Inflammation works behind the scenes as the underlying cause of many health issues, including brain health. But eating the right foods — and avoiding the wrong ones — can help you fight inflammation and its many negative side effects.
Inflammation: an overreaction in the body’s immune system.
The link between inflammation and chronic illness is well-established. In addition to health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer, inflammation has also been associated with cognitive brain issues like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Ironically, inflammation is a self-defense mechanism within the body that attempts to protect you from harm and promote healing. But some environmental stimuli that the body receives can be interpreted as hostile, causing an immune response overreaction that does more harm than good. The food you eat is such a stimulus and it can sometimes act as a tripwire for an inflammatory response that can start in the gut…and perhaps end up in the brain.
Some foods are more inflammation-prone than others.
A properly managed healthy diet (such as the menu items found in the MemoryMeals® brain health program offered at leading senior living communities) uses ingredients less prone to promote inflammation. When you “cheat” on healthy eating — whether by snacking, indulging in fast food, relying on easy-to-prepare processed meals or just splurging a little too often — you open yourself up to the dangers of the wrong foods causing inflammatory problems.
Some foods are more inflammation-prone than others. Here’s a handy list of some of the foods it’s wise to avoid or use in moderation to help keep inflammation under control.
Sugar is hard to avoid because it is in so many different foods in the form of either table sugar (sucrose) or corn syrup (fructose). Obviously limiting consumption of sugary treats like candy and pastries is good not only for inflammation, but for your waistline. But don’t forget the hidden “sugar bombs” in things like soft drinks, juice and sweet tea. Switch to diet soda, or better still unsweetened tea, coffee or water. Also check food labels for sugar content and choose foods with less added sugar. Consider using a table sugar substitute or try to use your usual amount of the real thing. After a while, you’ll find you don’t even miss it.
Vegetable oils and dressings
Vegetable and seed oils, such as corn, sunflower, safflower and soybean oils, are in many foods and store-bought salad dressings. They’re also high in omega-6 fatty acids, which some researchers believe contribute to inflammation. You don’t have to avoid these oils completely, but it’s helpful to balance their consumption with anti-inflammatory omega-3 oils, such as those found in olive oil and foods like fatty fish and walnuts. Making your own salad dressings using olive oil or canola oil can also help.
Sausage, bacon and ham are truly delicious. Unfortunately they are also prime suspects in causing inflammatory changes that can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, stomach cancer and colon cancer. Cells in the colon seem especially susceptible to the compounds formed when processed meats are cooked at high temperatures. Also, processed meats like hot dogs and lunch meats are loaded with sodium and chemical preservatives. So next time you’re hungry, add vegetables to that omelet instead of bacon or ham. Try a chicken or turkey sandwich instead of deli meat. And skip those cold cuts completely.
More than one standard drink a day for women, and two for men, can lead to severe problems with inflammation…not to mention the other issues excessive alcohol can lead to. For reference, a standard drink is considered a single serving of beer or wine or a shot of distilled spirits. The good news: cocktail hour can be a good thing. Moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to have health benefits, and red wine in particular, due to the antioxidant resveratrol found in red grape skins, has promising anti-inflammatory potential.
So raise a glass to the benefits of alcohol. But always drink responsibly — and enjoy the other benefits of a diet designed to reduce your risk of inflammation.