herbs and spices including cinnamon and turmeric
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: fish oil, walnut oil, flax oil, chia seeds, canola oil
  • Antioxidants found in brightly-colored plant-based foods
  • Regular exercise
  • Vitamin D
You might notice that several of the things that may promote inflammation begin with the word “excessive.” Moderation is key here. Saturated fats, carbohydrates, sugars, and alcohol aren't “off-limits,” we only want to limit them and spread them out. Too much of any at one time can lead to a spike in inflammation that is hard on the body. You also might notice that “excessive” is rather vague, which is true. There are not many hard-and-fast recommendations for anti-inflammatory eating. I'll be addressing that more in the weeks to come.

For the next three weeks, I'll be researching more about anti-inflammatory eating as well as living it! Stay tuned for more info!

We have a winner! (1)

Your voices have been heard! The anti-inflammatory diet came out on top with more than double the votes of either of the other two options.

As a quick overview, there is not truly one well-defined and well-recognized “anti-inflammatory diet” per se, but rather we have a lot of research about how food affects inflammation in the body that we can leverage to decrease inflammation. In the coming weeks I will bring you information on what inflammation is, whether or not we really need to fight it with food, and what the research is telling us about lifestyle changes you can make to affect your levels of inflammation.

Sit back and relax because you’ll have plenty more info on anti-inflammatory eating coming your way soon!